As the dust settles over the post-Lovie-Smith Chicago landscape, the new coaching situation is still very much in the air. As we said in last week’s For the Record, our pick would be either McCoy or Arians. I’d also be okay with Trestman, who Jimmy Johnson apparently thinks already got the job. How do you know that? Hey, I’m asking you a question. Answer me, thing in the mouth-face.
But despite the fact that they interviewed Mike Singletary (which I’m choosing to believe was only because this city can’t wipe its ass without first asking the opinion of an ’85 Bear instead of the horrifying alternative that they actually might hire Mike Singletary to be their head coach) and a handful of Special Teams guys, including Toub, I think it’s obvious that an offense-minded, decidedly not-Lovie-Smith Chicago coaching staff is on its way in.
Now, despite what Iggins! would have you believe, I was the only one of our merry band whose surety that Lovie would get the axe never wavered. Red called me that Sunday night and explained for like a half hour all the reasons he was certain Lovie was safe, a sentiment that was echoed around the Internet by people who like Lovie Smith. We’ve always been pretty firmly in Lovie’s camp, and I still don’t think he necessarily deserved to get fired, but I understand why he did.
That needlessly long introduction aside, what I wanted to do here was break down a couple of the arguments people had for keeping Lovie around and why, sadly, they weren’t enough to save his job. Because I hate things that are different, the arguments will be in italics and my responses will be in regular ol’ Times.
They were 10-6!
This is unquestionably the best argument for Lovie keeping his job. Despite consistent struggles with injury, the inability to find an offensive identity, Kellen Davis’s continued existence and a host of other problems, this team finished well over .500. They missed the playoffs because the Packers somehow managed to lose to the Vikings.
Part of what made that 10-6 so bad was that failure to get to the postseason. 10-6 is an objectively good record, but failing to make the playoffs means you’re no better off than a team that finished 8-8. I was saying since the first win over the Vikings that they would limp into the playoffs and get obliterated by the Packers, and I don’t think that would’ve been a whole lot better, but at least it takes the “builds decent teams that rarely make the playoffs” stigma off of Lovie.
The other problem with that 10-6 is the way it breaks down. If they had started the season 5-3 and finished the season 10-6, Lovie might have been okay. But the fact that they started 7-1 and then went into a complete tailspin changes the picture. You can blame injuries, bad playcalling, dropped passes or anything else you want, but the team was in free fall and Lovie couldn’t fix it. For better or worse, that’s his job.
He only got a year with Emery!
This is another decent argument, because Lovie Smith’s problem for years was Jerry Angelo. We got rid of Angelo, but his legacy lived on in a weak offensive line and a one-dimensional receiver corps; two issues that have plagued this team ever since Lovie came to town.
Emery had a smart, busy offseason and acquired quite possibly our biggest offensive playmaker since Walter Payton, but there just isn’t enough money or time to completely fix an offense so broken in one offseason. However, we all knew going in that this season would be Lovie’s last stand. In September, they were talking about this being our Super Bowl year, and then it all just kind of fell apart. After going from “legitimate contender” to “the NFC’s doorman” in the span of a couple weeks and never recovering, somebody had to get fired. And Emery only had a year with the team, so you can’t blame him for it.
Ultimately, Lovie got fired because everybody else who deserved to already was. We threw players, coaches, coordinators and one General Manager in front of him because we knew that he could win if he ever got a team capable of doing so, but there was finally nothing left between him and the losses. Somebody had to be fired, and Lovie was the closest to the door.
He’s a defensive coach, and the defense was great!
No. This was by far the dumbest thing I heard in the days and hours leading up to Black Monday. Not that the defense wasn’t great, but that it somehow meant Lovie didn’t deserve to be fired. He’s always been a defense guy, and the fact that he doesn’t know or care much about offense has always been the downside to dealing with him. But in a league where teams with little or no defense can still make regular Super Bowl appearances, that downside is much more pronounced than it would’ve been 20 years ago.
Analysts and pundits still say “defense wins championships” all the time because they apparently don’t know anything. Would you say that the Saints, Packers, or Patriots won their Super Bowls with defense? Having a good defense, especially one as good as the Bears’ was this year, is an excellent foundation to build on, but you still have to score points. Defense wins championships about as much as run game does these days, and refusal to adapt gets you fired at 10-6.
If you want to be responsible for one aspect of a team, be a coordinator. The head coach has to work on both sides of the ball, whether he wants to or not.
His contract was up in a year!
While it’s true that we would only have had to deal with him for one more year anyway, the more pertinent question is this: why should we? Emery has shown that he is a bold, proactive decision-maker, and he saw the same thing I did: next year would’ve been the same if Lovie was still the head coach. Personnel were only a part of the problem this year, and keeping the exact same coaching staff would mean we get the exact same team with marginally better pass protection and maybe a new tight end.
To put it simply, it’s going to take more than that. If we want to win in today’s league, we need to finally act like we’re part of it. We’re not playing to win a championship in 1987, we’re playing to win a championship in 2013. And that means offense.
There was a moment last weekend, when the three of us were shooting the shit about next year because this year was still too fresh, when I realized how deep this problem goes. Iggins! was talking about the merits of switching to a 3-4 while Red violently defended the existing scheme, and I thought “Look at how Chicago this is. We just went 10-6 with a defense that scored nine touchdowns, led the league in takeaways, had the league leaders in interceptions and forced fumbles, and sent five players to the Pro Bowl. We also had an offense that couldn’t score more than 17.1 points per game to win a couple, but here we were asking ourselves ‘But how can we solve this problem with defense?‘”
The time has come for an offense-leaning coach to drag this team into the 21st century, whether we like it or not, and all keeping Lovie around would have accomplished would be wasting the (probably) last truly dominant season for this defense before all the players crumble into dust.
I still think Lovie Smith is a good football coach. He knows this game inside and out, and he’s as committed to his players as anyone in the league. Perhaps, if Jerry Angelo had been Phil Emery all along, Lovie could’ve won his Super Bowl by now. But he’s a guy who needs the right pieces to be in place to win. He needs an offense that can take care of itself, or a coordinator who can take that burden off his shoulders, and he was never going to get it in Chicago.
I’ve no doubt he’ll land somewhere, he’s got a solid record and a ton of experience. I only hope that it’s somewhere his skills will be more effective than they were in Chicago.
In the meantime, I’ve got a whole offseason’s worth of complaining to get to.