On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers handed Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears their fifth loss in six games, putting Chicago’s shot at a wild-card berth in jeopardy. With Smith in a contract year, the question needs to be asked as to whether the Bears should re-sign their longtime head coach.
Smith guided the Bears to their second-ever Super Bowl trip, but that was in 2006. In the years since, he’s made just one playoff appearance while finishing at .500 or worse three times.
Another non-playoff season could well be the death-blow to Smith’s Bears career.
Smith has also failed miserably at improving a dismal Chicago offense. Even in the Super Bowl season, the Bears finished just 15th in the NFL in total yards—and that was Smith’s best showing by a wide margin.
For comparison, Mike Ditka—for all his reputation of winning with defense—kept the Bear offense in the top 13 in yardage every year after his debut season in Chicago.
Obviously, Smith himself is a defensive coach, but that doesn’t excuse his inability to hire offensive assistants who can do their jobs. Not only have Chicago’s offensive coordinators failed to get the most out of their personnel, but they’ve also failed to help the front office make smart personnel decisions (witness the foolhardy, Mike Martz-spurred trade of Greg Olsen).
To Smith’s credit, he’s made the most of some awful draft positions over the years, taking mid-round picks such as Corey Wootton and Chris Conte and turning them into vital contributors. But, by banking everything on his defense, he magnifies the effects of the key injuries that have left this year’s team scrambling for playoff position.
For all his struggles, though, Smith hasn’t finished worse than 7-9 since his first year at the helm. There aren’t a lot of coaches who could have done better in a division that’s featured some scary Packer and Viking teams during that timeframe.
The Bears need to take a hard look at the potential head coaches who are out there—Jon Gruden? Andy Reid?—and decide if they believe that any of them would be a legitimate improvement over Smith. The odds are that no available coach would fit that description, but that’s not to say the Chicago front office won’t see things differently.
If they have a prime replacement in mind, and if Chicago doesn’t manage to claw its way into this year’s playoffs, the Bears should jettison Smith at season’s end. If the Bears do secure a postseason berth, though, or if firing Smith would only accomplish change for the sake of change, Chicago should stay the course with its defensive-minded coach.944158