American Football: Ditka sacked as Bears head coach

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The Independent Online
MIKE DITKA, one of the most colourful and controversial figures in the NFL, was yesterday dismissed as head coach of the Chicago Bears after 11 years in the job, writes Matt Tench.

Ditka, 53, relayed the news in characteristically emotional fashion. 'All things shall pass. This too shall pass,' he tearfully told a news conference. Ditka had a year left on his contract with the Bears reported to be worth dollars 900,000 ( pounds 600,000). He will remain with the Bears next year as a consultant.

'I've had a lot of run-ins with you guys (the media) and I've also had a lot of support from you,' Ditka said. 'I appreciate it and I thank you. I thank the fans of this city. The Bears will come back. Mike Ditka will survive. I'll land on my feet.'

Mike McCaskey, the Bears president, said: 'We face a major rebuilding effort. Maybe it will take a year and maybe it will be longer. I've come to the difficult conclusion that it's best to start that process with a new head coach.'

Ditka, a leading player with the Bears in the Sixties, became their head coach in January 1982. He inherited a struggling franchise but quickly established the team as a brutal, no-nonsense unit built in his image. Ditka became known as a volcanic figure who stalked the sideline with menacing intensity.

Within two years the Bears had become a winning team, and in 1985 they dominated the league, compiling a 15-1 regular season record and thrashing New England to win Super Bowl XX. That team, fashioned around an intimidating, young defense and the rushing of the legendary Walter Payton, appeared destined to dominate, but though they consistently made the play-offs they never made it to another Super Bowl. Some of the blame for this has been ascribed to Ditka, notably in the way he fell out with his brilliant defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, and Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon.

Even so the Bears remained formidable, consistantly dispatching lesser teams and reaching the play- offs in seven of his 11 years. Three seasons ago the team's performance declined sharply and there was talk of Ditka leaving, but he and they bounced back to win the division in 1990 and make the play- offs in 1991.

This year, however, has been Ditka's worst and they have struggled to a 5-11 record. Speculation has mounted as to his position. A TV career, as a colour commentator, has often been mooted and it would be no surprise if he now moved in this direction. Given Ditka's volatile personality he would be compulsive viewing.