The Bears’ staff probably shouldn’t have a lot to prove, but they do.
The key members of the 2009 Chicago Bears’ coaching staff are precisely the people who are responsible for the best and worst facets of this football team.
It is those men who must answer to why those holes and strengths were both left unfulfilled last year. The 2008 season was one of many questions.
Could Kyle Orton be considered an upgrade from Rex Grossman?
How could a top-ranked defense fall so quickly? Injuries, alone?
Better yet, how could yet another stellar Chicago defense seem to be aging so quickly?
Why didn’t the Bears fill their holes at quarterback and wide receiver? How could Ron Turner not seem to know the capabilities and limitations of his own offense? In fact, what is he thinking?
Could the Devin Hester experiment finally work? Would it perhaps be a better idea to take Devin Hester out of special teams on occasion to let him zone in on the offensive strategies? Is Danieal Manning a viable candidate?
Were learned a lot last year.
But how does what we know translate into what we can expect?
Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub
We learned that the special teams are still a force on the field. The return can still be absolutely superb with teams kicking to Danieal Manning instead of the game’s premier returner. Still, perhaps what we learned best was that the most valuable person to the special teams may not be Devin Hester.
Coming into his sixth year as the special teams coordinator, Dave Toub has legitimately placed himself among the elite special teams coaches in the NFL. His units have finished among the top third in the NFL for five straight seasons, finishing first overall in 2006 and 2007.
In fact, Toub has been associated with the first overall special teams units in four of the last eight years and was voted as the Special Teams Coach of the Year in 2006 after that thrilling run up to the Super Bowl.
Last year’s Bears were among the top ten in half of the 22 categories in the Dallas Morning News ranking system while holding top five spots in eight. Brad Maynard led the league with 40 punts inside-the-20. Danieal Manning led the league with a 29.7 kickoff return average.
Since Toub has come to Halas, the Bears have an NFL-high 15 kick return touchdowns and Robbie Gould is the most beloved kicker since Kevin Butler.
So, who is Toub?
Selected by the Philadelphia Eagles as an offensive lineman out of UTEP in the ninth round of the 1985 draft, Toub’s playing career was short-lived. The next year, Toub returned to El Paso to coach. Starting as a graduate assistant, Toub quickly moved up the ranks as he would eventually go to the University of Missouri several years later.
Serving in several roles during his 12-year employment at Mizzou, Toub then broke into the NFL when he returned to the team that drafted him 16 years earlier. As the team’s special teams/quality control coach, Toub showed he could cement himself as a premier special teams coach at the highest level.
Coming over to the Bears in 2003, he has. But what will Toub do to continue his legacy?
The debate about whether Hester should stay off of special teams to concentrate on the offense rages on in bars across America. Danieal Manning, not only showed he’s great at returning the ball anyway, but he also showed that the Bears were weighing that debate themselves.
Regardless of the argument, Toub has proven that he should be okay to make the right call.
Offensive Coordinator Ron Turner
Several seasons ago, we learned that Ron Turner, with a solid running game, can coordinate a won’t-mess-up-just-enough offense to get you to the Super Bowl. To his credit, many people seem to forget that the Bears were second in scoring in 2006.
Yet, no one can deny the type of field position the Bears had that year either.
So, we learned last year several things about Turner.
Turner can be successful despite lacking talent but needs to use the defense and special teams as a catalyst for his own success. Turner cannot be successful on his own as, say, a Ron Rivera.
With an injury-plagued defense that wasn’t much of a help to him, the offense didn’t do much to help either. Chicago had another poor showing in time of possession statistics in particular. Take the last, very important game against Houston for example: the offense went one-for-nine on third downs.
Secondly, Tuner hasn’t been able to develop players. From Cedric Benson, Garrett Wolfe, Mark Bradley on to Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, and so far, Devin Hester, Turner has done a miserable job at developing talent.
Yet, at the same time, there are successes like Thomas Jones, Greg Olsen, and Matt Forte who could argue otherwise.
