From Then to Now: The Lovie Smith Era

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 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. Smith's tenure in Chicago has been as erratic as a roller coaster.

With a highpoint of a 13-3 record and a trip to Super Bowl XLI in 2006, and a low point of going 7-9 and missing the playoffs the following year, Bears fans have seen it all.

After failing to make the playoffs for a third straight year in 2009, Smith's future looked bleak in Chicago and many analysts and fans throughout the league were predicting that a new head coach would be patrolling the sidelines at Soldier Field in 2010.

But General Manager Jerry Angelo and the Bears declined to fire Smith after the disappointing season and the roller coaster that once had Bear's fans celebrating throughout the Windy City now seems like one 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  Smith became an icon in Chicago.

The Bears were still one of the youngest squads in the league, and faced a huge obstacle when QB 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 former 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 the Bears became the Cinderella story of the NFL.

But even after finishing 13-3 the Bears still had questions at the most important position in sports: quarterback. Young gun Rex Grossman finished the season with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

However, despite his inconsistent play, Smith stood by his quarterback and Grossman proved that Smith made the right decision, as 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 being a hero in Chicago.

But Grossman, the quarterback that Smith had backed throughout the whole season came out flat and threw two interceptions, including 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, 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 passing attack.

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 by making the playoffs.

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