But I am here to tell you that, for better or worse, the coach is here to stay.
While it is true that general manager Phil Emery has the ability to fire Smith following this season if he so chooses, I just don't believe it's going to happen. When Emery replaced Jerry Angelo, he was told that Smith as coach was part of the deal for the first year.
And while Smith is under contract for next season, the Bears will not allow Smith to coach the team next year without a contract extension.
Due to things that have happened in 2012, Smith has saved his job. In fact, it probably only was in jeopardy if the Bears had suffered a losing season. Despite the perception of some, there is no credible evidence to suggest that there was any mandate from management that the team had to make the playoffs for Smith to keep his job.
That said, this team will likely make the playoffs so that will be a moot point before long. So, let's take a look at the top five reasons why the Bears head coach will sign an extension following the season.
Bears owners and Ted Phillips like him
It is fairly obvious that the McCaskeys and team president and CEO Ted Phillips like Smith. Otherwise, why would they require Emery to keep him in the first place?
So, with the backing of the bigwigs, Emery would be taking a risk in firing Smith, especially after a winning season. What happens if the team didn't perform well next season? Emery would have used up one head coach, and GMs often only get to select one or two coaches before they themselves get the axe.
As reported by ESPNChicago.com, Phillips made clear his regard for Smith before the start of the season:
We feel Lovie is a top coach and obviously you read everything that has been written and fans want wins. And so do we...It was a tough decision to let go of Jerry, but I think it was time to have a new fresh look at our team and how it gets built. But Lovie has never lost the respect of the players. He's kept them playing hard. He's got a good coaching staff and we think he can be successful.
That sounds like strong support to me.
Now, even Phillips must have known that a losing season wouldn't sit well with the fans, and at that point, Emery would have been forced to make a change. But that losing season will not happen; the Bears sit at 8-3, needing to win only one of their five remaining games to guarantee a winning record.
There is a perceived lack of better candidates
Sure, there are some former head coaches in the NFL out there to consider—most notably Bill Cowher—but given the Bears track record of hiring coaches with no previous head coaching experience, it is unlucky the team would go that route.
And of the top assistant coaching candidates, can anyone honestly say with any certainty that any of them would make the Bears better? Sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don't.
The Philadelphia Eagles will almost certainly fire Andy Reid. I also doubt that Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett feels very secure right now either. And maybe this will be the year that Norv Turner's luck finally runs out.
The Kansas City Chiefs are also likely to change their head coach, so the Bears would have lots of competition for any of the hot commodity assistants.
Bears will make the playoffs
How do you fire a head coach when his team makes the playoffs? Unless you're a professional sports team that has unusually high expectations, like the New York Yankees, you seldom get rid of your coach or manager following a successful season.
And since the Bears seldom have made the playoffs over the past 20 years, just getting there should be enough.
Sure, if the Bears lose in the first round there will be cries for Smith to be fired. But even if that happens—and given that the Bears are 0-3 against playoff-caliber teams so far in 2012, it is very possible—I highly doubt Emery would do that.
In fact, even if the team wins 10 games and fails to make the playoffs, I still believe Smith returns.
The Bears are too cheap to pay two coaches
It seems likely that the Bears are too frugal to pay the last year of Smith's $5 million contract while he sits at home. Plus, having to pay another coach at the same time should make Phillips see red.
And he prefers to see green, believe me.
They could let Smith coach the last year of his contract without an extension, but for some reason the NFL just doesn't do that. Head coaches are not generally allowed to be lame ducks. So, I'm sure the Bears feel they either have to extend Smith or replace him after this season.
I say they will extend him.
Smith has been one of the team's top coaches ever
Despite the fact that the Bears have made the playoffs only three times in Smith's tenure, that is still far better than many previous Bears coaches were able to accomplish.
And his regular season record of 79-60 sports a winning percentage bettered by only George Halas, Mike Ditka Luke Johnsos, Hunk Anderson and Ralph Jones, although the latter three only coached a relatively brief period of time.
True, he has never won a Super Bowl, but he did take the team to one following the 2006 season. When you consider that only one coach has won a Super Bowl out of the previous seven head coaches...you get the idea.
Believe it or not, Smith's winning percentage is actually better than Halas' during his second tenure as head coach from 1958-1967 (although Halas did win the championship in 1963).
Prior to Smith joining the Bears, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt were a combined 75-101 during the regular season.
It is true that he has never lost the team, even during bad times. The players do play hard for him.
Smith has a history with Emery
Emery was on Angelo's staff during Smith's first season as the Bears head coach and gained an appreciation for him then. In fact, that may be one of the reasons Phillips hired Emery to be the GM.
Just consider this quote from Emery, taken from the Chicago Sun-Times Sean Jensen back in August:
I got to know him and really gained an appreciation for him during that draft process...He's everything that he was then. He's extremely earnest person. He loves people. He loves players, and they love him. He has a scheme, and a system and a plan. I mean, what's not to like?
Also, Emery went on to tell Jensen that he doesn't care about having his own choice as head coach. Emery talked about how disruptive a coaching change can be, and he genuinely seems to want no part of that.
Recognizing all this, I believe it is a virtual lock that Smith not only returns, but signs a long-term extension of at least three more years. And I'm okay with that. He's far from perfect, but he's an above-average head coach.
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