Lovie Smith: The Fallacy That the Chicago Bears Coach Has Ever Been Good
Chicago Bears GM Jerry Angelo is getting all of the grief for another disappointing season, while head coach Lovie Smith is getting a free pass due to injuries.
That is just not right.
When Santa Claus dropped a lump of coal in the Bears' stocking on Christmas Day and they lost to the Green Bay Packers, it assured that they would be sitting home, watching the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years.
Other teams win with starters out. Green Bay won the Super Bowl last year with over 15 players injured at various times during the season. Houston made the playoffs this year while losing both their first and second-string quarterbacks, along with several other players.
The Bears had an injury-free season last year, along with the biggest streak of luck in NFL history on the way to the NFC Championship Game—where, of course, they lost to the Packers.
Shouldn't that mean the coach deserves some of the blame? Where is the accountability with Smith?
Yet the Bears extended him after last season with a year still left on his contract, just like they did in 2006 after the Super Bowl loss to Indy.
The security of that extension made him feel pretty smug about the situation. Quoting a column from Rob Reischel from the Journal Sentinel on February 26, 2011, Smith said, "I have three years on my contract. Is this a must-win season for me? Not really."
He continued on, "With three years on my contract, I feel pretty good about that."
I wonder if any Bears fans reading this are feeling as good about the situation as Smith does.
If you compare him to his peers among the 10 longest-tenured coaches in the league, he doesn't fare too well.
Won-Lost Win Percentage Playoff Record
Mike McCarthy Packers 62-33 .653 5-2
Sean Payton Saints 61-34 .642 4-2
Tom Coughlin Giants 73-54 .575 4-3
Lovie Smith Bears 70-57 .551 3-3
Gary Kubiak Texans 47-48 .495 0-0
Marvin Lewis Bengals 69-73 .486 0-2
Coming in eighth out of 10 is not very impressive, and even those numbers make Smith look better than he really is.
When you take into account all of the breaks that went his way last year, you could realistically scrap three victories. That would change his overall record to 67-60 and no playoffs since the Super Bowl. Not quite as impressive, is it?
Next, take into account that Detroit has been horrible up until this year. They had double-digit losses almost every year Smith has been coaching the Bears. That's two victories in the bag just about every season.
Minnesota has also been bad for a good period of time since Smith has been coaching Chicago. Just in the division, for much of Smith's tenure, the Bears have had three to four wins every year before the season has even started.
That leaves you 12 more games, so Smith has had a big advantage to make his record look much better than it really is.
How about the Christmas present that keeps on giving—Devin Hester? Every day is Christmas when he's returning kicks and punts for you. How many games did he win for Lovie and the Bears?
The year he was drafted, the Bears made the Super Bowl. Does anyone really think they would have been there without Hester?
Where would they have been without him these past several years? Would Lovie still even have a job?
A Lovie Smith team is built on special teams and takeaways. Without Hester and the best special teams coach in the business, Dave Toub, giving the Bears the advantage of excellent field position most weeks, what would the Bears have looked like?
His defense plays a bend-but-don't-break style. It's predicated on the opposing team making a mistake and not being able to march down the field to score, but how effective has his calling card been?
Other than finishing second in 2005 and fifth in 2006 in defensive rankings, the Bears were 28th in 2007, 21st in 2008, 17th in 2009 and 18th this year. Only in 2010, when they faced a slew of reserve quarterbacks, did they crack the Top 10 (ninth).
And remember, the 2005 and 2006 Bears teams still had Ron Rivera running the defense. They have never approached those numbers since Rivera left, so you could say he was more responsible for the success of the defense than Lovie was.
Smith's decision-making has always been an issue, whether it's knowing when to call a time out, time management or throwing the challenge flag. Lovie has failed as a game manager instead of improving over time.
Is there any excuse for Smith playing his defenders back against Denver and Tim Tebow when they had shut him out for almost the entire game? Then, with about three minutes left, Smith decided to give the Broncos' receivers 20-25-yard cushions so that Tebow could throw underneath the coverage and march down the field for two scores to tie the game.
That's just bad coaching.
His vaunted defense is growing old. Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Peanut Tillman are all on the wrong side of 30. Smith has done nothing to develop anyone to take their places, and don't think it's all Jerry Angelo's fault.
Lovie gained a lot of power when he signed his new contract after the Super Bowl, and that included deciding what players he wanted for the team. He needs players to fit into his scheme, and that's what Angelo drafted for him—with Lovie's help.
It's the blind leading the blind, but they are both equally at fault.
Year after year, they draft new safeties and none of them ever pan out. Outside of Briggs and Urlacher, they have never found that third linebacker.
Defense is Lovie's specialty, and he can't find or develop a player to save his life. Is that a good head coach?
It's scary to think what this team is going to look like in a few years. You certainly don't want Lovie around to pick up the pieces.
Looking at the offense, which Smith knows nothing about, it's always the offensive coordinator's fault. Mike Martz will probably take the blame after this season mercifully ends Sunday. Before him it was Ron Turner and Terry Shea.
It's always someone else to blame; everyone except Lovie. Isn't he the one who hired those guys?
As the head coach, the final decision always comes down to him. Watching Caleb Hanie play, how could he keep on saying, "Caleb is my quarterback" until the Bears played themselves out of the playoffs?
When Jay Cutler went down, the Bears were 7-3 and on the way to the playoffs. Even after his injury, with the weak AFC West on the schedule, you would think that a good coach could have found a way for the team to eke out the two wins necessary to get them into the playoffs.
Instead they lost five straight games, with four of those being very winnable. They weren't going to beat Green Bay, who are in another league.
The one thing Smith has going for him is that the players like him, but you could compare that to Lovie being like a cult leader. His brainwashing has resonated so deeply within them that they echo his mantra every time they speak.
The problems all start at the top with the McCaskey family running the show. They operate like a mom-and-pop shop instead of a professional football organization.
With matriarch Virginia McCaskey heading the organization, things are not likely to change. She appointed her son George to run the operation, but he has been silent so far this year.
It's time to clean house, but Virginia is fond of Lovie, Jerry and team president Ted Phillips, and is not likely to institute changes at this time.
I guess Lovie won her over with his Southern charm, though that was not so evident this week when he answered a question from a reporter asking about Mike Martz' status after the season. His arrogance during press conferences continues to be a slap in the face to the fans of the team, because the media is the conduit to the fans.
Lovie's expiration date is long past due. It's time to throw out the spoiled milk.
I can't imagine anyone would disagree with that.
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