Bears coach Lovie Smith’s tenure always seems tenuous
BY JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org July 24, 2012 8:46PM
Lovie Smith answers reporters' questions during a press conference at Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University Tuesday, July 24, 2012, in Bourbonnais. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: August 26, 2012 6:22AM
BOURBONNAIS — Few have mastered the art of speaking to the media for 15 minutes and not saying a thing like Bears coach Lovie Smith.
That talent was on display Tuesday afternoon as he bobbed and weaved his way through his state-of-the-union address on the same day players started checking in for Camp Lovie 2012.
But as evasive as Smith can be, his grip on the job is a topic that never goes away. Like it or not.
Fresh off his third NFC North title after the 2010 season, Smith signed an extension that would take him through the 2013 season. Considering Smith has led the Bears to only one playoff appearance in the last five years, it would seem that his hold on the position is weakening.
Obviously, general manager Phil Emery doesn’t agree.
“Well, I will say going into the job that I knew we had a fine football coach,’’ Emery said when asked about his patience level for Smith. “So I started there, having been there when Lovie first arrived and spending about five months around him during the draft process, which he was very involved with.
‘‘And then coming back during the interview process, I felt very good. I felt that was a positive, coming in as a first-time general manager that Lovie Smith was our head coach.
“I think he’s a very fine coach, even a better person. He cares about our team. He cares about the people in our building. He’s a guy that unifies people. He doesn’t create cliques. He creates unity.’’
But can he create a Super Bowl title for the Bears?
On paper, Emery and Smith admitted that expectations for this team are sky-high. Smith even said, “As we look at our roster coming into camp, it looks about as good as it has since I’ve been here. We realize that. We embrace that.’’
The window seems to be wide open for a deep playoff run.
Smith took the Bears to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season, losing to the Indianapolis Colts, but touching the mountaintop isn’t the same as standing alone on that mountaintop. He has a 71-57 regular-season mark, and he’s a 3-3 coach in the postseason. Good but not great.
Records mean little, however, if the players aren’t willing to fight for their coach.
Quarterback Jay Cutler says that fight is alive and well for Smith.
“It’s a win-now league,’’ Cutler said. “I think every year you’re expected to win and win big and go to the playoffs. I don’t think it’s anything new to this team and this group. Lovie seems to be one of those guys who is on the hot seat every year. We like having Lovie around, and we’re going to go out and do our best to keep him here.’’
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who, like Smith, was signed through 2013, was given an extension through 2016. Emery backs Smith, but don’t expect a similar announcement from the Bears any time soon.
“You think about contracts in the offseason; you negotiate things there,’’ Smith said. “Once you get to camp … you said my contract is expiring, is that it? I guess that’s good. I should know that … no one really cares.
“Right now, as a football team, we’re just ready to see everyone out on the field doing their job, and that’s the message.
‘‘We don’t have any catchy phrases or anything like that about our football team. The message is pretty simple: We’re a good football team at this point, and let’s just see how good we can get before we play the Colts [in Week 1].’’
It really is an art.