Lovie Smith got a two-year contract extension that the Bears didn’t have to give him, but worse, the Bears don’t seem to realize that and don’t seem to realize that contract extension has been a hall pass for the coach.
At least, that’s the way I interpret Bears President Ted Phillips’ response to Trib Football Guru Dan Pompei in today’s Q&A.
Here’s Phillips’ answer about being happy Smith is locked up with a two-year extension:
“Now he can look longer term. He seems satisfied, I'm ecstatic. It was smooth, there were no issues. I wanted to head into the offseason with him under wraps, and we were able to accomplish that. He's always shown a real pride in being the head coach of the Bears, and we're proud to have him back.’’
Didn’t Phillips learn anything? The last thing you want is Smith looking “longer term.’’ The Bears shouldn’t want him “satisfied.’’
The last time the Bears gave Smith a contract extension came after he lost the Super Bowl. Phillips gave Smith another four years and a lot more power. Smith gave the Bears zip for three years --- no division titles, no playoffs, no nothing except the unofficial record for shuffling assistant coaches.
Smith could just sit back, look “longer term’’ and manage his little fiefdom, which proved to be inffective and contractually protected. Here’s two years of Bob Babich as the defensive coordinator, people. Whaddaya think of that? How’d that “satisfied’’ thing work out?
It would get so bad that Smith would fire himself as defensive coordinator and prove to be so wrong about assistant coaches. He continually brought in coaches he indentified as “teachers,’’ not necessarily NFL coaches, and then he found himself in a win-or-walk season, and suddenly, his staff was overrun with former head coaches.
I’m not saying Smith doesn’t care or doesn’t try until he has to cram for the final. But we’ve seen his actions supercede his usually lame and vanilla words when urgency ruled last year. Accountability came first and went public. Players got benched or cut. Smith acted as if his job depended on it, and his team proved opportunistic when it rained luck. Sounds like a good combination, but it started with Smith coaching for his job, which is now out of the equation, which historically hasn’t been a good thing.
Phillips ended his summation of Smith by saying he was “proud to have him back.’’ Really? Where was he going? Nowhere, that’s where.
Smith was under contact for another season. He was still the Bears’ coach if and when there’s a 2012 season. If he was going to leave, he would’ve had to quit and give up $5 million, give or take. That wasn’t going to happen. Smith might not know how to manage a game or call timeouts or use the challenge flag, but he sure knows that collecting $5 million is better than holding your breath until you turn navy blue and orange.
And if Smith got to the next offseason and became a free agent, it’s still not an issue unless he won the Super Bowl. Thing is, if you saw the last Super Bowl, you have to be conviced the Bears won’t even win the division, especially if they don’t get the league’s easiest schedule and a buffet of third-string quarterbacks the way they did last season.
Phillips’ blathering thoughts on Smith appeared after I found myself agreeing with him on other issues. One of them regarded Phillips’ apparent intention to vote against a proposed rule that would move up kickoffs to the 35-yard line to create more touchbacks. Obviously, that would reduce a great advantage the Bears have on special teams. An inconsistent offense with a sketchy line needs all the field position it can get.
I also found myself agreeing with Phillips on the matter of Soldier Field’s pathetic surface. He remains staunchly against installing artificial turf because “tendencies of the studies’’ continue to show an increased risk of knee and ankle injuries on infill compared to grass. The Soldier Field surface looks embarrassing late in the season and draws harsh criticisms as the worst in the league as grass chunk after grass chunk flies out with each step. It’s hard to believe that’s safer, but if true, I can’t blame the Bears for erring on the side of health. In fact, I’d be surprised if Phillips went the other way after the Bears enjoyed what must’ve been the healthiest season in NFL history.
One thing Phillips said on the issue, however, sounds like an utter crock: “The players know how to play on it, and frankly, it's been part of our home-field advantage.’’ The Bears players rip it as much or more than opponents do. They don’t like it and don’t sound confident on that kitty-litter. And I wouldn’t be talking home-field advantage if I just lost the NFC Championship Game at home.
Then again, hosting the NFC title game again won’t be an issue if Smith’s past is prologue.