Still, he must be a scapegoat, not for the dropped balls and missed blocks, but for the consistency of dropped balls and missed blocks—for the lack of adjustments. Luckily for him, GM Jerry Angelo is just as guilty because, ultimately, he gives Turner the players who drop balls and miss blitzes.
But, here and again, Turner could help himself if he could develop and improve his players.
Still, somehow, Turner has coordinated six of the top 24 offenses in Bears history after he began coaching at the University of Arizona in 1978. He would make stops all across the US, including Northwestern and USC, before landing a head coaching job at San Jose State in 1992.
Turner broke into the NFL only a year later when he accepted an offer to be offensive coordinator in Chicago under then-head coach Dave Wanndstedt. Spending four years in Chicago, Turner was given the opportunity to move several hours south as the Fighting Illini’s head coach.
He garnered several achievements there, including Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2001, but never got the program to powerhouse status posting a 32-57 record in his eight years in Champagne.
So he moved back north, back to Lakeshore Drive to take the offensive reins yet again in 2005. And the headlines have told us all too much about his succ….failu…stint ever since.
Hopefully, with some help in 2009, those headlines could be optimistic. That help begins with Toub, but Lovie Smith’s defense is just as important.
Head Coach (and subliminal Defensive Coordinator) Lovie Smith
We learned that Lovie Smith can get angry. Bob Babich’s defense is not where Smith expected it to be. Though Smith is soft-spoken, he is more than disappointed.
And after consecutive disappointing—in his eyes—seasons, the sixth-year head coach has decided that he needs to play a bigger role in the defensive play-calling.
"I think this is what will help us get back to be where we need to be,” Smith said. Well, why keep Babich on the staff in that case?
Beyond the theories, who knows…
What we do know is that the Bears defense went from fifth in 2006 (under Ron Rivera) to 28th in 2007 and 21st last year under Babich. Technically, Babich is still the defensive coordinator but we also know that may be in label alone.
Smith, however, is by no means a virgin to defensive coordination.
Lovie began his 27-year coaching career at his old high school before jumping to his alma mater, Tulsa, a year later. From there, Smith was well-traveled, never staying at each of his following jobs—Wisconsin, Arizona State, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio State—for more than four years, while gaining a variety of experiences a rounded coordinator can utilize.
In 1996, Smith broke into the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he learned the famous Tampa 2 schemes under Tony Dungy that Chicago employs today. He then took his defensive expertise to St. Louis in 2001.
There, he inherited a 23rd-ranked defense and leaped— taking that same defense to third from 2001-2003. In that span, St. Louis won a third-highest 33 games, in which his defense was top-ranked in several defensive categories, including takeaways.
Smith brought those principles to Chicago, as characteristics like takeaways, third-down efficiency, and interception returns all are now identities of this defense in this decade.
But last year’s performance was not identifiable with this identity.
Smith insists that adding Rod Marinelli as assistant head coach will make his job easier. He also insists that his experience as the Bears’ head coach has enabled him to know when and where to use his energy.
Still, beyond his responsibility to the defense, his main job is to have this entire football team prepared to win games, which includes the Super Bowl.
In essence, his decision to coordinate the defense is obviously a key decision made even before the season begins.
So, his premise is to bring that identity back. In that pursuit, there’s has been a lot of talk about Rod Marinelli’s role. There should be because Marinelli has a big one.
In this scheme, a successful four-man rush is essential to the success of the defense. AS 2006 showed, that scheme can work. In 2008, that scheme unfortunately didn’t because of the lack of pressure from those linemen.
Marinelli’s decisions, as defensive line coach, on how to work those lineman will have a domino-effect on the defense. If his decisions are anything like what we saw in Detroit, the line (and thus the defense) will suffer.
But Marinelli’s record shows that his jobs are much more accomplished as a positional coach rather than a head coach. The Bears defense, Lovie Smith, and even Ron Turner will need Marinelli to succeed in that regard.
Otherwise, Lovie Smith’s seat will be hotter because of several key decisions he indeed made—hiring Turner, Babich and Marinelli in the first place. The staffs, just as much as the players indeed have a lot to prove.
Will the staffs be angels in Chicago…or demons?