Just two years after coaching the Chicago Bears to a 13-3 season and their first division title in 11 years, Dick Jauron has been fired.
ESPN.com first reported Jauron's dismissal Monday morning. The Bears scheduled an afternoon news conference to announce his firing.
The decision was hardly a surprise, given that Chicago had only 11 wins combined in the past two seasons and never matched the competitive level of Jauron's 2001 team. While the Bears did play hard down the stretch, winning four of their final six games to flirt with the .500 mark, most insiders expected it would not be enough to save Jauron's job.
In his five seasons as head coach, Jauron, 53, compiled a 35-46 record, including 0-1 in the postseason.
Jauron has one year remaining on his contract, at a salary believed to be $2.2 million-$2.5 million, and the Bears are responsible for that. It is possible Jauron could be considered for any of the other vacancies expected to be created this week and he might also be a candidate for a defensive coordinator's job with a number of franchises.
Speculation about Jauron's job status has swirled for the past year, since the Bears crumbled to 4-12 last season, a nine-game fall from 2001.
General manager Jerry Angelo inherited Jauron when he came to the club and felt that he deserved an opportunity to work with a head coach he brought to organization. Over the last few days, the McCaskey family, which owns the Bears, told Angelo that it would prefer he retain Jauron, but would not stand in his way if he opted to fire the head coach.
Sources said that Angelo made the decision to replace Jauron weeks ago and that the late-season surge did not sway him.
"Simply put, expectations were not met," Angelo said Monday afternoon. "Looking at Dick's overall career record, I just didn't feel that the hope we need to move to the next level was there. And I felt it was in the best interest of everyone to make the decision now. . . . We need to demonstrate the ability to win on a more consistent basis, something we haven't done here in quite some time."
Angelo and team president Ted Phillips, ESPN.com confirmed, both agreed Monday to four-year contract extensions through 2008.
To his credit, Jauron leaves the Bears as a team with potential, largely because he played so many youngsters in 2003. The club enjoyed a solid draft in 2003 and those players, as well as a core group of veterans with only two or three seasons of experience, should form an attractive nucleus for the next head coach. Jauron was fiercely loyal to his staff and that clearly was part of his undoing. Much of the criticism was directed at offensive coordinator John Shoop, but Jauron stood steadfastly by him.
Sources said there is no set timetable for identifying candidates. Angelo plans to work quickly, without sacrificing thoroughness. Angelo is a longtime friend and admirer of LSU coach Nick Saban but, because the Bears aren't likely to overspend for a coach, he might be out of the franchise's price range.
Angelo said he will compile a list of 6-8 candidates and work from that.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.