Lovie Smith probably remembers when Marty Schottenheimer was fired.
Schottenheimer’s San Diego Chargers went 14-2 in 2006, but they lost in the AFC Divisional Game. I remember thinking how insane it was to fire a guy who won 14 games in the regular season and took his team to the playoffs. He was 200-136 as a head coach, and went to the playoffs 13 years with the Browns, Chiefs, and Chargers. What were they thinking?
In the NFL, being very good is not good enough. Schottenheimer was a very good coach, but he didn’t win championships. Vince Lombardi will live on forever. Bill Walsh’s name will not be forgotten. Marty Schottenheimer could easily fade into obscurity.
Where does Lovie Smith stand?
Lovie Smith ends his head coaching career with the Chicago Bears at 81-63 after 9 years. His .563 winning percentage in the regular season turned into a .500 winning percentage in the playoffs. Those stats seem pretty solid on paper.
When you break them down a little more, Lovie’s resumé isn’t quite as impressive. The Bears only made the playoffs 3 out of 9 years under Lovie. Outside of a playoff victory over a 7-9 team in 2010, they only won postseason games in the 2006-2007 season. And of course, after the Super Bowl season, the Bears missed the playoffs 5 out of the last 6 years under Lovie.
In other words, since 2007 Chicago has fewer playoff appearances than Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New England, New Orleans, New York (Giants), New York (Jets), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tennessee, and Washington.
I’m not certain if one Super Bowl appearance is enough to justify keeping a head coach on with that recent track record. The other longest tenured coaches in the league this past season were Bill Belichick (3 Super Bowl wins), Marvin Lewis (3 playoff appearances in the past 4 years), and Andy Reid (5 NFC Championship appearances). Andy Reid was fired. Even with a great track record, longevity is still not a reason to keep a head coach in today’s NFL.
That leads to my assessment of Lovie Smith as a head coach: pretty good. But not great.
Was Lovie good enough to merit staying on though? I don’t think so. Lovie underachieved with a veteran, talented team, rather than improving with a young team (as Marvin Lewis is doing).
Brian Urlacher is 34. Lance Briggs is 32. Charles Tillman is 31. Julius Peppers is 32. Time is conspiring against the Chicago Bears – the window is almost shut.
I do not mention the Bears’ veteran defensive players to say Lovie underachieved with them. Quite the contrary; as Phil Emery acknowledged, Lovie is brilliant defensively. The Bears wreaked havoc on the league under his Tampa 2. The offense failed to produce with 4 different coordinators.
Terry Shea was a miserable first choice. Ron Turner experienced success with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman, but was let go when Jay Cutler underachieved in his first season. Mike Martz was given too much power over personnel decisions (Roy Williams, anyone?), and Mike Tice proved to be an uninspiring play caller.
The worst of the group? Shea and Martz. Both brought in for their past ties to Lovie.
Martz’s ugliest show on turf was due to egregious inflexibility with Jay Cutler. Among other issues, Martz was committed to Cutler running deep drops. Cutler is more comfortable, and successful, rolling outside of the pocket. They butted heads for 2 seasons. Lovie permitted it to happen.
To be fair, Martz did resign due to “philosophical differences” between himself and Lovie. The soft spoken head coach eventually applied pressure to his struggling staff – but not before his seat warmed up.
Lovie professed three goals when he was hired as head coach: beat the Packers, win the NFC North, and win the Super Bowl. His first three seasons boded well for all three goals.
Aaron Rodgers’ first season as a starter marked a turning point in the Bears-Packers rivalry: Lovie went 2-9 against Green Bay in the regular season and playoffs. There were no Super Bowl appearances by the Bears, and the only NFC North title was the year the Packers won the Super Bowl.
So, perhaps Aaron Rodgers was the nail, hammer, and lid in Lovie’s coffin.
The real problem was Lovie’s inability to manage turmoil. The offensive coordinator position was not his only problem. Injury-induced collapses also did him in.
2011 saw a 7-3 start for the Bears. When Cutler and Forte got hurt, the wheels came off. I won’t go into great detail about Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber’s ineptitude, just to save Chicago fans the pain. The Bears missed the playoffs, and Jerry Angelo was the scapegoat. A GM with better sense was needed in case injuries struck again.
Phil Emery proved up to the task by signing Jason Campbell and Michael Bush, two big name back-ups. Chicago started 7-1 in 2012. Injuries plagued the team again, and somehow Jason Campbell proved as worthless as Caleb Hanie.
Let’s not forget that Campbell is a former first round pick who led the Raiders to 8 wins in 13 games the season before. He’s not incompetent. Somehow, he looked lost. Certainly Tice’s bland play-calling didn’t help, but Campbell just didn’t seem ready. Another inexplicable collapse and another season without the playoffs. Elsewhere in the league, rookie Kirk Cousins kept his cool in his first NFL start and kept the Redskins in playoff contention. Injuries happen across the NFL, but seem to derail the Bears more than other teams.
Lovie’s merits speak for themselves. He had tremendous success with the Bears’ defense. He is a players’ coach; a man who stood by Rex Grossman through endless criticism. All-time greats like Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester, and even Mike Ditka stand by him. He is a character person who is well-respected around the league.
Unfortunately, Phil Emery is in search of championships. He certainly evaluated Lovie the way he evaluated his offensive tackles last offseason: what is the best available? Is it very good – or great?
I now understand Marty Schottenheimer’s firing.