However, they missed the playoffs too many times, never solved their problems on offense and even after a 10-win season they are moving on without him.
The Bears fired Smith on Monday after the team missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. General manager Phil Emery delivered the news to Smith on the day after the Bears beat Detroit to finish 10-6 but still didn’t make the playoffs.
Hired in 2004, Smith led the 2006 team to the Super Bowl, but he also saw his team collapse in the second half of the past two seasons. He was let go with a year left on his contract, ending a nine-year run that produced an 81-63 record, three division titles and two appearances in the NFC championship game.
“He earned even more respect from me, if it was possible,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He handled it the right way. A lot of character in that man, and it showed up.”
Even though Chicago closed with a win, the Bears needed a loss by Minnesota to get into the playoffs. The Vikings, though, beat Green Bay to clinch a postseason spot, leaving Chicago as the second team since the postseason expanded to 12 teams to miss out after a 7-1 start. The other was Washington in 1996.
The highlight of his tenure was the run to the title game that ended with a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. It was the first time two black coaches met for the championship, with Smith going against his mentor Tony Dungy.
There was speculation he would be let go following the 2011 team’s collapse, but he got one more year while general manager Jerry Angelo was fired. Now, he’s out.
Return star Devin Hester was so upset he said he was considering retirement, adding, “I’ve got my workers’ comp papers in my pocket.”
Is he hurt?
“Not physically, but mentally,” Hester said.
He wasn’t ruling out playing next year, either.