LAKE FOREST, Ill. - Mike Ditka, whose combative demeanor and abrasive personality made him a larger-than-life NFL coach, was fired today by the Chicago Bears after 11 years.
A teary-eyed Ditka, who agreed to stay on with the team as a consultant, stood by as the Bears' president, Michael McCaskey, announced the change at a hushed news conference.
"We're going to have to find some new ways to do some things, ways different than we've done them in the past," McCaskey said. "There's going to be a premium on fresh ideas, and a new start.
"I've come to the difficult conclusion that it's best to start that process with a new head coach."
Ditka, 53, choked back tears and said, "The Bears will come back. Mike Ditka will survive. I'll land on my feet. There's no problem about that."
Ditka, whose team finished the 1992 season with a dismal 5-11 record, did not say how long he would stay on as a consultant.
"All things must pass. This too shall pass," Ditka said.
"Regrets - just a few. But too few to remember. Thirty-two years, and I have a lot of people to thank.
"I want to thank the players most, because they make it happen. Thank you, fans of this city."
The Bears finished with their worst record since 1975. It was only Ditka's third losing season, one that was marked by Ditka's icy relationship with McCaskey and stormy confrontations with players and fans.
Ditka had a 106-62 regular-season record with the Bears, guiding them to six NFC Central titles and the 1986 Super Bowl championship.
Ditka ranks second among Bears coaches in both tenure and victories, trailing only the late George Halas, the team's founder. Halas coached Ditka from the beginning of his playing career in 1961 until he was traded in 1967, and Halas hand-picked Ditka to become the Bears' 10th coach on Jan. 20, 1982.
Ditka inherited a Bears team that had just two winning seasons in the previous 19. He revamped the team and the Bears went 11-14 his first two seasons.
In their championship season the Bears went 18-1 record and Ditka was named Coach of the Year. He also was named Coach of the Year in 1988 after taking the Bears to a 12-4 league-best record and the NFC title game despite suffering a mild heart attack in mid-season.
Ditka, the first tight end inducted into Pro Football's Hall of Fame, went on to play two years with Philadelphia before going to Dallas, where he finished his playing career in 1972. He was hired as an assistant to Coach Tom Landry in Dallas and stayed until the Bears hired him.
Ditka is the third NFL coach to be fired since the season ended. The others were Dan Reeves, by the Denver Broncos, and Ray Handley, by the New York Giants.
Reeves has expressed interest in the Chicago job, but the leading candidate may be Richie Petitbon, the assistant head coach for defense of the Washington Redskins and a former Bears player.
Another candidate could be Vince Tobin, the Bears' defensive coordinator. He's often been considered Ditka's logical successor, but his stock has dropped as the team's defense declined.
Four assistants - Tobin, special-teams coach Danny Abramowicz, defensive-line coach John Levra and defensive-backs coach Zaven Yaralian - still are under contract.
The contracts of the others - offensive coordinator Greg Landry, running-backs coach Johnny Roland, offensive-line coach Dick Stanfel, receivers coach Vic Rapp, linebackers coach David McGinnis and tight-ends coach Steve Kazor - will expire.