For the fifth out of the last six seasons, the Bears are on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Most analysts say 10 victories should secure a playoff spot – all of the other 10 win teams made it – but the Bears don’t deserve the trip. Chicago went 2-6 against playoff bound teams and 8-0 against fellow playoff onlookers. This year, Lovie Smith proved he can coach his team to victories but not ones that really matter. With one year left on his contract, there are only a couple of ways the chips will fall. Phil Emery will either fire Smith for failing to coach his team into the playoffs or he’ll extend his contract and they will continue building the team together. In past seasons, Lovie wielded his power to usher out a host of coordinators along with former GM, Jerry Angelo. From this point forward, Emery holds all the cards though. Smith will no longer be allowed to turn his coordinators into scapegoats while earning contract extensions.
If the Bears lost to the Lions, many experts believed Smith would be out as Bears head coach. But, despite missing the playoffs, the season finale victory makes that decision even harder. But don’t expect offensive coordinator Mike Tice to take the fall and be replaced. Was his first season as play caller a success? No. The offensive was bottom five in total yards and never quite looked in sync. Brandon Marshall shattered Bear receiving records but Cutler’s passer rating was the second lowest of his career as he struggled to find a second reliable target. While Chicago ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards in 2012, Matt Forte had a less than stellar year and his back up, Michael Bush, essentially duplicated Marion Barber’s stats from last season. It was Smith that promoted Tice, a first time play caller, into the O.C. job and shouldn’t be allowed to replace him as a way of saving his own job. Their futures in Chicago should now be tied together which is the way it should have been with Mike Martz and Ron Turner. If you aren’t an offensive-minded head coach, you should at least be held accountable for the coaches you select to run that side of the ball. Up to now, Lovie hasn’t but, from now on, he will be.
A contract extension in 2013 will bring with it a new set of limitations for Smith. If he isn’t let go, Lovie’s influence on personnel matters will certainly dissipate. Jerry Angelo was a consensus builder while Phil Emery seems much more strong-willed on his decisions. Drafts will be controlled by Emery and Coach Smith’s power in the draft room will be minimized, unlike in year’s past. If an extension comes, it will only be for a couple of years. It won’t give the coach time to relax and rest on his laurels. And it allows the GM to draft the best football players instead of trying to locate typical Cover 2 athletes that may or may not be relevant if a new coach arrives down the line. Lovie Smith has found a way for years to lose games but keep himself mostly off the hot seat. That tide has turned as the Bears General Manager studies the season’s tape and prepares to make the first of many difficult decisions this off-season.