The Bears filed out of meeting rooms and into the Halas Hall locker room on Monday morning, with cardboard boxes and garbage bags in hand. The 2014 season is over, and everybody on the roster was preparing to clean out their locker and head home for the offseason.
Of course, the news that the organization had relieved coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery of their duties was still fresh in the minds of several players. Trestman had met with the team earlier in the day, and many on the roster were in the NFL thanks in large part to Emery. That resonated with much of the roster, especially Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long, who thanked the former general manager for taking a chance on him in the first round of the 2013 draft when many criticized the selection.
"We didn't play well enough this year, and obviously, that's all encompassing from coaches, players, everybody. We needed to be better and we weren't," Long said. "Obviously I have the utmost respect for Trestman and Emery. Those are the guys who stood on the table for me prior to the draft last year, and there weren't many people who did that around the league. I'm just going to try to continue being the best player I can be, going to continue to progress. I'm going to play for those guys, I know that for sure."
For many veteran players, the departures and changes on the way are nothing new. Cornerback Tim Jennings has had several coaches during his nine-year professional career, and though it is tough news to take, the hope is that the changes will lead to better things for the Bears.
"It was one of those things. It comes with the business. It's a change," Jennings said. "Hopefully it will be a good change for the veteran guys. It's been one of those down seasons for us. The defense is something we didn't expect. As a team we didn't hit many of our goals. So there's something to look forward to and see the change that's going to be made. You hate to see people go, you hate to see coaches leave, you hate to see players leave. That's the business of the game."
Many players said the meeting on Monday, when Trestman addressed the team for the final time, was nothing out of the ordinary. The coach had his notes prepared, said what he needed to say and let the players go on with the rest of their day. With the team finishing 5-11, there was already bound to be changes on the roster. Replacing the head coach and general manager only add to the overhaul that the Bears will undergo over the coming weeks and months.
Tight end Martellus Bennett, who had the best season of his career in 2014, said the blame for the poor year must be shared and not be placed directly on the people who are leaving.
"At the end of the day, we didn't get the job done," Bennett said. "It's not just coaches, it's everybody. (The players) didn't have a successful year, so the coaches didn't have a successful year. I think everybody has their hand in the pot, and the gumbo doesn't taste that great when everybody's hand is in the pot. So we are all responsible for the bad-tasting gumbo.
"A lot of things are going to be different next year."
The major question around the locker room was who would be the next person to lead the team. Many players were asked if they had a preference on who the next GM and coach would be. While nobody named specifics, many felt that a new mindset was needed after this season, where mental miscues and errors were a common problem.
"The right coach for Chicago is one that wants to instill an identity, demands a team that has an identity," Long said. "And when we play opponents, they should say, 'We don't want to play those guys.' There's a handful of teams in the NFL that are like that. And I feel like we have the nucleus to be able to do that. And we haven't done that, and that's something that we need to do."