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Notre Dame Should Hire Lovie Smith as Their Defensive Coordinator

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IDecember 13, 2009

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears watches as his team takes on the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field on November 22, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Eagles defeated the Bears 24-20. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When Notre Dame began their search for a new head coach, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said defense would be a top priority.

Then Swarbrick hired Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly to replace Charlie Weis.

Kelly has been successful at each stop of his coaching career, but defense hasn't been his legacy.

In 2009, his Bearcats got to the doorstep of the National Championship game despite allowing over 350 yards per game of offense, good for only the 48th-ranked team defense in the nation.

This leaves a potentially huge hole on Kelly’s staff in an area that Swarbrick, at least in public, has made specific mention of as being important.

Let's drive about an hour west to Chicago, where the Bears are having a rough season. A big summer trade for Jay Cutler inappropriately raised expectations of the fans to a championship level, and the team hasn't been able to back up those lofty hopes on the field.

If you listen to rumors, there have at least been conversations at Halas Hall regarding some sweeping changes, and head coach Lovie Smith might be one of the scapegoats for the miserable 2009 campaign.

Smith's pedigree is on the defensive side of the ball. He began his professional football coaching career with four years alongside Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay as the linebackers coach. Together, they developed the famous "Tampa Two" defense which many teams still use today.

He was successful enough with Dungy that Mike Martz called on Smith to be his defensive coordinator in St. Louis.

He improved one of the worst defenses in the NFL and helped the Rams storm all the way to Super Bowl XXXVI, where they lost to the New England Patriots.

In 2004, the Bears hired Smith as a defensive-minded head coach. In his second season as the Bears' head coach, Smith was named the 2005 AP NFL Coach of the Year.

Just one season later, Smith was the first African American coach to lead an NFC team to the Super Bowl.

In Super Bowl XLI, Smith lost to Dungy, earning the dubious honor of becoming the first African-American coach to lose a Super Bowl. But, of course, Dungy was the first to win the big game, and since then Mike Tomlin has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the title.

The only reason I bring up the race issue is because of recent sensitivities about that subject in college football. Dungy has been critical of the NCAA being so far behind the NFL in bringing along African-American candidates and promoting them to the head coaching ranks.

Indeed, one of the reasons Smith made the jump to the NFL was because, after 12 years in college football, he never advanced past a position coach.

And yet the man six big-time universities (Tulsa, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio State) passed on was in the Super Bowl less than a decade after making the jump as a head coach.

But things aren't going well in Chicago right now. His defensive genius is among the many things being questioned, and there have been whispers that the ownership in Chicago has lost faith in him. In January, Smith might be unemployed.

Which is where Kelly and Smith might be a great marriage.

Kelly is an up-and-coming coach who could use a coach on his sidelines who is used to the spotlights being has bright and hot as they will be in South Bend. Kelly is a guy who spent 13 years at Grand Valley State before bouncing, in just five years, through Central Michigan and Cincinnati and into Notre Dame.

Everywhere he's been, Kelly has recruited well and won games. But he hasn't been anywhere as big, and prestigious, as Notre Dame. Remember, this is a school that just chewed up and spit out a guy who has Super Bowl rings as an offensive coordinator.

Smith would bring experience, leadership and, most of all, respect with him into Kelly's locker room. Would it be a huge step down from being head coach of the Chicago Bears? Sure. He's making $5.5 million to lead one of the oldest and winningest organizations in professional football. John Tenuta was making in the neighborhood of $500,000 to serve as the defensive coordinator under Weis.

But is it possible that Smith, who would have to be bought out by the Bears if they fire him (a move that would put $11 million in Smith's pockets) wouldn't mind taking a step back from Chicago to South Bend? Anything is possible.

The race card was brought up when Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham, and bringing in a quality African-American coach could not only improve the product on the field, but could help heal wounds from that broken relationship as well.

Bringing a coach with the background and track record of Smith would take Kelly's credibility, and ability to recruit, through the roof. While most rumors are that Weis could come to Chicago, maybe Notre Dame should look to the Bears for a coach as well.

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