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NFL coaches, players share admiration for Urlacher

With Brian Urlacher set to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night, we take a look back at what several individuals who played and coached with and against the star middle linebacker had to say about Urlacher when he retired from the NFL after the 2012 season.

Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey:

"Brian announced his retirement in the same, understated way in which he carried himself at Halas Hall the last 13 years - he simply wanted to be one of the guys and play the game he loves. But his rare ability, work ethic and passion for football put him among the greats to ever play the game. Besides superlative play on the field, he was also the unquestioned leader in the locker room, as well as the sometimes reluctant face of the franchise. Brian is a special person who represented our team and our city with skill and humility while never seeking acclaim or recognition. We congratulate Brian on a brilliant career and he will continue to be a welcomed member of the Bears Family in retirement."

Former Bears coach Lovie Smith:

"Hard to put into words what Brian Urlacher meant to me and our team. He is special in so many ways. We all had the privilege to watch him put together a Hall of Fame career on the field. The way he took over the 2006 Monday night game in Arizona is among the greatest defensive performances ever. And I have so many memories of other outstanding games. But his physical play is just a small part of what made Brian great. People knew he called our defense, but his intelligence was never given its just due. His understanding of the game is among the best who have ever played it. Off the field he set the tone for our team. He was the example everyone looked to. He worked hard and wanted to be coached. And when we brought in a new player, Brian was the first person to greet him and welcome him to the Bears. The NFL has had many superstars in its history, but I couldn't have asked to work with a better one than Brian Urlacher. I believe he belongs in the discussion as the greatest who have ever worn a Bears uniform. There is no better man that I have ever been around. Our bond goes beyond football. He became family to me. And I'm happy for him and his family."

Former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli:

"Brian Urlacher was a special player. He was a hard worker, intelligent and he knew what to do. But his leadership was off the charts. He is a winner and he made other guys around him believe and winners too. Day-in and day-out, he led the way and when time came in a game for a play to be made, he always made it. He was a great practice player as well. Everything you want in a Hall of Fame player, he has. He is a Hall of Fame player, no doubt about it."

Former Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich:

"I was very fortunate to coach such a great person, player and leader on and off the field. The nine years with Brian were the most rewarding coaching experience of my career. Not only did I challenge him daily, he helped me become a better coach and person. He will go down in history as one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history and is a future Hall of Famer. He revolutionized the game as far as middle linebacker play. We think of him as not only a great player but a part of our immediate family and always will.

Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo on WSCR-AM 670:

"He meant so much to our football team, to the franchise. He just handled himself with total class. It's hard to imagine that you could have the type of work ethic that Brian had given all his God-given talents, but he worked as hard as any player we had in that locker room. You thought he was a college free agent the way he worked every day. He was the quintessential team player. That's what I loved about him personally. He was about the team. Money never spoiled him. Regardless of what success other players had around him, he was as happy for the emergence of Lance Briggs and whoever else we that had on our team. Sometimes, players can get a little envious of one another. You never saw that with Brian Urlacher. He couldn't be any more happier for his teammates. We brought Julius Peppers in, he was Julius' biggest fan. It just says so much about the person, and we all know what a great player he was."

Bears Hall of Famer Mike Ditka:

"Not all great middle linebackers are great athletes, but this kid was very athletic. He had the skills of a safety as evidenced by the number of interceptions he had, and the number of tackles he had is unbelievable. When you look at the whole picture, this was a pretty special football player, and I think it's really a tribute to him and the Bears that he spent all 13 years with one ballclub. That doesn't happen in sports anymore."

Former Bears coach Dick Jauron:

"Brian was a very rare player. You just don't see talent like that, with that size and that speed and that strength, with the attitude to go with it—and he had the attitude to go with it, there was no doubt about it. He worked as hard as anybody and he played as hard as anybody, and then he had all that skill. He was just a great pro and a Hall of Fame player. He was a terrific playmaker. We thought we would break him in slowly outside, give him a feel for linebacker, and then move him to the middle so that he could run sideline-to-sideline. But it was clear almost immediately that he was more comfortable in the middle than on the outside. He could get to anybody anywhere and he could beat your blocking scheme by technique, by skill, by going around it, by going under it, by going over it, any way he wanted to do it. He was just a terrific player."

Bears radio analyst and former guard Tom Thayer:

"When people around the football world talk about middle linebackers, it seems they always start with the middle linebackers who played for the Bears, and when you look at Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Bill George and the rest of the great players who came and went within this organization, Brian fits right in there with all of them. Brian did everything ever asked of him, and that's the most important thing about a player because if you don't have the willingness to either make subtle changes or accept what your coaches are telling you, you're never going to be as great as you can be. Brian did everything he could possibly do here to be a great linebacker."

