The Bears began a major house cleaning Monday morning, firing general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman, team sources confirmed. The team officially announced the sweeping changes at 11 a.m.
Emery hired Trestman two years ago, and it has been two difficult seasons in which the Bears failed to make the playoffs — finishing 8-8 and losing a Week 17 NFC North title game to the Green Bay Packers in 2013, followed by a precipitous drop to 5-11 in 2014.
“I want to thank Virginia, George and the McCaskey family, Phil Emery and Ted Phillips for giving me the opportunity to be the head coach of the Chicago Bears,” Trestman said in a statement. “I also want to thank all the coaches and players who gave us everything we asked over the past two years. I have tremendous respect for this organization. Chicago is a special city with great fans. I appreciate the warm support my family and I received.”
Emery briefly met with the media at Halas Hall, reading a statement and declining to answer questions.
“[I] just wanted to take a moment to thank everybody in the Bears organization, all the good staff here, all the fine coaches that I’ve had the opportunity to work with in the past and the present, and all of our players that I’ve had the good fortune to be associated with during my time here,” Emery said. “I also want to say a public ‘thank you’ to the McCaskey family, our ownership group and to [team president and CEO] Ted Phillips. Your support, your patience and your kindness have been incredible. No employee could ask for more.
“This job was an opportunity of a lifetime. My only regret is that we didn’t win enough games for that opportunity to continue. Thank you to all the Bears fans that have reached out to me the last three years, who have stopped to say hello, who have extended their hand in friendship, and I’ve had an opportunity to have a conversation with. Your kindness does a lot more for the soul than people can imagine.
“To borrow a lyric or a line from [musician] Carrie Newcomer: ‘We stand breathless on the clean edge of change.’ So it’s time to change and to move forward. Go Bears! Thanks for your time.”
Unable to overcome a rash of injuries in both seasons and overseeing a regression in quarterback Jay Cutler after he was signed to a seven-year, $127 million contract in January, Trestman becomes the first Bears coach to be fired after fewer than three seasons since the end of the George Halas era.
Emery was hired in 2012 and at the end of that season, fired coach Lovie Smith and conducted a lengthy search that eventually landed Trestman, In Emery’s first draft, he selected Shea McClellin, Alshon Jefffey, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriguez, Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy — a class that was generally panned by critics.
Trestman also is just the sixth NFL head coach since 1990 to finish with a progressively worse record than his predecessor in his first two seasons. Four of the previous five were fired after their second season. The other, Rams coach Dick Vermeil, struck gold and won the Super Bowl in his third season in 1999.
Inheriting a 10-6 team from Smith in 2013, Trestman went 8-8 and then 5-11 to finish with a 13-19 overall record. This year’s collapse was particularly dubious:
— The Bears lost to the Packers 38-17 and 55-14 — the second largest combined point-differential in the series since 1962.
— The Bears allowed 50 points or more in back-to-back losses to the Patriots (51-23) and Packers (55-14) — the first time an NFL team has allowed 50 points or more in consecutive games since the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons.
— The debacle against the Packers came after a bye week. In fact, the Bears’ 42-0 halftime deficit — courtesy of six Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes — was the second largest halftime deficit in NFL history.
— The Bears fell behind by 21 points or more five times this season — 38-17 to the Packers at Soldier Field; 45-7 to the Patriots; 42-0 to the Packers at Lambeau Field; 35-7 to the Cowboys at Soldier Field; and 24-0 to the Saints at Soldier Field. They also were outscored 31-3 in the final three quarters against the Lions at Ford Field after taking a 14-3 lead.
— In that 34-17 loss, the Bears set a franchise record for fewest rushing attempts in a game (eight). Their 13 net rushing yards tied their fewest in a game since 1956.
— The Bears did not beat a winning team in 2014. In Trestman’s two seasons, they were 2-11 against teams that finished with winning records — Trestman’s 2013 debut against the Bengals at Soldier Field (24-21) and a 27-20 victory over the Packers in 2013 when Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone and played just one series.
Trestman’s inability to solve the Jay Cutler riddle played a big part in his demise. Hired by Bears general manager Phil Emery in part because of his reputation for working with quarterbacks, Trestman had some success with Cutler in 2013. Cutler’s completion percentage improved from 58.8 to 63.1 percent; his yards per attempt improved from 7.0 to 7.4 and his passer rating improved from 81.3 to 89.2. But even that improvement came with a red flag that could not be ignored: Josh McCown, a journeyman quarterback who had been out of football before signing with the Bears, was statistically better in Trestman’s offense than Cutler — in eight games, including five starts, McCown threw 13 touchdown passes to only one interception, had an 8.2 yards per attempt average that was far better than Cutler’s career best, and had a 109.0 passer rating that ranked third in the NFL.
