Bears general manager Jerry Angelo expressed disappointment in the team's highly paid defense in his end-of-the-year press conference Tuesday, and a couple of hours later, defensive backs coach Steven Wilks was fired.
That doesn't bode well for defensive coordinator Bob Babich and defensive line coach Brick Haley, who have already taken some heat for a defense that was 28th in total yards allowed in 2007 and 21st in '08.
With essentially the same group, the Bears' defense was No. 2 in total yards allowed in 2005 and No. 5 in '06, the final two years under former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.
The roles of Babich, Haley and other defensive assistants will be discussed at length, as Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith continue their postseason evaluations into next week. They will also scrutinize personnel, especially on the overpaid but underachieving defense.
"We have to be consistent," Angelo said of the defense. "We weren't. This year things didn't come along maybe quite the way we wanted them [to]. When you're not playing consistent football, your job's not good enough. If you're going to win, you have to be consistent in what you do. We weren't consistent, and those are the things that we'll get into."
Angelo said that he "would love to have" fired Lions head coach Rod Marinelli on Smith's coaching staff, but talk of hiring Marinelli was premature even though the Bears and Smith have coveted his services in the past.
"I think the world of Rod Marinelli," Angelo said. "He's a great football coach. Any time you get a chance to get a great coach or great player, you're not going to sit here and say that you wouldn't consider him or you wouldn't work a way to do that. He'll be a great addition to any staff."
Angelo also said he was also disappointed with some individuals on defense. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher received $18 million in new money in a contract extension prior to the season but did not play up to his previous level, although Angelo was not critical of the six-time Pro Bowler.
"I will never question his commitment, his passion [or] his love for football," Angelo said of Urlacher. "He has too much character [and] too much pride to ever not be the best he can be. Is he the Brian Urlacher of old? I can't say that. He still has enough to make a Pro Bowl. He's still a very good football player. I have to go with what I saw on tape. I have a lot of confidence in Brian. He's been a great player for the Chicago Bears. He's been a great leader for us. I respect him immensely."
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who got a four-year extension before the season that could be worth as much as $40 million, did not receive such a glowing recommendation, but Angelo is optimistic about his future, too.
"He's had a lot of things go on, and I felt like about the midway point of the season things started to settle down for him," Angelo said. "I feel like he's got things together. He's grounded. I felt we saw a lot better Tommie Harris, particularly in the last quarter of the season. I feel strongly that he's going to come back and give us the kind of play that we paid him for. I'm seeing the arrow going up. He knows what he has to do, and Tommie holds himself accountable."
Cornerback Nathan Vasher signed a five-year, $28 million contract before the 2007 season but hasn't played anywhere close to his Pro Bowl level of 2005. He's started only nine games since then and intercepted just two passes.
Angelo didn't mention anyone by name, but he said he would not hesitate to cut ties with players who failed to live up to their contracts.
"If they're not playing hard or playing up to their abilities, that's on them, and I do take that very personally," Angelo said. "And I will address that. That will not happen here. I am disappointed with a few players, and those players are going to have to be accountable for what they do."
NOTES & QUOTES
"Every year we expect to win, and we're not satisfied with mediocrity," Angelo said. "We never will be satisfied with mediocrity. It was very disappointing the way the season ended, particularly when we went into the last game having some control over our destiny. It didn't work."
But Angelo said he and Smith were on the same page as far as their assessment of where the team is and how far it needs to go.
"Lovie is a great leader, and all great leaders create hope," Angelo said. "He does not want anybody – our fans, our players – ever thinking there isn't hope. I know that's what he meant. After the [Texans] game, we were visibly upset. Very, very disappointed." …
Citing his history of cutting high-priced veteran players who weren't performing, Angelo served notice that some current Bears could be ex-Bears in the coming months.
"I'm not hesitant to cut anybody," said Angelo, who parted ways with RB Cedric Benson, QB Brian Griese, WR Mark Bradley and S Adam Archuleta most recently. "I don't let money get in the way of doing what's right for this football team." …
Though Angelo plans on improving the roster during the offseason through free agency, the draft and possibly trades, he expressed confidence in the nucleus of a team that has failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons while going a combined 16-16.
"I feel very confident that we have a good core of players and a team in place," he said. "I'm very confident. We'll add players, obviously, but if we didn't add anybody, we're still going to be a good football team. I feel very strongly about that."
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Angelo Not Happy with Inconsistent D
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