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning:

"It's a no-brainer when it comes to Brian having a Hall of Fame career. I had a chance to play against Brian a number of times over the course of our careers. We both really had the same type of approach to the game. Brian was on top of the game from a cerebral standpoint. You could tell he really studied his opponent every single week. He knew an opponent's tendencies. When you combine that mental approach to the game with his unbelievable physical skills, it made for a special player. He had running-back type athleticism playing middle linebacker. He was the anchor of that Chicago Bears defense. Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher... Brian carried that torch well, and I know the players of the past were proud having him carry that torch. He gave them great continuity at middle linebacker. I really enjoyed getting to know Brian over the years. We played in a number of Pro Bowls, and I would see him at offseason banquets and events. I had great respect for the way he played the game. I am sad to see him not playing. Any time you played the Chicago Bears, you thought about Brian Urlacher. It's a sad day, but at the same time, it's a celebration of his career. I've had a little time to reflect about all the great moments of his career. Watching some highlights last night, it's easy to see why he was such a great player. His unbelievable skill and his passion for the game was what separated him. He was a great leader and really the quarterback of that defense. I sent him a text message earlier today just saying, 'It's been an honor and a privilege to have competed against you in the NFL.' It really has. I wish him all the best with all his post playing days."

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers:

"I want to congratulate Brian on a tremendous career. We have had our share of battles amid what is in my opinion the league's greatest rivalry, but I'll always have the utmost respect for his professionalism and the way he played the game. He was a complete player on the field and a really good guy off of it. And while I won't miss him making plays against us, I will miss the interaction with him during games and the challenges he presented to us in our preparation that forced us to raise our level of play. You think about the lineage of players who have played that position for that team: Butkus, Singletary, Urlacher. It's an incredible list and is truly beyond any comparison. Brian was the ultimate competitor, leader, and a no-doubt Hall of Famer, and I want to wish him the absolute best in whatever he chooses to go on and do."

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews:

"It's pretty rare in today's day and age that a player stays with one team and plays such a critical role for 13 years. It's even more impressive when he plays for a team like Chicago that has such a rich history and tradition and he becomes a part of what you associate with that franchise. Watching from afar and then competing against his teams, I've always viewed Brian as the epitome of what a middle linebacker should be: an impactful playmaker and an unquestioned leader. He will go down as one of the greatest to have ever played the position and I have great respect and admiration for what he accomplished during his fantastic career."

Former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson:

"Brian Urlacher epitomized the middle linebacker position. Whenever you prepared to play his defenses, you had to know where he was on every play because he had the ability to impact the game on so many different levels."

Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil

"He's one of the greats. He's done it for a long time. You've got mad respect for a guy like that who plays and dominated as long as he did. He always kept the Chicago defense relevant. So, in the NFL, one of the greats retired."

Former Bears linebacker Barry Minter:

"[When Urlacher first joined the Bears] he was a talented young man who was instinctive to the ball. He was rough with his linebacker technique after coming from being kind of a freelance guy at New Mexico. But he was hard-nosed and very athletic. When you've got a guy that size who had a nose for the ball and loves the game of football, I knew he had great potential. He was a talented, talented athlete. The question was whether he would come in and learn the schemes and the techniques and work hard, and he did that. He was a true professional. He was blessed with a lot of athletic ability and is stereotypical of what a Chicago Bears linebacker should be."

Chief Bridgforth, Urlacher's basketball coach and AD at Lovington HS:

"The thing that stands out about Brian, looking back on it now, was that at Lovington he was a humble, hard-working kid who grew up into a humble, hard-working superstar. I don't know many people who remain the same person when they reach stardom. He didn't change. Brian has treated everyone the same even when he became a star. He came from humble beginnings and stayed the same, humble person and will continue to be humble with his next stop being the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame."

John "Speedy" Faith, Urlacher's Lovington HS football coach:

"Brian was the ultimate player. The team meant more to him - and usually when your best player feels that way it really helps everything. That wasn't just true in high school, I knew it was true throughout his career as he progressed. He's the ultimate team guy. As a person, Brian is very generous. There were times when we would take our varsity team over to the middle school and be mentors during their lunch-time and recess-time and even at that age, as a junior and senior, Brian was very compassionate toward those kids and gave them a lot of time. Actually, his mother was the one who started that program when he was in the seventh grade, so it just kind of trickled down. I don't know how many people have said this, but Brian gets a lot of, maybe all of his generosity traits from his mother. She was an awesome lady. I have not seen very more generous people than Brian. The most important thing he is basically the same person now as he was in 1996 when he graduated from high school. I think a lot of people, when they reach that kind of success - and that means money - that tends to really change the way they are, but that hasn't happened to Brian. He is and has been the same person he was and I think that's the thing that makes me most proud. Second of all, is the type of father he is. Not very many people get to see him around his children but he is an excellent dad."

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