If the Bears decide to end the Lovie Smith reign in Chicago after the season, it may mean much more than a head coaching change. It could mean the start of a rebuilding effort in Chicago that could rival what the Chicago Cubs are trying to do.
Granted, the Bears have much more talent than the Cubs did when Theo Epstein took over, but the comparisons are striking.
In order to build a team, whether it's the NFL or the MLB, there are two paths you can go by. One is the free-agent route and the other is building through the farm.
In the case of the NFL, the "farm" is collegiate talent, and while first-round picks often make an impact much more frequently than in baseball, Phil Emery can't expect to fix all that ails the Bears just through the draft.
Still, there is a specific decision that Emery needs to make. He can go with the status quo, keeping Smith as coach and Brian Urlacher as middle linebacker and try to win a championship in 2013.
Or he can blow things up by firing the head coach and possibly changing the defense, and start from scratch.
Personally, my money is on Emery trying to win next year, and that means keeping Smith, even if that means he only gets a one- or two-year extension.
That is not what I would do, however. I've been a Lovie supporter but I do feel it is time for a change. Unless the Bears really surprise us the rest of this season, Smith will have had just three playoff wins in nine years and no titles.
If they miss the playoffs (playoffs?!), it will be the fifth time in the past six seasons that the head coach has failed to lead his team to the postseason.
Some of that is not Smith's fault of course. Former GM Jerry Angelo failed to build the team's offensive line and even new GM Phil Emery overlooked the line before this year began.
But Lovie only knows defense and just hasn't been able to get the offense right despite the myriad of coordinators he has hired.
Plus, I just feel it's time for new leadership at Halas Hall. Unfortunately, that new leadership won't mean a new president or ownership, so there are many who feel that changing the coach won't fix the underlying problem.
But since we can't fix everything in this one article, let's focus on what happens if Emery fires Lovie Smith.
And make no mistake, the decision will happen after this season because for some reason NFL teams often do not allow their head coaches to be lame ducks, so I expect Emery to make that decision at the end of the season even though Lovie is signed through the end of 2013.
And if Emery decides that a change is needed—particularly if the Bears don't make the playoffs—that could mean much more than just a head coaching change.
For one thing, it could mean a defensive shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which could benefit Shea McClellin, who is better served as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. If Lovie stays, the Bears will continue to run a 4-3 with a cover-2 base scheme.
To me, the Bears' problem has been solely on the offensive side of the football. You can say what you will about the cover-2, but all teams play it, and Lovie is a defensive-minded coach who knows defense.
And yes, the defense has not played as well as it did earlier in the season, but that was not really a sustainable pace anyway.
So it's the offense that has suffered under Lovie's tutelage. And while a head coach always has an expertise on one side of the football, he can be judged by the coordinator he hires to cover his deficiencies.
And Smith fails in that regard.
Even if Emery allows Smith to return, I hope he takes away his ability to hire an offensive coordinator. The Bears need someone that understands the modern passing game.
In today's NFL, defense no longer wins championships. A strong offense is needed to be the best of the best.
Meanwhile, if the Bears do decide to make a change, the ramifications could be felt well beyond coaching changes and defensive schemes.
Urlacher's return to the Bears is likely tied to the future of the head coach. Julius Peppers could be a cap casualty. Even Jay Cutler could end up watching as a first-round draft pick takes his position.
Look, I believe this team could contend one more year with changes to the offensive line. But that would mean a contract extension for Lovie because NFL teams often do not allow its head coaches to ride out the final year of their contracts.
And that would lock in the Bears to the same scheme and the desire to win at all costs for at least two more seasons. So I suggest that the Bears fire Lovie and start over. It's time for a new voice and a new direction.
Would that mean some pain for Bears fans? You better believe it. But I feel that if the goal is truly to win the Super Bowl, massive changes are in order.
It's time for Lovie to go, regardless of how this season turns out. And that means a lot of changes.