It is very easy for Chicago Bears fans to sit back and want to fire Lovie Smith. Once again, the team enters an important stretch of games and fails to execute at key moments. The consensus with almost all Bears fans is that Smith is the problem. To be fair, I am going to look at this from both sides of the argument.
The Case to Keep Smith
Smith is well over .500 as the head coach of the Bears. Dealing with a roster that isn’t as talented as other teams around the league, the Bears are fairly competitive. When Smith had his best team in 2006, he took the team to the Super Bowl despite two key injuries on defense (Tommie Harris and Mike Brown) and Rex Grossman as his quarterback. He is one of the most respected coaches with his peers are players around the league. I personally do not like to play the race card, but Smith has accomplished almost as much as any other African American coach in a sport that has desperately needed more diversity in the coaching ranks.
There’s no telling if the Bears next coach will bring immediate results. After the Bears fired Mike Ditka, Dave Wannstedt was a disaster and Dick Jauron had very lucky year (and more bad ones) before Smith stabilized the position. At the time the Bears hired Wannstedt, he was a top assistant in the league and everyone’s choice to be a top head coach. Jauron was a class act but a below-average coach. Just because replacing a coach sounds like it matters, it isn’t as easy as just hiring a coach. Even the greatest guys on paper don’t always translate to results.
The Case to Fire Smith
In his nine-plus years as head coach of the Bears, the team just isn’t able to take that next step. There always seems to be built-in excuses like injuries and personnel. His player development has been inconsistent at best. While he’s generally hired top coaches on defense, his offensive coaching hires leave a lot to be desired. He is a poor in-game decision maker and has been known to waste time outs and struggle to effectively challenge plays. While he holds some players and coaches accountable, there are times when he seems to let guys slip (Chris Harris was bounced while Kellen Davis continues to get a free pass).
He seems to carry the same demeanor on the sidelines and doesn’t show much fire. It would be nice to see him one time get fired-up during a game. The cover-two defense is becoming outdated and once Brian Urlacher retires, it will be less-effective. The Bears seem to give up big plays at the worst time and fail to make big plays when they need these most.
There’s a difference between motivation and execution. You can yell at someone until you’re blue in the face, but if their talent is limited, the results will be limited too. For example, Devin Hester dropping a wide-open pass in last week’s game really wasn’t the result of motivation, it was execution. Even the greatest motivator in the world isn’t going to have him catch the ball. Now, a better question would be why was Hester in the game at that point running that route? That is a fair and appropriate coaching question.
Despite all the clamoring for a new coach, unless Bill Belichick becomes available, I am not sure of the alternative will be any better. But if the Bears fail to make the playoffs, I think it is only fair to explore a new head coach. At the end, I believe Smith will be the coach in 2013.
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