Bears coach Lovie Smith knows how to balance family, football
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org August 16, 2012 10:34PM
Bears coach Lovie Smith has had two of his sons, Miles (left) and Mikal (middle), with him at training camp this season. | Sean Jensen~Sun-Times
Updated: September 18, 2012 6:20AM
BOURBONNAIS — Bears coach Lovie Smith couldn’t wrap his mind around the news upon learning that Andy Reid’s oldest son, Garrett, died in his dorm room Aug. 5 at Lehigh University at the Eagles’ training camp.
“Andy is one of the good guys in the profession; let’s start off with that. There’s a reason why he’s been in the NFL at one place that long,” Smith said, referring to Reid’s distinction as the league’s longest-tenured coach. “He’s a good football coach. But he’s a family man. I can’t even imagine the pain that Andy and Tammy and their entire family is feeling, but I have an idea.
“We all hurt for them. I know that.”
The men who coach NFL teams, obviously, are competitive by nature, but they also recognize the uniqueness of their fraternity and the savvy and sacrifice required to earn and keep one of the 32 coveted jobs.
In recent years, they’ve too often lamented the troubles of a peer’s son or, worse, mourned a death. In 2005, Tony Dungy’s 18-year-old son committed suicide, and in January, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin’s 21-year-old son fell through ice on a Wisconsin river and drowned.
This isn’t about questioning — and certainly not about judging — Reid, Philbin and Dungy as fathers. It’s to provide a window into the mind of one who is ever mindful of the challenge of being a successful NFL coach and a successful father and husband.
“You say, ‘What do you do in your spare time?’ I just want to be around my kids,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Just get a crumb here and there, see what’s happening with them.”
Smith and his wife, MaryAnne, have three boys. Since the late 1980s, at least one of them has been at a training camp with him. This year, two have been alongside Smith at Olivet Nazarene University: Mikal, in his third season as a defensive assistant, and Miles, who has been staying on campus. Matthew, Smith’s agent, makes frequent visits, too.
He talks to his wife constantly. But Smith said she doesn’t visit Bourbonnais much.
“There’s nothing for her down here,” Smith said. “It’s me and the boys’ time, which is great.”
A man of routine and regimen, Smith has “Date Night” every Friday with MaryAnne, and his family has a standing dinner reservation at a restaurant on Saturday nights before games at Soldier Field.
“It’s just understood,” Smith said. “Everyone knows the time.”
Dungy, who retired from coaching in 2009, is a broadcaster for NBC. He’s also involved civically, including in a non-profit called All Pro Dads.
In a piece for USA Today, Dungy wrote that nearly one in three children lives apart from the biological father and that those kids are two to three times more likely “to grow up in poverty, to suffer in school and to have health and behavioral problems.”
“Kids today need dads,” Dungy wrote. “They don’t need a perfect dad, but they need an involved dad.”
There has been a glorification of the long hours NFL coaches put in and countless stories of coaches who sleep in their offices for three hours a night.
But Smith doesn’t keep his assistant coaches on a leash and isn’t impressed with sleepless nights.
“Year round, guys see how I do and how we do it to know that’s not something we’re encouraging,” Smith said. “I try to create an environment where a guy can do what he wants to do. We all know what we have to get done. From there, I don’t tell a guy, ‘Hey, you got to check in at this time. You got to stay here until that time.’
“No, they have a job and however long it takes you to do it. Nowadays, it’s totally different than how it used to be.”
For instance, in the days of projectors, coaches had to watch their tape at a specific time. Now, each coach has all the information he needs on iPads.
“You have a portable office with us no matter where we want to go,” Smith said. “To me, it’s not all bad for you to go home to your office and watch video and do some stuff, and your family and kids are in the background.”
During the season, the hours are still taxing. There are early-morning starts and late-night finishes, but the staff usually gets home for dinner on Fridays.
Asked if the coaches get home for dinner on Tuesdays — the mandated day off for players — Smith said, “Let’s not go crazy.”