No Rush to Extend Lovie Smith’s Contract But Problems Don’t Begin With Him

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times notes that despite their success, there are no cries for a contract extention for Lovie Smith.  He thinks there shouldn’t be for a variety of reasons but the major one is that he just isn’t convinced Smith is a good coach:

“Would the Bears be playing for a playoff berth today if they had had the injuries the Packers’ have dealt with this season?”

The answer is possibly not.  But the truth is that there aren’t many coaches outside of New England (and apparently Green Bay) that could.  So unless Bill Belichick is about to come available, I don’t see that as a legitimate criticism.  You don’t just keep firing coaches until Bill Parcells falls into your lap.  But here’s the real point:

“Smith might be the coach of the year in the NFC. But as well-deserved as that honor would be, let’s not forget it’s for 2010 only.”

Indeed.  But in my opinion, Smith hasn’t just done it this year.  The truth is that – given the talent they’ve had – the Bears are competitive every year.  Not great, of course, but all things considered, competitive.  The Chicago Tribune‘s Dan Pompei quotes the numbers:

“In Smith’s seven years with the Bears, he has won 63 regular-season games. Only seven clubs have won more over that period of time, and only two NFC teams. All but three have done it with more than one coach.”

I’ve never believed that Smith is a bad head coach.  Its obvious that he wants to win badly enough to make the tough decisions and do what’s right.  If a head coach’s job is to manage players and assistant coaches, well kudos to him.  Since he became the head coach in 2004, the players have generally seemed to be motivated to play for him, they’ve generally liked him and, generally, they’ve had the right frame of mind to make plays for the team.  If his coaching staff has had a high turnover rate, give him credit for not settling and for continuing to search to find the right combination of assistants.  He certainly deserves credit for putting together an excellent staff this year.

Smith’s teams haven’t been hanging around 0.500 the last few years because he’s a bad coach.  Its because the Bears haven’t drafted enough talent.  When, in the end, they had to go out and buy it, he’s come through with a pretty good season.  Yes, they’ve enjoyed good health and good luck.  But teams make their own luck and even with an average number of injuries, the odds are good this team would have performed.

Smith has some problems.  He ‘s lousy in front of a camera and relations with the media obviously aren’t great.  In terms of his personality, I can’t say I’d miss him much if he were to be fired tomorrow.

But if you ask me, the biggest problem he has is his general manager.  The one huge reservation I have about Smith is that he’s partnered with a guy in Jerry Angelo who hasn’t shown that he can draft talent at the teams most important positions (defensive end, left tackle, quarterback).  The Bears playmakers either were drafted previous to Angelo’s temper or have been bought by ownership.  Even Potash acknowledges this:

“If the heat is on anybody at Halas Hall, it’s on general manager Jerry Angelo. This season has been more about the importance of playmakers than about the wizardry of Smith. If the Bears don’t draft difference-makers in addition to the complementary pieces Angelo has a knack for finding, this won’t last long.”

Bottom line, I’m not calling for an immediate extension of Smith’s contract anymore than Potash is.  But its not because I expect Smith to be a “wizard”.  That’s not realistic.  It’s because I’m worried about the direction the entire organization, starting at the top.

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