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JENSEN: In coaching search, Bears GM Phil Emery has money, power

Chicago Bears General Manager Phil Emery introduces new Chicago Bears Players WR BrandMarshall QB JasCampbell Halas Hall Lake ForestIll. Friday

Chicago Bears General Manager Phil Emery introduces new Chicago Bears Players WR Brandon Marshall and QB Jason Campbell at Halas Hall in Lake Forest,Ill. Friday, March 16, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 2, 2013 6:31AM



Any perception that Phil Emery is a puppet general manager should’ve been eradicated Monday morning.

Emery decided to fire coach Lovie Smith after the Bears fell short of the playoffs, and his bold move was presumably rubber-stamped by chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips, both of whom have insisted in the past that Emery has full autonomy despite suggestions to the contrary.

The first notable example of Emery’s clout was the trade of two third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Less than a year later, Marshall shattered several notable single-season team receiving records.

Now Emery must find a replacement for a coach who was widely respected throughout Halas Hall.

And the choice will be his, the price tag be damned.

Emery didn’t speak to reporters Monday. He apparently was busy lining up interviews with at least three coaching candidates: Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Atlanta Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

But as the Bears look for their 14th coach, this much should be clear: No coach is off-limits.

Despite a reputation for spending sparingly, the Bears have opened up the coffers to sign Julius Peppers, Matt Forte and Jay Cutler to sizable contracts in recent years, and there’s no indication the team is averse to spending what’s necessary for the right coach.

Smith already was one of the better-compensated coaches in the NFL (the eighth-highest-paid in all of sports, according to Forbes), and he’s guaranteed more than $5 million from the Bears in 2013, but that figure would decrease if he takes a job elsewhere.

With at least six other franchises in search of a new coach, the Bears might have to pay a premium if they become enamored with a particular candidate.

Skimping on a backup linebacker is one thing; skimping on the mouthpiece of the franchise is quite another.

The aforementioned candidates shouldn’t command anything close to what Sean Payton or Bill Belichick make. They reportedly earn over $7.5 million apiece annually. But if Emery wanted to make a run at a high-profile, proven coach such as Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden, no one in the organization would stop him.

Emery has endeared himself to the Halas Hall crowd with his work ethic, no-nonsense approach and willingness to shelve his ego.

“This is one of his strengths,” McCaskey said shortly after Emery’s hire last January. “He keeps talking about team. He has the authority, but he isn’t going to wield that authority just for the sake of doing so.

“He’s going to make sure that everyone is moving forward.”

One of the conditions of becoming the Bears’ GM was to keep Smith as coach for the 2012 season. In retrospect, with the Bears missing the playoffs, it’s fair to question the delay of the inevitable change.

Yet of the six coaches hired last offseason, only one stands out as a possible fit for the Bears: Jeff Fisher. The former Bears safety, though, had a similar track record to Smith: mixed results with the most notable accomplishment being a Super Bowl berth.

But Emery certainly isn’t living in the past, and he’s not handcuffed in any way.

Players were distraught after Smith’s firing, but Charles Tillman and Jay Cutler expressed confidence in Emery.

“I have all the faith in the world in Phil,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘He’s very detailed. He has a plan in mind. He wouldn’t make these decisions and take these actions if he didn’t have a real plan and direction of where he wants this to go.

“Once you’re around him even a little bit, he exudes confidence, and you know he’s going to make the right decisions.”



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