Don’t become a prisoner of the moment and scoff at the title of this article simply due to the fact the Bears lost to the Texans this past weekend. Lovie Smith has proven to be one of the best coaches in Bear’s franchise history, and he deserves to be rewarded with a long term contract before his current one expires at the end of the 2013 season.
It seems that every 2 years or so, Lovie Smith’s contract becomes a hot topic. Chicago fans can never really assume a united stance on Coach Smith, and apparently neither can the front office. Even after the Super Bowl campaign of 2006, Lovie had to fight for a better contract just so he would no longer be the lowest paid coach in the NFL.
Let’s give this guy a break already.
The Bears are 7-2 this season because they’ve been able to rely on a method that’s been proven to work here in Chicago since before Lovie even arrived: defense, defense, and more defense. It’s clear that the 2012 Bears have one of the best defensive units in the NFL, and even though Lovie is no longer directly calling plays on defense, they still implement his base 4-3 scheme with great success. And when he was calling plays, the defense wasn’t too shabby, either.
Since 2004, Lovie has led the Bears to a 78-59 record (including Sunday’s game against the Texans), including 3 trips to the playoffs, 2 NFC Championship Game appearances, and a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. Only 4 coaches in the NFL that have had a tenure with one team as long or longer than Lovie, and of those 4, only Bill Belichick (106 wins) and Tom Coughlin (80 wins) have more wins to their name in that same time frame.
Not only does Lovie have one of the highest win totals in the NFL since becoming a head coach, he has also firmly carved his name into the Bear’s franchise record books. Only George Halas and Mike Ditka stand above him when it comes to wins as a head coach, gathering 318 wins and 106 wins respectively.
Comparing anyone to Halas seems a bit unfair because he accumulated over 40 years worth of wins in the Bear’s glory days. But when the company you’re being compared to is Halas and Ditka, 2 Chicago sports legends, you’re doing something right.
And Lovie’s total wins number could’ve potentially been a bit higher than it currently stands. Last season the Bears jumped out to a 7-3 start only to watch their season get derailed by key injuries to Matt Forte and Jay Cutler. There’s no way we’ll ever know what would’ve happened, but it’s safe to say the Bears wouldn’t have dropped 7 of their final 8 games with those 2 on the field every week.
The way the team has performed under his guidance isn’t the only reason why Lovie deserves a new deal. His “it factor” has to be his rock solid demeanor. If you were to look at Lovie’s face during a game, you wouldn’t be able to tell if the Bears were up by 3 scores or down by 3 scores. Many people dislike this quality of his, but I believe that by staying calm no matter what the circumstances are is beneficial to the team.
He never allows the team to get too excited over any single win, or too down on themselves following any single loss. And since Lovie treats every game with the same urgency and intensity, the Bears rarely ever get caught looking past a weaker opponent.
He is also a player’s coach per reports from the players themselves. The coach that immediately jumps to my mind for comparison is Buck Showalter, head coach of the Baltimore Orioles. Both Lovie and Buck are no nonsense guys, demand your best effort on every play, and are more than happy to let you know about the mistakes you made so you can start working right away to fix them. But both guys never show up their players in public, call out any of their players when talking to the media, or distract from their team by the way they act.
Apparently some fans love it when their coach becomes a side show, like Rex Ryan in New York or Ozzie Guillen in… every single place he has played and managed. But I hate to break it to you: the NFL is not a popularity contest, and the coach’s job isn’t to see how far he can push the envelope when talking to the press.
On occasion, being a flamboyant coach has worked. Sometimes a coach can notice their team is taking a lot of heat from fans and the media and may be crumbling under the pressure, so they decide to divert some of the attention to themselves for the team’s sake.
But this rarely works in the long term, and that coach usually gets carried away and ends up becoming more of a headache than a savior. We even experienced this a bit ourselves in Chicago with Coach Ditka. Sure, he led the Bears to a Super Bowl victory in ’85, but he was just as responsible as anyone else for how quickly that team dissembled. He couldn’t control his ego, butted heads with assistant coaches and players, and got a little too caught up with the Hollywood lifestyle that came with his newfound fame.
Bears fans should consider themselves lucky that they have a coach like Lovie who always has an even keel and never tries to pass off accountability to the next guy. He faces criticism head on and takes his fair share of the blame week in and week out, which is what a true leader does. He also never complains, and I believe that this is another positive aspect that has rubbed off on the players on the team.
Yet another reason to acknowledge Lovie as a top-tier coach is the way he handles “problem players”. Not only is Smith an excellent coach, by all accounts he has an even better character. I know this is straying from the topic of football a bit, but he is more than willing to give players who may have faced some troubles in their careers a shot to make the roster.
Much like Tony Dungy, Lovie acts as a father figure to some players. But he also knows where to draw the line. He gave Tank Johnson and Cedric Benson every chance in the world to succeed, but after they kept on having mishaps, Lovie (and the front office) was able to deal with the problem quickly and internally. There’s never much fanfare or undo attention surrounding what Lovie does, which is another plus.
And even if you believe he isn’t as great of a coach as I’m making him out to be, it’s not like there’s an extravagant list of replacement options who are clearly better than Lovie.
The short list of possible replacements includes Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenhiemer, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, and possibly Sean Payton. I say “possibly” because he will become a free agent after this season since his contract has been voided, but there’s no guarantee he cwill be available after the 2013 when Smith’s contract is up.
Some of these coaches have seen more success in their hay day, but most of them are past their “primes” when it comes to coaching. Cowher stepped away from football to spend more time with his family, so I find it to be a stretch to assume that he can come back at the drop of a hat and be 100% committed to a new team. Mike Holmgren left a pretty ugly situation in Cleveland after taking the position as team president just 2 years ago, so I’m not sure he’s exactly a “hot commodity” at this time either.
Schottenhiemer is currently coaching in the UFL, so that leads me to believe his days coaching at the NFL level are behind him. And Brian Billick’s phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook since he got fired by the Ravens after the 2007 season. It seems like he’s pretty comfortable up there in that FOX broadcast booth by now.
So unless other teams decide to fire their coach (meaning he must not be all that great in the first place), the list of available guys out there right now doesn’t really stack up to Lovie. And honestly, how many additional wins would a “better” coach get you? 1 or 2? Would it be worth all the money and personnel shifting when you have a more than capable solution already in place?
Lovie deserves to be paid like a top-10 coach in the NFL because he has clearly proven to be just that. Forbes Magazine reported that Lovie makes about $6 million this year on his current deal, so I believe a multi-year deal just above $6 million/per is in order. And they should do it soon instead of waiting; why risk the chance of letting a good thing fall right through your fingers?
What are your opinions about Lovie? Do you think the Bears should resign him right now, or wait and test the market? What else does he have to do to finally win over the fans of Chicago?