LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP)- The Chicago Bears fired coach Lovie Smith on Monday after the team missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.
Smith was informed of the decision by general manager Phil Emery 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.
The Bears scheduled a news conference with Emery for Tuesday to discuss the move. Smith was not available for comment, but he talked to the team after he was fired.
"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.
Smith's record ranks third on the Bears' all-time list, behind George Halas and Mike Ditka.
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.
The Bears made the playoffs just three times and posted three postseason victories under Smith. The 2010 team beat Seattle after the Seahawks won their division with a 7-9 record, but Chicago lost to Green Bay in the NFC title game at Soldier Field.
There was speculation Smith 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.
While Smith was dismissed, there was no official word on which assistants - if any - would be retained.
"I think we're going to get the best available coordinator, head coach, assistant coaches," Cutler said. "(I'm not going) to speculate where they're going to go. I have no idea. But I trust Phil and everyone involved in the search, and they're going to make the best decisions they can make."
Asked if he thought the Bears would keep quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, his mentor in Denver, Cutler said, " I would say no, but that's a guess."
Ultimately, the struggles on offense did in Smith.
Known for solid defenses, Smith oversaw a unit that was consistently effective and at times ranked among the league's best with stars such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and later Julius Peppers. Smith emphasized taking the ball away from the opposition, and no team did it more than the Bears with 310 during his tenure.
But on the other side, it was a different story.
Smith went through four offensive coordinators in Terry Shea, Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice. He never could find the right formula, even as the Bears acquired stars such as quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall over the years.
Smith had no bigger supporter than team matriarch Virginia McCaskey, but the fans seemed split on him. To some, he was a picture of calm, a coach who never lost his composure and never criticized his players in public, the anti-Ditka if you will. But he also had his critics.
"The media, the false fans, you all got what you all wanted," Hester said as he cleared out his locker. "The majority of you all wanted him out. As players we wanted him in. I guess the fans - the false fans - out-ruled us. I thought he was a great coach, probably one of the best coaches I've ever been around. He brought me in."
History suggests fans who are clamoring for a high-profile replacement such as Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden might be disappointed. The last time the Bears went with an experienced NFL head coach was when Halas returned to the sideline in 1958.
They might, however, go with an offensive-minded coach for the first time since Mike Ditka was fired after the 1992 season, given the issues in that area.
That the Bears would be in this spot seemed unthinkable after they ripped Tennessee 51-20 on Nov. 4. They were sailing along at 7-1 and eyeing a big playoff run after collapsing the previous season, with the defense taking the ball away and scoring at an eye-opening rate to compensate for a struggling offense, but the schedule took a tougher turn.
They dropped back-to-back games to Houston and San Francisco and five of six in all before closing out with wins at Arizona and Detroit. Injuries mounted along the way, and what looked like a playoff run slipped from their grasp, just as it did after a promising start in 2011.
That year, they won seven of their first 10 only to wind up at 8-8 after a monumental collapse sparked by a season-ending injury to Cutler.