From the moment he was hired on January 14, 2004 Lovie Smith was never a fan favorite in the Windy City. Bears fans want George Halas patrolling the sideline, wearing a pair of black frame glasses like he’s doing them a favor. They want Mike Ditka in the sweater vest, chewing out the Punky QB for all the world to see. Was the fan reluctance to embrace Smith racially motivated? I don’t think so. Was it geographically motivated? Absolutely. The “aw shucks” demeanor from Big Sandy, Texas simply didn’t connect with the Cheezborger! Cheezborger! intensity of Old Style country.
Lovie Smith has also made mistakes. Tangible, see-em-with-your-eyes errors on the football field and in his pre-game meetings. He hired Terry Shea. He fired Ron Rivera. He was loyal to a fault with Bob Babich and Ron Turner and refused to acknowledge what the rest of could clearly see: Rex Grossman was not going to win the Bears a Super Bowl. If we hang Jonathan Quinn on Shea’s coat rack, we hang Todd Collins on Lovie’s. He is horrendous with timeouts and somewhat worse when throwing the red rag. These are the kinds of mistakes fans notice when watching the game on television and the kinds of mistakes that infuriate them.
But the Lovie of late is not the Lovie of old.
For the first time in his tenure, there is real accountability being instituted at Halas Hall. Chris Harris was benched after a porous performance against the Lions and responded with a string of Twitter complaints. When put back on the field due to a Major Wright injury, Harris struggled against the Bucs and was subsequently cast onto the waiver wire. When Frank Omiyale embarrassed himself on national TV, he was benched. When Henry Melton failed to live up to the promise of a spectacular opening week, he was chastised publicly by his head coach and responded.
Does anyone doubt that Lovie Smith has usurped control of the offensive strategy? The Bears are finally the running off the bus club Lovie’s been touting ad nauseam to Biggs and the boys at his midweek pressers for half a decade. (I also think the movement of Mike Martz upstairs was a territorial gesture by Lovie. It was an assertion of dominance over terrain like polar bears do it.)
The Bears decision to go to man coverage so often against the Philadelphia Eagles opened my eyes. My primary criticism of Smith over the years has been his continually blind operation of a defensive system whilst lacking the players capable of operating that system at the highest levels. Against the Eagles, Smith deviated from the standard structure of the Lovie Deuce and allowed his corners to beat up Andy Reid’s brittle speedsters.
He didn’t snarl. He didn’t throw anything. He didn’t call David Haugh a jerk (though who could blame him). But he said this in the aftermath of the Bears victory over Philly:
“We’re a good football team, just not getting a whole lot of respect,” Smith said. “When you go on a road, the Chicago Bears shouldn’t be eight-point underdogs when we come and play a team, and the guys took notice of that.”
A coaching mentioned the point spread in the press conference? Lovie Smith being that coach? This is a new guy we’re dealing with.
BUT HEY, JEFF, WHAT ABOUT THE GENERAL MANAGER?
When you come to a head coaching position with an exclusively defensive background, you depend upon your GM to find you talent on the other side of the ball. It almost makes Lovie’s resume with the Bears more impressive when you look at the players he’s achieved his success with. Lovie has won two of his three division titles with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. He has never had a true number one receiver on his roster. His GM traded away his best offensive weapon and the huddle’s true leader after the Super Bowl appearance. In the modern NFL it is near impossible to win a Super Bowl title without a productive offense and, more specifically, a productive passing game to exploit the rule changes. The Bears are only now finally moving in that direction.
If the Bears decide to fire Jerry Angelo (and they won’t), I believe the current defensive coaching staff would be able to continue their drafting and developing young players across the unit. I don’t believe the firing of Jerry Angelo (that won’t happen) should also mean the releasing of Lovie Smith from his contract.
MY FINAL THOUGHT
And it is perhaps the biggest point. Michael Vick is going to be the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles for many years. Aaron Rodgers is going to be the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers for many years. And there is not a single defensive coach/system in the whole of the NFL that has more success against these two individuals. Lovie owns Vick and controls Rodgers, which these days feels like a Herculean achievement. If the Bears are to remain a football team dedicated to a defensive style of football, they have the right man leading them in the current landscape of the NFC.