After becoming only the second team since postseason expansion to miss the playoffs after a 7-1 start, the Bears have sent Lovie Smith packing.
Smith ends his tenure with a respectable 81-63 record, including three division titles. However, this season's collapse—combined with only one postseason victory since Super Bowl XLI—justifies his exit from the Windy City.
Furthermore, from the day Smith took the job in 2004, he said that his No. 1 goal was to beat the Green Bay Packers. Since 2009, Smith's teams were 1-8 against their division rivals.
Now that GM Phil Emery has evaluated the past and decided to move forward, the question is who will take the reins of a team that has the pieces to be a Super Bowl contender? There are many quality options out there—some are up-and-coming coordinators and others are former Super Bowl head coaches—and the Bears' talent and prestige should make Chicago an attractive destination.
So who do the Bears put at the top of their wish list? That man should be Jon Gruden.
Sure, he hasn't been on the sidelines since the end of the 2008 season, but he has everything the Bears could want from a head coach. No one in the world has more passion for the game. He's fierce and fiery, which is much different than Smith's dull and reserved personality.
More importantly, however, Gruden's knowledge of the game is unmatched. He dreams of pass patterns, watches film like a maniac and knows his playbook better than a priest knows the Bible. Having ranked higher than 23rd in total offense only once since 2004, why wouldn't the Bears want someone like that?
The offense was ultimately the downfall of the team this season, and with Cutler as the franchise player, the Bears need a coach that can mold him and take him to the next level. The Bears have invested too much into their gunslinger to give him the likes of Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice to work with. It's time that Cutler has an offensive coach that garners his respect.
Just from watching Gruden's QB camps on ESPN, it is evident that Gruden has a knack for working with quarterbacks. Heck, he won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson at the helm—imagine what he could do with the skill sets of Cutler and Marshall.
Smith deserves credit for his defense this season (and in years past), but the Bears have been a team that is an adequate offense away from being a real contender. Gruden can't block Cutler's blindside or line up at tight end, but he can do what Smith and his coordinators could not: put the offense in the best position to succeed.
According to Mike Freeman of CBS Sports, Gruden will listen to job opportunities as soon as today. It will surely take a large paycheck to lure Gruden to Chicago, but with an aging defense, the window of opportunity is closing on the Bears.
The time is now, and the Bears won't be going anywhere until they can put an effective offense on the field. No one is better suited to do that than Gruden, and with his passion and charismatic personality, why wouldn't the Bears want him?