Still, the Bears signed Cutler to the seven-year, $126 million contract after the season — counting on another significant leap in Year 2 under Trestman.
It didn’t happen. Cutler excelled early in 2014 and had a career-best 97.4 passer rating through six games. But he could not avoid the interceptions and fumbles that had plagued him throughout his NFL career.
With Brandon Marshall struggling through injuries all season and the offensive line in a constant state of flux because of injuries to Matt Slauson, Jermon Bushrod, Roberto Garza, Jordan Mills and Brian de la Puente, Cutler faded as the season progressed. His passer rating in his final nine games was 82.6. If you exclude “garbage time” production in losses to the Patriots (down 38-7), Packers (42-0), Cowboys (35-7) and Saints (24-0), Cutler’s passer rating was 74.3 (nine touchdowns, 10 interceptions) in his final nine games. He ended up leading the NFL in turnovers with 24.
Though the wheels came off violently at the end, they were shaky from the beginning in 2014. Offensive linemen Jordan Mills, Matt Slauson and Kyle Long all missed time in the offseason because of injuries. The five offensive linemen who started all 16 games in 2013 started just two in 2014.
Marquess Wilson, expected to fill the No. 3 wide receiver spot, suffered a broken clavicle early in training camp and did not return until after the mid-season bye week. Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Week 2. Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs suffered a season-ending groin injury in Week 5. Slauson played just five games because of injuries, missing the final eight games with a shoulder injury. Defensive end Lamarr Houston missed the final eight games after suffering a bizarre knee injury celebrating a sack of Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter of a 48-23 game.
But the impression, if not the reality, that Trestman did not have control of his locker room also contributed to his demise. Briggs missed the first day of practice prior to the season opener to attend the grand opening of his restaurant in Elk Grove, Calif. Trestman’s clumsy handling of the incident — with an unclear explanation of how much he knew about the nature of Briggs’ “personal day” — gave the impression that players were walking over Trestman.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s decision to make a weekly trip to New York on the players’ off day each Tuesday to appear on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” was another Trestman dispensation that contributed to the notion that Trestman did not have a tight reign over his locker room. While logistically possible, the idea of a player in season flying back-and-forth to New York in a 24-hour period didn’t seem like a prudent move for a player in a sport that is so demanding physically.
As it turned out, Marshall battled injuries and had his worst season in the NFL (61 receptions, 721 yards, 11.8 avg. 8 touchdowns) since his rookie year of 2006 in Denver. It didn’t help that Marshall made the trips to New York while he was undergoing treatment for a high ankle sprain — yet he didn’t make the trip during the one week when he had the most time — the bye week.
Marshall’s emotional post-game locker room rant after the Bears’ loss to the Dolphins on Oct. 19 at Soldier Field also reflected poorly on Trestman. Marshall meant to inspire his team, but reportedly antagonized some teammates. Trestman let it slide, saying it was not uncommon for players to let off steam after a tough loss.
Regardless of Marshall’s intent, the incident seemed to do more harm than good. The Bears lost their next game 51-23 to the Patriots, allowing 28 points in a 7:14 span in the second quarter to fall behind 38-7 at halftime. The Marshall rant put the focus on a leadership void that seemed more and more obvious to everyone except Trestman, who maintained after the Packers debacle that “I think this team and this locker room is in a good place right now.”
The Bears appeared to be at rock bottom at that point. But Trestman’s ineffectual leadership took an even bigger hit when his offensive coordinator, Aaron Kromer, leaked criticism of Jay Cutler to NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport after the Bears lost to the Cowboys 41-28 on Dec. 4 — that Cutler was “killing” the Bears’ offense by failing to get out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage.
Kromer compounded his error by acknowledging that he was Rapoport’s source for the disparaging story that the Bears had “buyer’s remorse” over signing Cutler to a seven-year, $126 million contract and emotionally apologizing to Cutler and the entire offense. The incident itself caused hard feelings, if not a fracture, in the locker room. Trestman didn’t help his rapport with many players when he decided against firing Kromer despite the blatant breach of trust.
The Kromer incident would not be forgotten, especially after Trestman benched Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen after a 31-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 15. Why was Kromer allowed to keep his job after squealing while Cutler lost his for poor performance? “That’s a question I’m not going to answer,” Trestman said. But players still wondered.
By then, though, Trestman’s control or lack of control of the locker room, was a moot point as it became clear his days as Bears coach were numbered. No matter who was playing quarterback, the Bears were doomed. They lost to the Lions with Clausen and the Vikings with Cutler to finish 5-11. It was only a matter of time.
Contributing: Adam L. Jahns