Now Angelo's out. Coach Lovie Smith, however, will remain.
Angelo was fired Tuesday following a team collapse marked by injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and a drug scandal involving Sam Hurd.
Angelo had been on the job 11 years, but the Bears called for change after an 8-8 season. A questionable draft record and an inability to fill big holes, particularly on offence, led to his ouster.
"I think Jerry achieved a lot as general manager," Bears President Ted Phillips said. "He's a wonderful man, high character. I've enjoyed every day working with him. He's put his life's blood into the Bears."
Phillips also said Smith would keep his job, adding, "The one restriction that will be placed on any candidate is Lovie Smith's our head coach for 2012."
Angelo's dismissal comes after a wild season in which the Bears at one point seemed a lock to make the playoffs. A five-game losing streak spoiled a 7-3 start, keeping Chicago out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, and Angelo wasn't the only one on his way out Tuesday.
The Bears also confirmed that offensive co-ordinator Mike Martz and quarterbacks coach Shane Day won't be back. Martz had an expiring contract, and there had been plenty of speculation he would be gone after two seasons.
Angelo was signed through the 2013 season, but he was undone on a number of fronts. The next GM will inherit a team that could use help on the offensive and defensive lines, at wide receiver and in the secondary. Forte's rookie contract is up. Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs would like a new one even though he has two years left on his six-year deal.
Still, the Bears believe they can make a run next season. Angelo won't be the one overseeing it, though.
"I have tremendous respect for him and am sorry to see him go," Smith said in a statement. "But I also will embrace the opportunity that comes with change. As I said yesterday, we have an excellent core in place. I look forward to working with a new general manager to bring a championship to Chicago."
Phillips said he decided to let Angelo go on Monday and informed him the following morning. The announcement comes a day after the Indianapolis Colts fired vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian, but Phillips insisted the timing was coincidental, that he wasn't aware they had been let go when he decided to make a change.
He said he's "not anywhere close" to having a list of finalists, and he declined comment when asked if he planned to call the Polians. He also said Smith will pick Martz's replacement.
As for why he kept Smith, Phillips said, "We felt that Lovie is the right head coach for this team. We like his staff that's in place. We want to close that talent gap with our division rivals and that's why the decision was made."
McCaskey, who took over as chairman last spring, insisted he has "complete faith" in Phillips and dismissed the idea that he was the driving force behind the changes.
"It was Ted's decision," he said. "He asked for my input. I gave it to him."
Angelo's firing caps a season that crumbled just when the Bears appeared to be poised for another playoff run after reaching the NFC title game last year. Cutler broke his right thumb trying to help make a tackle following an interception during a victory over San Diego on Nov. 20, and Chicago didn't win again until the season-finale at Minnesota on Sunday.
It didn't help that Forte sprained a ligament in his right knee against Kansas City on Dec. 4, leaving the offence without its two best players. Those would be blows for any team, but they were crippling for Chicago. Throw in Hurd's arrest on federal drug charges in mid-December, and what looked like a promising season turned into a nightmare for the team and organization.
The injuries exposed a glaring lack of depth as the Bears tumbled out of playoff contention.
The low point might have been the loss at Denver when Marion Barber ran out of bounds late in regulation. That stopped the clock, giving the Broncos enough time to tie the score. If that weren't enough, he lost a fumble in overtime, helping set up the winning field goal.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Caleb Hanie was a bust filling in for Cutler, going 0-4 as the starter before the Bears turned to Josh McCown.
Chicago claimed Kyle Orton off waivers after Cutler went down, but Kansas City had priority and got him. The Bears then brought in Josh McCown, and Angelo left himself open to second-guessing when he decided not to go after Donovan McNabb once Minnesota let him go.
The lack of a reliable backup quarterback, continuing issues on the offensive line and the inability to land a top-tier receiver increased the heat on the general manager.
Roy Williams struggled to hold onto the ball and get open in his first season with the Bears after an unsuccessful run in Dallas. Hurd, another Cowboys import, was quickly waived after being charged with trying to set up a drug-dealing network following his arrest with more than a pound of cocaine, although Phillips insisted that ordeal played no role in the decision to fire the general manager.
For all the criticism, Angelo did have successes. The Bears won those four division championships, including the 2006 team's run to the Super Bowl and last year's trip to the NFC title game.
He traded for Cutler and signed Julius Peppers. But he also had a spotty draft record that included such high-profile disappointments as Cedric Benson and Rex Grossman.
The 2008 first-rounder Chris Williams has mostly struggled, and 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi missed most of his rookie season with a right knee injury. Angelo also was unable to find a top receiver, through the draft, a trade or free agency.
Chicago didn't have anyone ready to step in when a solid but aging line that helped the Bears reach the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 began to go downhill.
Martz called for deep drops and Cutler took repeated poundings. That changed after Cutler made his feelings clear. The Bears started getting the ball out of his hands quicker, handing the ball off more to Forte and piling up wins. But just when it looked as if they had saved their season, everything came apart.
"Bears fans deserve a championship team and we're doing everything we can to achieve that goal," McCaskey said.