Bears fans losing that Lovie feeling
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com December 11, 2012 10:10PM
Are Bears fans tired of seeing Lovie Smith standing on the sideline during taut games, slack-jawed, speechless, emotion-free, apparently embalmed? | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
If the Bears fail to make the playoffs, should they fire Lovie Smith?
Updated: January 13, 2013 11:11AM
You’re in the biz awhile, you hear some good stories.
Here’s one: a Minnesota Vikings coach from a few years past was angry at the way a Twin Cities columnist was berating the team, after having praised it, going up and down and all around in his sometimes-scorching columns. How could he do that? demanded the angry coach.
‘‘It’s simple,’’ the writer replied. ‘‘I’ll explain it one more time: We love you when you win; we hate you when you lose.’’
End of story.
It’s a good one, and true.
And Bears coach Lovie Smith might do well to remember it. We don’t love Lovie or his Bears much now. We loved them when they were 7-1. But now, no.
They’ve lost four of their last five to drop to 8-5, and fans are angry and uncertain and want to see fireworks. They’ve had about enough of Smith standing on the sideline during taut games, slack-jawed, speechless, emotion-free, apparently embalmed. What once could be read as calm, now screams brain-dead.
A statue could literally do what Lovie does.
And postgame and pregame? Couldn’t Smith one time say, ‘‘X better get his butt in gear or he’ll be raking leaves Monday,’’ or ‘‘We stunk like old socks in the fourth quarter!’’
The point of that opening coach-to-sportswriter-to-coach story is that there isn’t time to be empathetic or overly thoughtful in the harsh world of the NFL. Entertain us properly or get somebody who will.
Lose and the anthem becomes, Fire the coach! It’s not a thoughtful chant, but it’s real.
And there’s an outside chance that Lovie could lose his job over this late-season meltdown. The Bears would have to cough up $5 million or so to get rid of him, but they could do it. Why, in the college ranks, schools do stuff like that with nary a flinch. Auburn just bought out coach Gene Chizik for $7.5 million. And Chizik won the BCS national championship two years ago.
You mean colleges are less tolerant of failure than the pros? Wow. For the pros, it’s their reason for being. For colleges, it’s supposed to be something like finger-painting. But I digress.
The Bears seem screwed. Kicker Robbie Gould is out for the season, which seems to mean that ancient Olindo Mare, his replacement, might never attempt anything over 40 yards or so.
Plus, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is gone for the season, and possibly his career if the Bears don’t pick up the final part of his contract next season.
What else? Quarterback Jay Cutler seems about one more double-shot tackle from being driven gently to the rehab center at the nearest auto-crash facility. If Cutler goes down for good, the Bears might as well cancel the rest of their games.
Indeed, the offense that was supposed to shine with Cutler and wideout Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte has been a dud. It seems more and more possible that Cutler is a good quarterback, but not a great one — not one who can lead a team to the Super Bowl. The injuries will keep coming now that the games get more and more overwhelming.
And yet the Green Bay Packers keep marching along, despite having had a victory stolen from them by the dismissed scab officials and being without nearly a dozen preseason starters.
But here’s the scary observation: The Bears’ defense suddenly looks very old and very brittle. Just a few weeks ago, cornerback Charles Tillman was being touted as the defensive player of the year. Now ‘‘Peanut’’ looks half-cracked, like the rest of the ‘D.’
The clawing, slapping, ripping style of tackling Smith urges his players to employ, to cause turnovers, looks simply dreadful when those turnovers don’t come. In fact, the opponents gain so many yards while Bears defenders are tearing at the ball carrier’s arms that a stat for ‘‘yards-after-slap’’ would be very interesting, indeed.
It’s as though the Bears’ defense is fragile, needing all its components to work perfectly for the scheme to work at all.
Smith loves to break games and seasons down into quarters. Thus, the Bears have entered the fourth quarter of the 2012 season. In Lovie’s nine years as coach, the Bears have gone a mere 15-18 in the final quarter of all seasons. That’s not good. That’s troubling. That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs or anything else.
That’s why people are wondering if it’s time to do that old thing: Fire the coach.
Watch “NFL Films Presents,” featuring a segment on Rick Telander’s book
Like a Rose, at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2.