Every year a team doesn't make the Super Bowl leaves owners and fans wondering what needs to be changed. Naturally, they question everything until they think they find the solution.
Do we have the tools we need on offense?
Do we have what we need on defense?
Is it the fault of the General Manager?
Do we need to change coaches?
For the Chicago Bears it’s obvious they felt that they needed to change some things on the field and did on both offense and defense. Chicago also made some noteworthy changes this off season to the coaching staff. Lovie Smith, Ron Turner, Bob Babich, Rod Marinelli, and Dave Toub have significant roles and high expectations this year.
I’m going to break down for you each one of these members of the coaching staff and what they’ve done in their past and what they need to do this year to make the 2009 Bears winners.
It can be hard to spot the head coach of the Bears on the sideline. Lovie Smith could arguably be the most mild tempered coach in the NFL. When he speaks you can hear his Big Sandy, Texas drawl. And when he's upset, it would be difficult to tell without being a mind reader. He's not a very animated man, but he has been successful.
Before coming to the Chicago, Smith was the linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs under head coach Tony Dungy. He spent five seasons with the Bucs from 1996-2000. After his time in Tampa he seized the opportunity to work with the Rams as defensive coordinator from 2001-2003. While in St. Louis Smtih went to a Super Bowl and had a turnover-crazy defense; much like the Bears defensive philosophy now.
In January 2004 Lovie became the 13th head coach of the Chicago Bears. His first season didn't start so hot. Many players were getting injured in pre-season that year. The Bears finished the 2004 season last in the NFC North with a 5-11 record. The silver lining in 2004 would be that the Bears beat the Packers once that season, something Smith had promised Chicago fans when he took the job. Before then the Bears had lost 7 straight to Green Bay.
Since 2005 the Bears have only had one other losing season, the year following their Super Bowl appearance. Lovie holds a head coaching record of 45-35 overall which actually makes him one of the most winning coaches in the NFC over the past 5 years.
This year Smith has a new challenge. Chicago's defense has been dull the past two years under Defensive Coordinator Bob Babich. In order to restore prominence, Smith has decided to go back to his defensive roots and call the plays this year.
This will be interesting. Should the defense rebound and become one of the top defenses this year, Smith will look like a genius. If the defense falters again Lovie Smith may be in for a whole lot of trouble. Smith needs this defense to be dominant once again.
Bob Babich still retains his position as Defensive Coordinator. His job description has changed a little however, he's now the Defensive Coordinator/ Linebackers Coach. Don't be fooled by the new title though, that's definitely a well deserved demotion.
Like all coaches, Babich has been around football his entire life. From 1984-2002 he made his way around the college circuit. He held coaching positions for both the offensive and defensive side of the ball during that span.
When he did finally make the move to the NFL he joined the Rams in 2003 as a linebackers coach. It was in St. Louis where he and Smith first worked together on the same staff. After just one season in St. Louis Babich joined Lovie Smith on the move to Chicago and took the linebacker coaching duties here for the next 3 years. In 2006 Babich received the new title of Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach.
Following the 2006 season, Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera left Chicago and Babich inherited the position. Now, after two seasons, he maintains the title but loses the play calling privileges. Again, he'll be working with the linebackers as the defensive coordinator, but if you ask me he truly is nothing more than a linebacker coach for the Bears.
Babich is one bad defensive season away from losing his job completely.
There has been one major change this year that could help Babich keep his job; the addition of Rod Marinelli.
The past few years have been interesting for Marinelli. He spent the last 3 seasons coaching the Detroit Lions and was the first coach ever to go 0-16. His overall record as a head coach was 10-38. That record makes it pretty apparent why he wanted to get back to what he was more familiar with, the defensive line.
Before Marinelli's career ever came to the pro level he coached 13 years at the collegiate level. His first NFL gig was coaching the defensive line for the Bucs. He held that position for 10 years. It was during his time in Tampa that Marinelli first worked with Lovie Smith and Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo.
In 2003 Marinelli helped coach one of the most dominant defensive lines in football and helped the Bucs with the Super Bowl. Two notable players on that line were Pro Bowlers Simeon Rice and Warran Sapp.
If Marinelli can bring the same synergy to the Bears defensive line that he assembled in Tampa, Chicago's defense will be much improved. The scheme Chicago uses, the Tampa 2, makes it essential to get pressure with your d-line. Marinelli has all the experience that's needed within this system. As a fan I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he can work miracles.
Perhaps one of the most underrated coaches on the Bears staff is Offensive Coordinator, RonTurner.
Turner first joined the Bears on Dave Wandstedt's staff from 1993-1996. His current stretch with Chicago started in 2005 after Lovie Smith's first season. Between his two terms with the Bears he became a Big Ten head coach for the University of Illinois. It should also be noted that Turner's brother, Norv, is the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
Ron Turner is a vital part to this Bears coaching staff.
I challenge anyone to name a team in the NFL that has scored more points than the Bears over the past 4 years with equal or less talent. Ron Turner has done an incredible job with mediocre talent and I don't think he gets the credit he deserves.
I will agree that his play calling in certain situations has been suspect. (Think back to last year, goal line situation, 4 downs to get in and stopped cold all 4 times.) But for the most part he's transformed Chicago's offense from the John Shoop and Terry Shea eras.
This season I expect Turner to really open up his play book and show the rest of the league how good he can be. It will be the first time he has an offensive pro bowler who isn't an OL or TE (Hester made the prowl bowl as a kick returner). Turner's offense gets points, or at least gets the field goal team close enough to score.
Speaking of the field goal teams, Dave Toub, Chicago's Special Teams Coordinator, is by far the the golden boy of the Bears' staff.
One thing the Bears have done consistently the last few years is excel in Special Teams. Sure you could look at players Robbie Gould, Patrick Mannely, Brad Maynard, Devin Hester, or Daniel Manning and give them credit for a job well done. But what about the man behind the players? Where's the love for Dave Toub?
Toub hasn't been in the NFL long compared to some others on the staff. He coached at the collegiate level for a long time and oddly, spent 11 years as a strength and conditioning coach. His final 3 years at the college level were spent coaching the defensive line. In 2001 he made the jump to the NFL. His first NFL position was with the Philadelphia Eagles. It was in Philly that he got his first taste of special teams.
In 2004 Toub signed with Chicago and is now in the last year of his contract. Over the past five seasons Toub's special teams unit has ranked high in field position, punts inside the 20, points scored, and field goal percentage.
The Bears unit has been exceptional over the past few seasons and as a fan, I'm thankful.
The players do make a difference, there's no doubt about it. But not getting flagged on a return and being able to pull off trick plays when needed are in large part due to the coaching staff.
Special teams is one of those areas on an NFL team where mediocrity is accepted. Chicago has had the luxury of having an outstanding special teams unit; both players and coaching.
We all know that if the Bears don’t win the Super Bowl this year there are going to be some fingers pointed and some changes made. Only difference now is, perhaps you can predict what coaching changes will be made.