LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears have hired Kansas City Chiefs director of college scouting Phil Emery as their new general manager.
Emery was an area scout for the Bears from 1998-2004 and replaces Jerry Angelo, who was fired after an injury-riddled 8-8 season.
Emery and New England Patriots director of pro personnel Jason Licht were finalists and both interviewed twice. The Bears also interviewed San Diego Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye, New York Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross, and current director of player personnel Tim Ruskell.
Emery’s hiring comes after a major collapse marked by season-ending injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte, as well as a drug scandal involving backup receiver Sam Hurd. The Bears dropped five in a row after a 7-3 start, spoiling a promising season before closing with a win at Minnesota.
Chicago has now missed the playoffs four times in five years following a trip to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.
Angelo was fired two days later, though he was signed through 2013. The Bears also parted with offensive co-ordinator Mike Martz, who had an expiring contract, and quarterbacks coach Shane Day but made it clear head coach Lovie Smith was safe for next season.
Since then, they’ve promoted offensive line coach Mike Tice to co-ordinator and announced they will hire a passing co-ordinator to work with their QBs.
Emery has one mandate from president Ted Phillips: Close the talent gap with Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North. Another criteria was to be able to work well with Smith, an area where Emery was thought to have the edge because of his previous ties with the Bears.
From 2004-08, Emery served as director of college scouting for the Atlanta Falcons and also worked as a regional scout for the Falcons leading up to the 2009 draft.
Emery started his career as a student assistant at his alma mater, Wayne State, before joining Central Michigan as a graduate assistant. He went on to become the offensive line/strength and conditioning coach at Western New Mexico for three seasons before taking the position of defensive line coach at Georgetown College.
Emery served as the defensive line and strength and conditioning coach at Saginaw Valley State from 1985-87 before joining Tennessee as the Volunteers’ assistant strength and conditioning coach from 1987-91.
He made his last collegiate stop as the director of strength and conditioning services and as an associate professor at the U.S. Naval Academy from 1991-98.
During Angelo’s 11-year run, the Bears won four division championships, reached the Super Bowl and got back to the NFC championship game last season. But he was undone on several fronts — especially this season when backup Caleb Hanie struggled mightily after Cutler was hurt.
Emery inherits a team that could use help on both lines, in the secondary and at wide receiver. Forte’s rookie contract is up, and Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has made it clear he wants to renegotiate even though his six-year deal runs through 2013.
He’ll also be running a team that features a franchise quarterback in Cutler along with stars such as Forte, Briggs, Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher. As dramatic as the Bears’ fall was, they still seemed poised for a playoff run at one point.
They never recovered, though, once they lost Cutler.
He broke his right thumb trying to make a tackle following a late interception with the Bears on the way to their fifth straight win against San Diego on Nov. 20, and that’s when the season soured. Forte sprained a ligament in his right knee against Kansas City on Dec. 4, leaving the offence without its two best players.
That would be tough for any team to handle, but the injuries exposed an eye-opening lack of depth. Hurd’s arrest on federal drug charges in mid-December was just another blow for a team that was already sinking fast.
Besides the issues behind centre, backup running back Marion Barber made some key mental and physical mistakes in losses to Kansas City and Denver. Receiver Roy Williams struggled to hang onto the ball, and the defence slumped late in the season, giving up 38 points to Seattle and 35 against Green Bay the following week.
One area where they certainly need to improve is in the draft, where Angelo had more swings and misses in recent years than hits. High-profile picks such as Rex Grossman and Cedric Benson were disappointments at times, and 2008 first-rounder Chris Williams has mostly struggled. Gabe Carimi, their first-round pick last year, missed most of his rookie season with a right knee injury.
The Bears plan to introduce Emery in a Monday news conference at Halas Hall.