Last year at this time, Lovie Smith, GM Jerry Angelo and team president Ted Phillips were at the podium, explaining that they were very disappointed that the team hadn't made the playoffs for the past three seasons and that heads would roll, just none of theirs.
Heads did roll, including offensive coordinator Ron Turner and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
Fast forward to Jan. 6, 2011 with the Chicago Bears in the playoffs and sitting home this weekend with a bye.
Were the powers to be right? Did the Bears just need to tweak a few things and Super Bowl here we come?
The big free-agent pickup was defensive lineman Julius Peppers, a contender for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Though his stats aren't mind-blowing, the impact he has had on the Bears defense has been monumental.
With Peppers playing in front of him, Brian Urlacher looks like he's 22 years old instead of 32. It's his best performance since 2006, and Peppers is unquestionably the main reason why.
Other than Peppers, there haven't been any dramatic changes to the makeup of the roster, yet the team was 11-5 in 2010 compared to 7-9 last year.
The rest of the changes had to do with the coaching staff.
Lovie Smith stepped down as the defensive coordinator and gave the job to Rod Marinelli.
Mike Tice came in to resurrect a porous offensive line, while Mike Martz, after much hemming and hawing by the Bears brass, came in to try to fix the offense.
Based on the results and the Bears making the playoffs, you would have to say it worked. That is despite all of the talk I have been a part of saying how lucky this team has been this year.
But how much has Lovie Smith had to do with the team's success this year?
There is talk that he is a Coach of the Year candidate, but for what?
Did he bring the team together along with the coaches in a kumbaya way to win the North Division this year?
It's known the players love him and would run through a wall for him, though he never even lets them hit each other in training camp. Maybe that's why they would.
The Bears went into the bye with a 4-3 record after two straight defeats, before righting the ship and finishing up on a 7-2 run.
The line came together much better the second half of the season with the return of Roberto Garza and the switch of Chris Williams to left guard. Tice, known as one of the best offensive line coaches in the business, deserves a lot of credit for solidifying the line play.
In fact, Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald credited Tice for talking to Smith during the bye week and convincing him to talk to Martz to balance out the offense. He also wrote in the same piece, "Without him, there's no way the Bears would be 11-5."
Martz, known as the "mad genius," reined in Jay Cutler and helped him become a much more effective player this year, along with altering his playbook after the talk to utilize the skills of running back Matt Forte
I buy that, because when you watch Lovie on the sidelines, it looks like he's waiting for a bus rather than contemplating game-changing decisions.
That was in evidence again this weekend when he called a timeout right before a play where the Bears got a first down on 3rd-and-15 against the Packers. He walked up to the official right before the play.
His call completely changed the momentum of the game. The Bears were moving the ball when he talked to the ref.
The first down was nullified, and Cutler was sacked for a big loss on the next play. The Bears then punted the ball and Green Bay drove downfield for the winning touchdown.
Why did he even feel compelled to ask for the timeout? The argument was that the clock was running down, but with 3rd-and-15, the odds were you wouldn't make the first down anyway, so it really wouldn't matter if it was 3rd-and-20.
As a coach, you have to know the situation. Smith was clueless as usual.
Who could forget the timeout he called against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2006 playoffs with seconds left on the clock, the score tied and Seattle with the ball near midfield?
The only possible outcome was Seattle winning the game because of that call, either on a long pass for a touchdown, or pass interference. Because the game can't end on a defensive penalty, the Seahawks could have kicked the game-winning field goal and the Bears would never have made the Super Bowl that year.
If that had happened, Smith never would have received that contract extension, and I might not be writing this article.
What exactly does Smith contribute to the team other than a slap on the back for the players?
The defense has been much better this year under Marinelli than it was under Smith last year. They have gone from the 17th-ranked defense to No. 9.
Obviously the addition of Peppers along with the return to prominence of Urlacher has had an effect, but has Lovie Smith ever altered his Cover 2 scheme to best utilize the personnel he had to work with?
He's a one-trick-pony. That's all he knows. And I mean that statement. That's all he knows.
Does anybody really feel comfortable with Smith on the sideline making decisions like the timeout, or throwing the flag to challenge a call? We all know how bad his record is in challenges.
The Bears have had a great year and far exceeded expectations, no matter how it came about.
But how much did Lovie Smith really have to do with it?
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