When the Chicago Bears began their general manager search, the one thing written in stone was that Lovie Smith would be their coach in 2012. That meant anyone who agreed to take the position could not make a coaching change until after the year played out.
All through the process, it was said that whoever was hired as the GM would have complete authority over the football operation, including firing Lovie Smith after the one-year moratorium.
But listening to Bears president Ted Phillips on Waddle and Silvy on ESPN 1000 in Chicago Tuesday morning, I'm starting to think Lovie has a lifetime job, and that the new GM is just a figurehead.
During the interview, Phillips was asked why the Bears insisted on keeping Lovie. He made the usual rhetoric, that he thought Lovie was a good coach. That didn't surprise me, but what he followed up with did.
What Phillips said seemed to contradict the autonomy the new GM supposedly has. "What we want to have is that Lovie gets a contract extension after this because he has a successful season."
On the Tribune Live Show on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago Tuesday, he again flexed his muscle when talking about running back Matt Forte's contract.
When asked about it, he said, "Where I see it headed is Matt Forte is going to be a Chicago Bear, at least for 2012. We'll sit down before we have to make that decision on the franchise tag, and talk about what we should do, how we should go about it, and how we should approach Matt."
There's a lot of we's in there. I thought Phil Emery was hired to run the football part of the operation, but it looks like Phillips is going to be more involved than we thought.
I understand the question was addressed to him, but shouldn't he have said, "Phil Emery will be making those decisions. If he decides to keep him, he will come to me to discuss the financial arrangements of the deal."
As for Smith, it seems anytime he has success with the Bears, he is rewarded. Anytime he fails, he gets a pass.
After the 2006 Super Bowl appearance in which the Bears lost, Smith was rewarded with a four-year extension paying him over $20 million dollars.
What followed were three years of failure. The Bears never reached the playoffs during that time, but Lovie was never on the hot seat.
After the 2009 season, it finally appeared people would be held accountable, including Lovie, if they didn't make the playoffs in 2010.
Fortunately for him and Jerry Angelo, everything went right for the Bears and they went to the NFC Championship Game.
As usual, the Bears extended Lovie an additional two years even though he still had a year left on his contract.
After the expected failure following his extension, Angelo took the hit, while Lovie, as always, came out smelling like a Rose.
Not only was he still the coach, but the new GM had to embrace him and understand Lovie's philosophy.
Based on Phillips comments, it sounds like any success by the Bears gets Lovie another extension, and not making the playoffs gets him another year because that is what's left on his contract.
So he gets a two-year window to make the playoffs before the Bears possibly decide to part ways with him.
Until that happens, expect to see Lovie's smug smile for at least a few more years.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As for the new guy in "charge," it sounds like he'll be able to relate to an oldie but goodie by James and Bobby Purify called, "I'm Your Puppet."