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Tillman reacts to Lovie Smith's firing
January 9th, 2013

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, prolanthropyDuring a recent radio appearance on WSCR-AM 670, cornerback Charles Tillman revealed that he was very surprised by the Bears’ decision last week to dismiss coach Lovie Smith.

Smith led the Bears to back-to-back NFC North titles in 2005-06. But he failed to guide the team into the playoffs in five of the last six seasons since advancing to the Super Bowl in 2006.

The Bears finished a respectable 10-6 this season, but stumbled down the stretch to become the first NFL team since the 1996 Redskins to miss the playoffs following a 7-1 start.

“I was shocked like everybody else when he got fired,” Tillman said. “My heart bled for him because he went 10-6 and got fired. We know this business is crazy at times and I’m sure he knew at some point in time it had to come to an end. It’s just unfortunate that it had to be now.”

Smith spoke to his players for the final time during a brief but emotional meeting Dec. 31 at Halas Hall, the team’s practice facility in Lake Forest.

“It was just real heartfelt,” Tillman said. “We went in the room and he said, ‘God has a plan and that plan isn’t for me to be your head coach next year.’ The first thing he said was ‘I want to thank you all for what you all have done for me and my family,’ which I thought was classy.”

After being coached by Dick Jauron as a rookie in 2003, Tillman spent the next nine seasons with Smith, developing a close bond personally as well as professionally.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for coach Smith,” Tillman said. “He handles himself as a gentleman. He’s a class act. I’ve learned so much from coach Smith; how to handle my business, what to say, how to say it. He always handled himself the right way, like a true professional.

“Those are some of the things that I’ll take from him in this business because it’s hard to be a professional sometimes when the media and fans aren’t really on your side.”

Although he disagreed with the coaching change, Tillman has been impressed with Bears general manager Phil Emery, who explained the decision in great detail during a lengthy press conference.

“I get a good vibe from him,” Tillman said. “I don’t have anything negative to say. I think he’s a good GM. I saw some of his press conference and I felt like he was very transparent and open about his decision. He provided a lot of [information] to the fans and media about his decision-making and why he makes those decisions. I feel like he puts a lot of thought into his decisions.”

Emery is conducting an expansive search for a new head coach. Media outlets have identified 13 candidates, with only one of those men coming from a defensive background. Tillman hopes that the new head coach will retain the defensive staff, led by coordinator Rod Marinelli.

The Bears led the NFL in takeaways with 44 this season and during Smith’s nine years as coach with 310. They also scored nine defensive touchdowns in 2012, one shy of the NFL record. But their offense continued to struggle, ranking 28th in the league in total yards after finishing 32nd, 29th, 15th, 27th, 26th, 23rd, 30th and 24th in Smith’s first eight seasons as coach.

“Hopefully this new head coach comes in and addresses the offense and keeps our same system [on defense], and we’ll just continue what coach Smith has instilled in us and that’s creating takeaways and scoring a whole lot of points,” Tillman said.