Bears general manager Jerry Angelo (left) and coach Lovie Smith were issued a win-or-else ultimatum heading into the season. They have reason to smile after winning the NFC North and a first-round bye. | Nam Y. Huh~AP
Updated: April 19, 2011 5:26AM
Jerry Angelo would’ve been excused if he had gloated. He had every right to put his thumbs in his ears, flap his hands and stick out his tongue with the glee of someone who knows he was right when everybody else — and we mean virtually everybody from fans to media to NFL talent evaluators — was wrong.
Instead, the Bears’ general manager took the high road while addressing the media Thursday at Halas Hall. If it took restraint, it didn’t show.
‘‘We lost some credibility, and I’m sure some people looked at us going into the year and thought we were going to be a hopeless team, and it was only a matter of time when the ship would sink, but we never felt that way,’’ Angelo said of the mood after three consecutive non-playoff seasons. ‘‘We knew what we had to do. We were very confident that we could get it done. We had to have some things come together for us, but we felt very strongly about our plan, about our football team.
‘‘The one thing about this team that maybe we haven’t had in other years that we’ve had success is this team really came together. I don’t see this team as a team of great talent. I see this as a team that played well together and really responded to the adversity that every team goes through.’’
Coach Lovie Smith is famous for his low-key, consistent approach. Angelo is much the same.
He and everything he has accomplished during his long tenure were under indictment at this time last year. He and Smith had lost the confidence of the fan base. Team president Ted Phillips issued an ultimatum: Win. Then searches that produced coordinators Mike Martz and Rod Marinelli were awkwardly executed and widely mocked.
The 2010 season would be the smoking gun that proved the Angelo-Smith era had outlived its usefulness, or so most predicted before the Bears won seven of eight to win the NFC North and earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Now, instead of not having Angelo and Smith to kick around anymore, Bears fans can expect them to lead the team for the foreseeable future.
‘‘The bottom line is the bottom line,’’ Angelo said while referring to unwavering support for Smith. ‘‘You’ve got to win football games; you’ve got to win your division. That’s what creates credibility. It’s not personality. It’s not how I feel about anybody. That’s the bottom line. That’s how credibility is. It’s not a testament to your character. It’s a testament to your wins, and you’ve got to win football games, and we all understand that.’’
Smith has said this is the best team he has had in his seven years as coach. Twice on Thursday, Angelo said the 2010 Bears were not all that talented, which is curious because he’s responsible for assembling the talent. Angelo believes the 2006 Super Bowl team might have had more overall talent but said this team is greater than the sum of its parts because of what it has been through and how players have come together.
‘‘Our division wasn’t nearly as tough as it was this year,” Angelo said of 2006. ‘‘But what we accomplished this year, personally, I take the most satisfaction from all the years that I’ve been here because of how the deck was stacked against us. Again, that says a lot about our coaches, it says a lot about our players.”
Angelo wouldn’t address a possible contract extension for Smith, whose deal expires at the end of next season, choosing instead to focus on the task at hand, which is considerable given the wide-open field in the NFC playoffs. If the Bears survive that, they could be heading for a rematch in the Super Bowl against a New England Patriots team that defeated them 36-7 on Dec. 12.
As for persistent reports that he might step down at the end of the season, especially if his team didn’t fare as well as he hoped, Angelo sounded like a man who, while resisting the urge to say ‘‘I told you so,’’ isn’t going anywhere.
“That’s not going to happen,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to be here, and as long as I’m blessed with health, I’ll continue to do what I love, and that’s being part of football.”