Why Lovie Smith Stays (And Why Most of the Media Has Situation Wrong)

| January 4th, 2012

David Haugh and Steve Rosenbloom – the  Laurel & Hardy of the Chicago sports media – have weighed in on the decision by Bears ownership to replace Jerry Angelo in the wake of the 2011 post-Cutler injury collapse. I would quote Rosenbloom here but I have too much respect for the work I’ve done to build DaBearsBlog to deface its home page with such vile, inane, unfunny garbage writing. Instead I’ll give you a bit of Haugh:

The choice to essentially keep Smith over Angelo assures the coach significant input into selecting the man who will decide whether to fire him if the Bears miss the playoffs in 2012. We all should be so lucky as to help choose the boss who evaluates us.

This seems to be an opinion permeating the newspapers and airwaves of Chicagoland. There is a belief that keeping Smith and losing Angelo means Lovie has ascended to a new power strata at Halas Hall. I don’t buy it. And I think Smith knows full well that he is coaching for his Bear life next season.

Lovie Smith was kept as head coach for 2012 for one reason and one reason only: the Bears ownership and CEO Ted Phillips truly believe the Bears can pick up where they left off at 7-3 and compete for the Super Bowl next season. They believe the assembled defensive talent is championship-ready and they love the staff in place to coach that talent. If the Bears were to make a change at the head coach position, overhauling the entirety of his staff, there would simply be too many game day questions to convince fans the Bears were contenders in 2012.

Jerry Angelo was fired for the exact same reason. The Bears know the current talent assembled, when healthy, can compete for at-worst a wild card berth in the playoffs. They know that a few savvy off-season moves can strengthen that unit for a run at an NFC North title and perhaps a Super Bowl. But the organization must be concerned with more than a one-year run for a title. They must be concerned for the time when Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers are no longer elite players. They must be concerned with the lack of talent/depth at wide receiver and lack of edge-blocking along the offensive line. Any GM can write a check to Dwayne Bowe or Vincent Jackson or Stevie Johnson and the Bears know that. But they want to return to strengthening the depth and future of the roster through the draft and the draft is where Jerry Angelo had received his most stinging criticisms. He has struggling evaluating high-profile picks. He failed at executing trades in an embarrassing fashion. This was the perfect opportunity to make the big front office switch.

Is it crazy to force the new GM to stick with Lovie Smith at head coach for 2012? Of course not. And don’t believe the Tribune buffoons when they try and argue prospective candidates will be wary of the situation. A new GM will come to one of the banner franchises in the league with a quarterback, running back and short-term (1-3 years) defense in place. He will have final say on all football decisions made throughout the free agency and draft periods. He will then have a pressure-free season to evaluate each and every coach and player employed by the Chicago Bears. If he’s not happy with the work of Lovie Smith, he’ll fire Lovie Smith. (What Jerry Angelo would have done to Dick Jauron if Jauron had not led the Bears to a thrilling 13-3 season in 2001.)

You don’t clean house with an organization just for the sake of cleaning house. Not when you were 7-3 before losing your starting quarterback and 7-4 before losing your star running back for the season. Not when you were scoring thirty-plus points a week during a five-game win streak with those players healthy and only saw a precipitous decline due to the unprofessional play of a guy called Caleb. Keeping Lovie Smith as the head coach tells the fans, “We believe the success of 2010 and 7-3 will continue this coming year.” Replacing Jerry Angelo says, “We believe we need a new man to cement the foundation of the roster in the years beyond 2012.”

This move is not about next season. It is about the decade that follows. Lovie Smith will need at least seventeen games next season to be part of that future.