Lovie Smith recently promoted Mike Tice from Offensive Line coach to be the team’s next scapegoat… I mean Offensive Coordinator. Smith also expressed the desire for his coaching staff to better themselves this off-season hoping that some of them get an “opportunity to move up, whether that’s assistant coaches into coordinator roles” or “the opportunity to be head coaches in the NFL.” This was clearly lip-service as the Bears promptly declined a request by the Vikings to interview Jon Hoke, current Bears Defensive Backs coach, for the their open Defensive Coordinator position. In his 8 years in Chicago, Lovie Smith has proven to be a winning, if not stubborn, football coach with terrible media skills and a master at office politics. He talks a good game about bettering those around him but his primary interest is in advancing his own career even at the cost of others.
Typically when a team loses too much, a head coach and his staff are fired and an entirely new staff is brought in to start from scratch. Firing coordinators every few years has allowed Smith to retain his job this long. It shows management he recognizes the team’s deficiencies and is constantly seeking to correct them. And it, along with a couple playoff runs, has gotten him 2 contract extensions along the way and kept him employed while his boss, Jerry Angelo, was fired. The list of coordinators he has presided over is extensive for his brief time in Chicago.
Rod Marinelli (current)
Mike Tice (current)
If most of these former Bear coordinators left to become head coaches or take higher paying positions with other teams, Lovie would get a pass. But all except Ron Rivera have taken a step backwards in their careers since working for Smith. And those that have had an opportunity to advance their careers aren’t being permitted to do so despite Lovie’s comments. If he knew how to hire talented coaches, they’d thrive in their post-Bears career. If he doesn’t have the talent to find successful coaches he doesn’t deserve to select them. A General Manager is paid to build a roster and typically hire a head coach. If the GM is the one charged with hiring the head coach it means he is studying coaches around the league and should have ownership for key positions like the offensive and defensive coordinators. But Bears President Ted Phillips already confirmed Smith will have final say on his coaching staff. Since Smith is a defensive-minded coach I can accept that he should have stronger input on the defensive side of the ball but even those choices haven’t been great. The only one with success since leaving the Bears is Ron Rivera who is now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and Rivera was more certainly a Jerry Angelo selection. Lovie didn’t want him coaching the defense and ran him out-of-town after they played in Super Bowl XLI. Rivera wouldn’t run the defensive scheme the way Smith wanted so he promoted good friend Bob Babich into the position. Babich was in over his head and was quickly demoted back to his original position of Linebackers coach. Even the year Smith called plays himself didn’t go so well and so he hired another good friend in Rod Marinelli to be the play caller. The former Lions head coach, Marinelli, has had some success but mostly follows Smith’s lead in how plays are called on the defense.
While the defense has been his focus, Smith has almost whole-heartedly turned over control of the offense to his O-coordinator. Terry Shea was a bust as a play caller, is now out of the league and working as a quarterback consultant for NFL QB prospects. Ron Turner lasted from 2005-2009 overseeing mostly poorly ranked offenses, was fired and spent the next couple years in various position coach roles with the Colts. And Martz announced his “retirement” after being let go by the Bears this past off-season. The Bears offense has had sub-par talent but the rate at which Smith churns through offensive coordinators is unacceptable and his lack of knowledge about offensive systems proves he should not be permitted to choose the OC. Yet we now have Mike Tice who has no professional play calling experience to speak of and has no superior to go to for advice. And it’s telling that the next Quarterbacks Coach will also hold the title of Passing Game Coordinator and that Tice will use him for guidance on passing plays. Fans thought the Bears talentless passing offense looked ineffective under Martz, an experienced play caller. How disjointed will it look under a new OC that is known for blocking schemes and running the ball and will rely on a subordinate to help institute passing plays?
Lovie Smith has a winning record as a head coach (71-57). There is no denying his ability to coach. Angelo was fired for poor talent evaluation so Lovie’s winning record proves he can do well with a less-than-adequate roster. But he doesn’t find and hire the best coaching talent to surround himself with. While coaches like Belichick, Parcells, Holmgren and Dungy developed expansive coaching trees, Smith’s former underlings have mostly floundered outside of Chicago. Yet, he remains the head coach because he has developed the knack to put others between himself and the firing squad year after year. If the aging defense struggles in 2012, Smith’s former roommate and current DC, Rod Marinelli, better dust off the resume and get his best suit pressed. He might be next out the door.