The Lovie Smith Era: From Then to Now

Thomas ClarkCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2010

DETROIT - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears looks on while playing the Detroit Lions on January 3, 2010 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Chicago won the game 37-23.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It all started on January 15, 2004, when Lovie Smith was hired as head coach of the Chicago Bears. Smith came to Chicago with three main goals: to beat the Green Bay Packers, win the NFC North, and win the Super Bowl. He was one horrendous effort against the Indianapolis Colts from accomplishing all three of those goals.

Lovie Smith's tenure in Chicago has been as erratic as a rollercoaster. With highs of a 13-3 record and a trip to Super Bowl 41 in 2006 and lows of going 7-9 and missing the playoffs the following year.

After failing to make the playoffs for a third straight year in 2009, Smith's future looked bleak in Chicago. Many analysts and fans throughout the league were predicting that a new head coach would be patrolling the sidelines at Soldier Field in 2010. Jerry Angelo and the Bears declined to fire Smith after the disappointing season, and the rollercoaster that once had Bears fans celebrating throughout the Windy City now seems like a rollercoaster that Chicago just can't seem to get off of. 

In his first year in Chicago, Smith became head coach of the youngest team in the league. Having to deal with numerous injuries and inexperience throughout the roster, Smith could only lead the Bears to five victories. It wasn't until the next year that Lovie Smith became an icon in Chicago.

The Bears were still one of the youngest squads in the league and faced a huge obstacle when quarterback Rex Grossman got injured in a preseason game and was forced to miss his second straight season due to injury. Luckily, the Bears had rookie quarterback Kyle Orton on the bench.

The Purdue star was nothing near spectacular but, with help from an outstanding defense anchored by Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears found themselves with an 11-5 record and accomplished one of the biggest NFL turnarounds of the decade. Although the Bears lost to the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round of the playoffs, Smith was still voted Coach of the Year and there was new found hope in Chicago. 

In 2006, the Bears were favored by many to win their second straight division title, a feat only one other Chicago coach had ever accomplished: Mike Ditka. The Bears lived up to all the hype and started 7-0 and quickly became the Cinderella story of the NFL. But even after finishing 13-3, the Bears had questions at the most important position in sports: quarterback.

Young gun Rex Grossman finished the season with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. But Smith stood by his quarterback and Grossman proved that Smith made the right decision.

In the playoffs, Grossman led Chicago to their first Super Bowl in 20 years. Smith became the first African-American head coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl, and he was one win away from becoming a hero in Chicago. But Grossman, the quarterback that Smith had backed throughout the whole season, came out flat and threw two interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown. The Bears fell 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts and came back to Chicago empty-handed.

After two magical seasons in 2005 and 2006, Lovie Smith and the Bears failed to make the playoffs in 2007 and 2008.

It wasn't until the 2009 season that Chicago began to have hope that maybe the Bears could win the Super Bowl. Smith made a gutsy move and traded for 25-year-old quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler was coming off his first Pro Bowl with the Denver Broncos and many thought he could clean up the mess that was the Chicago Bears. But Cutler struggled throughout the season, and so did the defense that once was at the top of the league. The Bears finished 7-9 for the second time in three seasons and once again failed to meet expectations or make the playoffs.

While many still believe that Cutler is a true franchise quarterback that can make the Bears a quality team, most believe that Smith needs to go. After the team failed to make the playoffs the past three years, maybe the magic that Lovie Smith once had with the Chicago Bears is running out.