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- STORY: Andy Reid among NFL coaches sacked in firing frenzy
- STORY: Who might replace Lovie Smith?
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Smith was informed of the decision by general manager Phil Emery Monday morning. The Bears beat Detroit on Sunday afternoon to finish 10-6 but still missed out on a playoff spot when the Vikings beat the Packers.
Smith was hired in 2004 and led the Bears to three division titles, two NFC title games and the 2006 Super Bowl, which the team lost to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Bears started the 2012 season on a 7-1 hot streak, but struggled the second half of the season and battled a number of injuries, including the loss of Brian Urlacher to a hamstring injury.
The Bears lost four of five after the win over Tennessee on November 4.
"It's a sad day at Halas Hall," said Bears quarterback Jay Cutler Monday morning on ESPN 1000's Waddle and Silvy Show. "He's made friends with a lot of the players. He's a players' coach. I've been very, very lucky my seven years to have two excellent head coaches that gave a lot of respect to the players and listened to them. Lovie was definitely one of them."
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.
Smith's career record is 81-63. His record ranks third on the Bears' all-time list, behind George Halas and Mike Ditka. His defenses were tops in the league, but his downfall was probably the Bears' flailing offense.
Smith remains under contract with the Bears for one more season. If he decides to take the year off, the Bears will pay his $5.5 million, plus the new coach's salary.
Ditka, now a more seasoned analyst, was perplexed by the firing of a man who earned the loyalty of his players.
"If you are asking me, Do I think it was fair? I don't think it was fair," Ditka said. "I don't think it was justified. I think he is too good of a coach."
Ditka said Smith would have held on to his post had Minnesota not pulled out the victory Sunday to take the final NFC Wild Card position.
"I learned a long time ago, when you take a coaching job, there's a pretty good chance one day you are going to get fired," said Ditka.
Bears GM Emery will hold a news conference 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the move.
A person familiar with the situation said Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will interview for the Bears and Arizona Cardinals jobs this week. The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly speak about the interviews, said the talks would take place in Denver.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.