Chicago Bears president Ted Phillips, chairman George McCaskey and general manager Phil Emery gathered at Halas Hall early New Year's morning to give the media and the fans an insider look into the process to replace head coach Lovie Smith.
Emery offered a detailed analysis – his press conference lasted almost an hour – and said money is no object in the search. Candidates could come from both the college ranks as well as the NFL, with the primary qualifications being leadership skills, exceptional organizational abilities, and overall excellence and synergy with Emery, Phillips and McCaskey.
Emery also wants his new coach to be able to maximize the talents of those players already on Chicago's roster.
Finding the perfect coach to fulfill the wish list of the front office is a tall order but there is a wide pool of talented candidates from which to choose. Emery mentioned that some candidates are still involved in the playoffs and won't be able to talk immediately.
Phillips and McCaskey, who sat in a corner of the Halas Hall auditorium during Emery's remarks, offered their thoughts on the coaching search.
"Phil has done an excellent job since he's been here and Ted and I, as well as my family, have complete faith in him," McCaskey said. "We all feel that Phil will make the right choice to get the Bears back to the championship level."
McCaskey cited recent player reactions to Smith's firing as an indication of how strongly most felt about their former coach. It's a situation that has the potential to alienate a lot of the club's stalwarts.
"We are well aware of how they are feeling right now," McCaskey said. "I did speak to Brandon Marshall yesterday. I haven't had much of a chance to speak to others yet. But we do understand how they feel.
"Lovie is a great guy and a great coach. It was encouraging to see how his players were sticking up for him. We want the players to know that we hear them and that great care is being taken during this process to find the person who will be an excellent fit for this team."
Phillips admitted to considerable sadness when Smith, who has been the team's head coach for the past nine seasons, was finally relieved of his duties.
"Lovie brought the team together and kept the team together," Phillips said. "He's a great character guy. It was clear that we needed to move on, to go in another direction, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a very sad day for all of us."
Phillips went on to stress that during his final interview with Smith, he expressed the organization's appreciation for all that Lovie brought to the club.
"It was a back-and-forth kind of a talk," said Phillips. "Both sides were expressing their appreciation. It was in no way acrimonious. Lovie realized that he had failed in bringing a championship to the McCaskey family. He was very regretful about that. The meeting was frustrating, it was sad but we're looking forward to moving forward now."
Amidst the sadness and frustration, it's clear Chicago's front office has confidence that Emery will find the right man to lead the Bears into the future.
"When you interview someone, as I did with Phil a year ago, you never know if they will do what they say they will do," Phillips said. "Phil has done everything exactly as promised. His decision-making process is impressive in its thoroughness, its detail. The care that he takes and his analysis gives you a much better level of confidence that when it's time to make the big decisions, like bringing in a new head coach, he can get the job done."
When asked about the financial aspect of any hiring, Phillips was quick to respond: "We've talked extensively about the budget issues. The bottom line is that we want the right fit. We want the synergy with Phil and with the players, as well as with the entire organization. We want overall excellence in our next head coach. When Phil brings in those final candidates, and I believe he will bring in great candidates, and it looks like a good fit, we'll do whatever it takes to hire them. We want to get the right guy."
It's clear Bears brass feels a clear sense or urgency to find and hire the right coach within a reasonable period of time.
"The league has become more competitive," Phillips said. "You want to build for the future but you also want to win now. Winning now translates to consistency over time. This year was the biggest disappointment for all of us, after starting 7-1 yet not making the playoffs. Going forward, we want to move up to the championship level on a regular basis. We need to find the guy who will help us achieve that goal."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.