Bears ink Lovie Smith through 2013, boost stability
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org February 25, 2011 11:08PM
If a labor stoppage rocks the NFL, coach Lovie Smith and the Bears will be better off than others. Smith signed a two-year extension Friday to keep him under contract through 2013. | Darron Cummings~AP
Updated: May 28, 2011 4:51AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Coaches and general managers often talk about the benefits of continuity, but at no time in NFL history could it be more important than heading into the 2011 season.
The Bears announced Friday that they’ve signed coach Lovie Smith to a two-year extension that keeps him under contract through 2013. Smith’s staff will return virtually intact, which gives the Bears a big advantage over teams with new head coaches and/or coordinators in an offseason that likely will be frozen by a labor stoppage.
If owners lock out players, as expected, there will be no organized team activities and no minicamps. Training camp even could be shortened if the impasse continues into August, making it difficult for teams with new coaches to install the schemes they’ll need to be successful.
‘‘We’re all hopeful this will get resolved shortly and we won’t have what you’re touching on — the dreaded lockout,’’ Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said Friday. ‘‘Nobody is looking at that as a positive thing. In the event that it would get to that point, it would hurt teams that are new and coming together as a first-time staff. That continuity bodes well for us.
‘‘It bodes well for us, too, as we get into the free-agent business, to have some stability with your staff. Agents and players want to come into situations where there is going to be stability. That’s a big part of it. Not all [signings] are going to be determined by money. . . . There is going to be a bevy of players out there in free agency, and they are going to want to have some stability, and that sometimes can be the tiebreaker.’’
Smith’s extension means his contract will expire at the same time as Angelo’s, at which point ownership could decide to go in a different direction if the Bears put together three straight non-playoff seasons, as they did before they finished 11-5 last season and advanced to the NFC title game.
Smith didn’t seem disappointed that he didn’t get a longer extension and said he doesn’t feel that he and Angelo have a limited window to prove 2010 wasn’t an aberration.
‘‘We have the Super Bowl champion in our division, our biggest rival, and we have to catch up,’’ Smith said of the Green Bay Packers. ‘‘It’s as simple as that. We want to get it done. We’re not thinking about long-term or anything like that. In the coaching profession, it’s always about the short term, the next season and what you could do.’’
This is an important draft for the Bears moving forward because it’s the first time in three years they have a first-round pick.
Angelo shook up the front office last year by hiring former Seattle Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell, but he said he won’t change his draft approach.
‘‘I feel very confident in the formula that we use,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re in the projection business. It’s never easy, but I feel good that we have a good base to operate and good continuity with our scouts, and the bulk of a lot of what we go on is based on what they do and say.’’
If and when it happens, free agency could be another way to strengthen the roster. The Bears landed the bell cow last season in defensive end Julius Peppers. Angelo doesn’t know what next year’s salary cap will be, making it difficult to predict how active he will be in free agency. That said, he expects to be active, although signing another expensive free agent may be unrealistic.
‘‘You don’t want to come out every year having to spend big chunks of money on one player,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s not the goal.’’
Winning the Lombardi Trophy remains the goal. Despite what perceptions may have been heading into last season, maintaining the Angelo-Smith partnership now appears to give the Bears the best chance of accomplishing that in the immediate future, especially given the uncertainty of 2011.
‘‘We’re all excited about this next step,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Jerry and I worked together well, not just during our time here in Chicago, but in Tampa also. We feel like we have a good combination going, and we look forward to taking the next step.’’