No Guts, No Glory

Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune reminds us that firing Lovie Smith isn’t enough:

“Getting rid of Lovie Smith does not make the Bears a better team.

“Only replacing him with a better coach would.”

“It’s possible Mike McCoy or Keith Armstrong or Mike Sullivan or one of the other assistants who will interview with Emery will come to the Bears and end up with a better record than Smith. Maybe one of those coaches finally can get the offense right.

“But teams once had those kinds of hopes for Tony Sparano, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Bobby Petrino, Josh McDaniels, Steve Spagnuolo and dozens of others.

“Coaches like Smith are not easy to find. Someday, if not today, a lot of people around here are going to realize that.”

There’s a lot of truth in this. I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating here. I went to the University of Missouri and early in the eighties they had a coach named Warren Powers. Powers’ teams usually hung around 0.500 and pulled off the occasional upset over an Oklahoma here and there but Missouri alumni and students thought they should do better. We moaned and complained and at the end of the 1984 season we sang songs from the stands bidding the man “goodbye and good riddance”. The University fired him and it literally plunged the football program into two decades of misery.

The lesson? No matter how bad off you think things are there’s always the potential to alter things and make them worse. But isn’t that always the case with change?

The situation at Missouri was a little different than the Bears situation now. Or at least so we hope. The administration at Missouri was totally inept and tried to hire the next football coach with a committee in the same way you’d go about hiring a new professor in the Biology department. Doing that was something like hiring a search firm to find a general manager for a professional football team…

But the Bears are likely beyond that. General manager Phil Emery shows every sign of having a plan for this team and if he executes it correctly, they’ll be better for it.

In any case, one thing is definitely true. You can’t get better unless you are willing to take a chance on change and if it doesn’t work, I’d rather live with the consequences of the failure than have to sit and wonder what might have been.

Truth or Consequences and the End of the Lovie Smith Era

“This above all: to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day; Thou canst not then be false to any man.” That’s the famous quote from Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It is a memorable truth that has stood as one of the best lines in English literature because it is relevant to all ages including this one.

And of all of the opinions written on the Lovie Smith era, the column that I will remember is this one from Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Now that the deed is done and Lovie Smith is gone, I’m struck by how little we know about him after nine years with the Bears.”

“[W]e have no idea what he likes to do with his free time. The music he enjoys. What he reads. How he got the scar on his chin. He refused to let anyone in. I know it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with his coaching ability, but it’s still amazing, isn’t it? Nine years and we don’t have any real sense of the man?

“All we had to go on were those painful, monotonal press conferences. He did himself and us a disservice.”

“If he gets an opportunity to be a head coach again, I hope he’ll realize how important interpersonal communication is. Maybe people would have been willing to give him a break if he had been a little more accessible, a little less condescending.

“All we were left with was the superficial stuff. For all we all know, it might have been the substantial stuff.”

A lot will be said by a lot of people, including me, about how it was time to move on. People like Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune, for instance:

“He had been in his chair for a long time, nine years. They talk about a ’10-year rule’ for head coaches. After 10 years, a coach’s message gets old. He wears out his welcome — if not with his players, at least with his public.

“That clearly happened to Smith.”

Exactly what message was that, Dan? In nine long years what, exactly, has Lovie Smith ever made any kind of an effort to tell me?

Morrissey is right. A better person than Smith might have caught a break this year with the public. But while Smith leaves town with a lot of friends amongst the players in the locker room and that does speak well of him, he’ll leave no friends behind in the media and, more importantly, none amongst the fans. In the end its that ambivalence that got him no slack and his tenure as coach of the Bears collapsed relatively quickly without the extra time and support.

The only part of himself Smith ever showed the fans was a verbal wagging of the finger with a “Shut up and trust me.” And as I’ve said multiple times before, every team reflects the personality of its head coach to at least some extent. So it should really have come as no surprise when Brian Urlacher‘s attitude turned out to be the same when the truth came out.

Returner Devin Hester calls us “false fans”. What he doesn’t realize is that you can’t be a fan of a false man.