The Chicago Bears announced on Monday that they have fired head coach Lovie Smith.
Smith spent nine years with Chicago, going 81-63 in the regular season. He won three NFC North titles with the club and made one trip to the Super Bowl.
In 2012, the Bears won 10 games, but missed out on the playoffs because of a tiebreaker with the Minnesota Vikings. Missing out on the postseason for the fifth time in six years was the last straw for general manager Phil Emery and the rest of the organization.
The Bears won’t have an easy time replacing Smith. He posted a losing record just three times in his nine seasons with Chicago, and led a defense that was consistently at the top of the NFL.
With several firings on Monday, the Bears have plenty of candidates to choose from. Here are the three most likely coaches that could replace Smith:
After 14 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid is finally out as the team’s head coach. The Eagles may have been the most disappointing team of 2012, finishing the year with just four wins.
Still, it’d be hard to find an available coach with the resume of Reid. He won six NFC East titles during his tenure, and reached the conference championship game in five of those seasons. Reid only led the team to one Super Bowl appearance, but the Eagles were dominant in the regular season, posting a 130-93-1 record.
Reid helped Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick lead explosive offenses in Philadelphia, something Chicago desperately needs. The Bears offense ranked higher than 23rd just once under Smith, and was the biggest reason for the team’s failures.
The last couple of years in Philadelphia were disappointing for Reid. His game management skills were often questioned, and he was criticized for not utilizing the rushing game enough. However, Reid’s success for much of last decade might be enough to make him the Bears next coach.
He hasn’t been on the sidelines in four years, but Jon Gruden will certainly be one of the more sought after coaching commodities in the 2013 offseason. He has a Super Bowl ring and has proven with multiple franchises that he can be successful.
In 11 seasons as a head coach, Gruden had just three losing seasons. He won five division titles, and has a .540 career winning percentage in the regular season.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden led one of the best defenses of the last decade. As an offensive coach who has proven that he can lead a top defense, Gruden may be the perfect candidate for Chicago.
The biggest question remains whether or not Gruden wants to coach next season. He’s claimed that he is happy working for ESPN as a Monday Night Football analyst, and has remained away from the game, despite other teams looking to hire him.
Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com is reporting that Gruden will interview for multiple head coaching positions, so perhaps this is the year that he leaves the play-by-play booth.
Billick is very much like Gruden. He’s an offensive coach that hasn’t been in the league for a couple of years, but has proven that he can win a Super Bowl with a top flight defense. In 2000, Billick helped the Baltimore Ravens win a championship with one of the greatest defenses that the NFL has ever seen.
Unlike Gruden, Billick made just one head coaching stop in his career. He went 80-64 with the Ravens from 1999-2007, and hasn’t been rehired by another team since.
Billick had a great defense, but was never blessed with an elite quarterback. Trent Dilfer was the starter for his team that beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, and he never had a top quarterback in his days with Baltimore.
It’s unknown if he’s ready to make a return to the NFL, but Billick could do big things with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte on his offense. He is currently a color commentator for NFL games on FOX.