It was fun times when the Chicago Bears were under the guidance of Lovie Smith. Here is an overview of it all; good, bad and ugly.
Priority #1 – Beat Green Bay
Coaches love to call every game on the schedule important. That may be true in a logical sense, but in a rivalry sense it’s load a crap. Smith knew that perfectly well when he was hired, inheriting a Bears team that had not beaten the Green Bay Packers in four years. It had gotten to the point where fans were getting spooked by the ineptitude, so Lovie embraced the challenge by stating his top priority was beating the Packers.
It’s no coincidence that this method of operation led to the Bears reaching the Super Bowl two years later. In their previous two championship seasons in 1963 and 1985, Chicago beat Green Bay twice both times.
Flies Personally To Get Julius Peppers
Coming out of the 2009 season it was clear to Smith the defense needed an upgrade to the pass rush and luckily the Bears had the cap space to make some moves. The true prize of the 2010 off-season was All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers. Sensing his own job was becoming tenuous, the normally reserved and methodical Smith made an impulsive move, flying to North Carolina and greeting Peppers at his home just as free agency began. The defensive end was taken aback and touched by the interest as the two took to each other immediately.
Peppers signed shortly after, becoming a force for the Bears at end and helping them reach the NFC championship that same year.
Substitutes Rex Grossman For Kyle Orton
One of the best coaching jobs Smith ever pulled off was in 2005. After dropping to 1-3 at the start of the season and his starting quarterback out, Lovie rallied the team thanks to a dominant defense and power running game that saw them roll off eight-straight wins. A big part of that was the steady play of rookie quarterback Kyle Orton. However, by mid December the team the lack of explosiveness in the offense was becoming an issue. So following a tough loss in Pittsburgh and a bad start at home against Atlanta, Smith made the tough call to replace Orton with a now healthy Rex Grossman.
Grossman kick started the offense immediately, leading them on two scoring drives in the third quarter and building a comfortable 16-3 lead. The Bears went on to clinch the NFC North the next week in Green Bay and earning a 1st round bye in the playoffs.
Sticks with Grossman in Super Bowl
As good a decision as playing Grossman was in ’05, Smith arguably had the worst failure of his coaching career when he failed to bench the quarterback in the Super Bowl. After a fast start sparked by Devin Hester and Thomas Jones, the offense went into hibernation as the Indianapolis Colts made it their mission to stop the run. As the game wore on it was becoming clear Grossman wasn’t playing well and couldn’t get anything going through the air.
Yet heading into the 4th quarter the Bears were very much in the game with the score 22-17. Smith had Brian Griese, a veteran who learned behind John Elway and went to a Pro Bowl waiting on the sideline. All he had to do was make the change. Instead Grossman stayed in and ended up throwing the pick-six that cost Chicago the championship.
Probably the most glaring problem Smith ever had during his coaching tenure with the Chicago Bears was offensive coordinators. In nine years he went through four of them, never producing an offense that ranked higher than 15th. His most glaring blunder was his first hire, Terry Shea. Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of things to come, but it demonstrated how little understanding Smith had of offensive coaching. Shea was clearly overmatched all year as his unit finished dead last in the NFL.
It wasn’t just the offensive side either. Lovie Smith had a real problem keeping things straight on defense as well. His decision to fire Ron Rivera after the 2006 season remain one of the biggest head-scratchers in history. In two seasons the Bears had ranked 1st and 3rd respectively in total defense under Rivera. After Smith sent him packing, they dropped to 16th two-straight years and bottomed out at 22nd in 2009.
Rivera ended up in San Diego where he became defensive coordinator and turned the 25th ranked defense into the 1st within three seasons.
It may have been spawned by the ongoing injuries to Mike Brown, but the problems at the safety position really got out of control when Smith thought he had a solution by signing Adam Archuleta in 2007. The two had worked together previously in St. Louis. However it became apparent pretty early that he was no Brown. In fact he wasn’t even a Chris Harris, whom was traded that same off-season to Carolina where he made 101 tackles and forced eight fumbles that year.
Devin Hester To Wide Receiver
He has a real chance to reach the Hall of Fame as the greatest kick and punt returner in NFL history, but Lovie Smith never should have let it cross his mind that Devin Hester had the makings of a #1 wide receiver. That didn’t stop the Bears from doing everything possible to make it happen. Hester made his share of plays but it was evident that when truly tested he wasn’t anywhere close to a Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery. That experiment distracted the Bears from finding real receivers and probably hurt the offense more than helped it.
Worst of all, it probably robbed Devin of being able to break the record in a Bears uniform since he couldn’t focus on returning.
The fact that it eventually became a favorite punchline for the Chicago media pretty much tells the story. Lovie Smith, for as smart as he is and how well he did with the Bears, was one of the worst replay challengers in NFL history. Every time he pulled out the red flag, fans were convinced it would cost the team another time out. He either had the worst luck or hired the wrong people to tell him when to challenge.
For his tenure with the Bears, Lovie made 73 challenges. Only 27 of them proved correct for a 27% success rate. Keep in mind that the league average hovers around 47%.
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