When Bears general manager Phil Emery fired Lovie Smith on Monday morning after nine years as the head coach, the news stunned many fans and longtime observers of the club.
RELATED: Smith fired after latest second-half collapse
However, in talking with multiple sources this morning both in the NFL and college football world, it appears that this decision was made a few weeks ago and nothing other than a deep playoff run would have been enough for Smith to save his job.
Emery has quietly been evaluating the situation and, according to sources, he had come to the decision that the Bears offensive woes could not be fixed under Smith and that for the team to build a foundation for long-term success, a change had to be made. In addition, had the Bears made the playoffs yesterday Emery was fully prepared to fire Smith when the Bears were eliminated unless a deep playoff run occurred.
The top candidates that are on Emerys list include Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. -- whose father worked as Bears assistant coach -- Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong -- who worked under Dave Wannstedt in Chicago -- and former Tampa and Oakland coach Jon Gruden, just to name a few.
RELATED: Kelly, Saban among possible Bears candidates
The big question is: Will Emery and Co. go after an established, proven former head coach or are the Bears wedded to hiring a coordinator with a history of coaching successful offenses?
RELATED: After Lovie Smith? Bears have issues to consider
On Wednesday, I will run down all of the top candidates and their backgrounds. Happy New Year!
Chicago Bears training camp is right around the corner with the first practice (non-padded) scheduled for July 21.
Bears veterans and rookies will report a few days ahead of that first session to acclimate themselves to their new (for some) surroundings. Rookies report on July 16, with veterans coming three days later on July 19.
All eyes will be on QB Mitch Trubisky and the potentially high-flying offense under coach Matt Nagy. Training camp will take on extra importance because of the plethora of new faces on the roster and coaching staff as well as the installation of a completely new offensive scheme. It's critical that Trubisky builds chemistry with wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White, all of whom he's never thrown a regular-season pass to. Add Trey Burton to that mix and a lot of miscues should be expected in the preseason.
The rookie class is led by linebacker Roquan Smith, who remains unsigned. With less than 30 days until rookies are required to report, a greater sense of urgency -- even if it's not quite a panic -- is certainly creeping in. Assuming he's signed in time, Smith should earn a starting role early in training camp and ascend to one of the defense's top all-around players.
The Bears have higher-than-usual expectations heading into the 2018 season making fans eager for summer practices to get underway.
The Chicago Bears need a big season from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. He's the team's best pass-rush option and the only legitimate threat to post double-digit sacks this year.
Floyd joined the Bears as a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2016 and has flashed freakish talent at times. The problem has been his health; he's appeared in only 22 games through his first two seasons.
Floyd's rookie year -- especially Weeks 5 through 9 -- showed a glimpse of the kind of disruptive force he's capable of becoming. He registered seven sacks and looked poised to breakout in 2017. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 10 games and four sacks.
Despite his disappointing sophomore season, NFL.com's Gil Brandt has high hopes for Floyd in 2018. The long-time NFL personnel executive named Floyd as the Bear with the best chance to earn a first-time trip to the Pro Bowl.
CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, third NFL season. Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie in 2016, but missed six games last season due to a knee injury. He's a talented guy who can drop into coverage or rush with his hand on the ground and should play much better this season. He also has become much stronger since coming into the league.
The Bears will be in a heap of trouble if Floyd doesn't emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player. There aren't many pass-rushing options on the roster outside of Floyd aside from Aaron Lynch and rookie Kylie Fitts. Neither edge defender has a resume strong enough to rely on as insurance.
It's a critical year for Floyd's future in Chicago, too. General manager Ryan Pace will decide whether to pick up Floyd's fifth-year option in his rookie contract next offseason. If he plays well, it's a no-brainer. If not, Pace could be looking at two straight first-round picks (see: Kevin White) that he's declined the extra year.
We're a long way from that decision. Until then, the Bears' season may sink or swim based on its pass rush. It begins -- and ends -- with Floyd.