When people think about the Chicago Bears, they’ll always think about Mike Ditka. He’s a larger than life character and won a Super Bowl with one of the most impressive teams in NFL history. Saturday Night Live’s segment with The Super Fans and their obsessive love of Ditka made famous the phrase, Da Coach.
On the flip side of Ditka is Lovie Smith. They’re pretty much opposites on the spectrum of life. While Ditka loved the spotlight and being a character, Smith takes a completely opposite approach. He’s very calm and really isn’t interested in the spotlight. Ditka’s press conferences and weekly show were must-watch, Smith don’t even have a show and his press conferences will put one to sleep.
At the time the Bears hired Ditka, they were a very talented team that needed an edge. Ditka provided it and had a potential dynasty on his hands. However, inside the locker room Ditka’s act and rare rejection of an endorsement deal brought resentment from his players. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ditka sided with replacement players in 1987. His players felt that Ditka had sold out and lost pretty much all respect for their coach. It’s very telling that former Bear Richard Dent didn’t mention Ditka during his acceptance speech into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dent has gone so far to blame Ditka for not winning more championships.
Smith has a much different relationship with his team. When Julius Peppers was a free agent, he said the only coach he wanted to play for was Smith. His players love and respect him along with his colleagues around the league. And while he’s had issues in the past with assistant coaches, none ever say a bad word about him after-the-fact.
Many fans take issue with Smith not expressing much emotion or frustration on the sidelines. Ditka was the king of ranting and raving during games. Behind closed doors, however, Smith can get as worked up as any coach according to his players. I find this to be a positive thing. Teams respond to a coach’s demeanor. Coaches that act like maniacs on the sideline usually fizzle out (see Rex Ryan). Smith’s teams rarely panic and that is a direct reflection of his leadership.
So to answer my original question, I think Smith is a different coach than Ditka. While Ditka did win his only Super Bowl as coach of the Bears (which Smith failed to do), I do think he should have had more success with his teams. He had legendary players up-and-down the roster and to only make and win one Super Bowl is criminal. On the other hand, when Smith has the talent, he generally wins. Smith’s one Super Bowl appearance was arguably against a better Indianapolis Colts team.
In the end, I would take Smith over Ditka. I’m sure many of you will disagree and that’s OK. Let me know what you think. I’m also your guy on Twitter @chicagobearjew.