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Lovie Smith feeling the love

Bears head coach Lovie Smith meets with Carolinhead coach RRiverafter Chicago Bears 34-29 wover CarolinPanthers Sunday October 2 2011 Soldier

Bears head coach Lovie Smith meets with Carolina head coach Ron Rivera after the Chicago Bears 34-29 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday October 2, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Time: 7:30 p.m. Monday at Lincoln Financial Field.
TV: Ch. 26, ESPN (Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM. • Line: Eagles by 71/2.

Updated: December 8, 2011 8:11AM

Lovie Smith doesn’t care about how popular he is or how much respect he gets. He doesn’t seem to care about anybody’s perception of him outside of the locker room and the second floor of Halas Hall.

But if he did, he might want to savor the moment. Because Lovie is on a roll.

His decision to take the Bears to London less than 72 hours before kickoff against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was criticized as a bad move because history showed that teams that arrive later in the week don’t play as well as those that arrive earlier. But Lovie looked like a genius when the Bears won.

That’s not all. Lovie beat Ron Rivera. His team doesn’t appear to miss Olin Kreutz. Matt Forte is miffed at the Bears but is still playing his heart out for Lovie.

After an unprecedented run of good health last season that was supposed to turn the other way this season, yet the Bears have but one player on the injury list.

Lovie even won a challenge. When replay officials reversed a fumble call after a Brian Urlacher interception against the Buccaneers, it broke a streak of six consecutive failed challenges.

And the Bears have yet to play a game since veteran safety Chris Harris was released without a proven player to replace him, yet rookie Chris Conte already is being hailed by many as an upgrade — a judgment that might actually come to fruition — and Conte doesn’t even play Harris’ position.

Now Lovie is getting kudos and grudging respect for holding his players accountable; for publicly challenging Henry Melton to play better; for ‘coaching up’ his players; for the two-game winning streak.

With Ozzie Guillen and Mike Quade yet to be replaced, with Tom Thibodeau out of sight and out of mind because of the NBA lockout and with the Blackhawks still not as beloved in Chicago as they should be, Lovie might have the highest Q-rating of any coach or manager in town.

I think longtime Bears’ analyst Hub Arkush said it best during a Wednesday radio appearance when he sounded almost chagrined to admit a newfound respect for Smith.

‘‘I’ve actually become more of a Lovie fan in the last year or so in a roundabout way,’’ Hub said in response to a caller griping about the Packers getting more out of their players than the Bears get out of theirs. ‘‘Lovie Smith is in his eighth season in the NFL. He is tied for the third-longest tenured coach in the league right now. He is 16 games over .500 and that’s not all luck.

‘‘I think he’s a bad game-day coach. I think his clock-management is horrible. His use of replays and timeouts is insane. But he’s also doing something right. I think it’s the way his players respond and react to him. And it’s the way he keeps them focused. I’ve become more and more of a believer. Give him the Packers’ talent, I don’t know what would happen.’’

I don’t know either. But I’d love to find out.

The obvious catch here is that no matter how real or how deserved this spate of appreciation is for Lovie, it is very fleeting. The Bears can play well in their next two games — against the Eagles tonight and the Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field — and still lose both to fall to 4-5 a week from today. Then it won’t be long before we’re wondering when Bill Cowher is returning to coaching.

Maybe that’s why Lovie Smith doesn’t care how respected he is in Chicago. Respect here has value. But without a championship ring, it has a very short shelf life.

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