Bears hire Martz as offensive coordinator
Mike Martz, the headstrong coach who orchestrated “The Greatest Show on Turf” while molding Kurt Warner into a Pro Bowl quarterback with the St. Louis Rams, is the Chicago Bears’ new offensive coordinator.
Martz’s hiring Monday ended a nearly monthlong search to replace the fired Ron Turner. His job is to turn around a struggling offense and get the most out of Jay Cutler after the quarterback and team failed to meet high expectations this season.
Cutler threw a league-leading 26 interceptions after a blockbuster trade with Denver. The Bears went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the third straight year since the 2006 team’s Super Bowl run, leading to a coaching shake-up in which Turner and five other assistants were let go and coach Lovie Smith relinquished defensive play-calling duties.
The Bears still are looking for a defensive coordinator as well as a quarterbacks and tight ends coach, but they finally settled a big issue.
“Lovie was very clear at the beginning of the process that this was going to take time and he was going to go through it step by step,” said Martz, who expressed interest early on. “That’s always difficult, but he did it the right way—especially since I got the job.”
Martz seemed like a logical choice, considering he hired Smith as the Rams’ defensive coordinator in 2001 and is known for developing quarterbacks. His history with Warner, who went from stocking grocery store shelves to thriving in one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, is well-documented.
With Martz in his first year as offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil, the 1999 Rams won the Super Bowl and produced the first of a record three straight 500-point seasons. Warner, meanwhile, threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns while starring alongside Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
Martz replaced Vermeil as head coach in 2000 and went on to produce a 56-36 record in five and a half seasons, leading the 2001 team back to the Super Bowl. But while making a name for himself with the Rams, Martz became known for a confidence that bordered on arrogance. He allegedly clashed with the front office there, and while on leave for a heart ailment in 2005, he announced he would miss the rest of the season before getting fired that January.
He spent the next two years as the Detroit Lions’ offensive coordinator, coaxing the first 4,000-yard season out of Jon Kitna, and held the same job with the San Francisco 49ers in 2008. In both cases, he got sent packing for his pass-happy ways.
Now, after spending last season as an NFL Network analyst, Martz is reuniting with Smith, who often has said he likes “to get off the bus running.”
He’ll also be on the same staff as former Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who’s now working with the Bears’ defensive line. And he’ll be tutoring a quarterback in Cutler whose postgame demeanor he criticized following a season-opening loss at Green Bay in which he threw four interceptions.
Martz said he “immediately” addressed that issue when he visited Cutler in Nashville over the weekend, after interviewing at Halas Hall.
“I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of who he was, the integrity and the dignity that he has and how classy a guy he is,” said Martz, who first met Cutler when he was coming into the league. “And how he kind of misrepresented himself with that, really totally out of frustration from that game. He’s going to be one of the elite players in this league for a long time and those are things he’s going to have to deal with. It was a very difficult situation for him, very difficult.”
Martz said their visit went “even better than anticipated.”
“There was an instant connection,” he said.
Smith, meanwhile, dismissed the idea that Cutler was calling the shots. He pointed out that center Olin Kreutz met with former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice, who has been hired as Chicago’s offensive line coach. And tight end Greg Olsen talked with Rob Chudzinski, who also was in the running for offensive coordinator.
Martz reportedly won out over Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, although Smith insisted Martz was the only candidate offered the job.
“The more we talked about it, the more we worked through it and used the same process for every candidate, I was 100 percent on board with Lovie’s decision,” general manager Jerry Angelo said when asked about reports he wasn’t as eager as Smith to hire Martz. “And for the right reasons. We said again we wanted to make change.”
Now, the Bears can turn their attention to their remaining openings on offense and that defensive coordinator vacancy.
The only candidate to interview for that job was former Bears assistant Perry Fewell, who ended the season as Buffalo’s interim coach, last month. He is now the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator. Smith is “keeping all options open” after previously saying he would look outside to fill that job, and he still hopes to have his staff in place by the Super Bowl.