Lovie Smith has had the third longest tenure in Bears history. He has a 87-67 record in eight plus seasons as coach. The Bears have advanced to one Super Bowl and have a 3-3 record in three playoff appearances during his tenure. His 79 wins are third in Bears history and overall his tenure has to be deemed a success. The Bears have only had losing seasons three times under Smith. Only his first season could truly be considered disastrous. The Bears finished 5-11 in 2004.
Smith led the Bears to the playoffs by his second season with a first round bye and in the Superbowl in year three. They have only won one playoff game since. That was in 2010 when the Bears defeated Seattle in the Divisional Playoffs and then lost to Green Bay at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship game.
Many fans and most of the media have become restless. The calls for his ouster have been rampant in the media, by fans and on sports talk radio stations all over Chicago. After starting 7-1, the Bears have since fallen to 8-5. The call for Smith’s ouster has been frequent over the last few seasons. The Bears historic start to 2012 seemed to quell that talk. The last five weeks have intensified as the Bears have faltered behind key injuries, an ineffective offensive line an inconsistent offense and a defense that hasn't been able to maintain their dominance.
With Smith in the last year of his contact, many media members have called for him the Bears to not extend him this season and see what he can do in 2013. Although ;letting a player play out his contract, it is unusual for a coach to go into the last year of his contact without an extension or having been let go. Where the Bears go next could depend on the last three games against Green Bay and Arizona and Detroit.
The Bears offense under Smith has been stagnant and unimaginative. They have only finished in the top 20 in total offense in his nine seasons once. That was 15th in 2006, their lone Super Bowl appearance in the Smith era. They have four top five appearances in scoring under Smith, but those number have always been boosted by the emphasis on the defense producing turnovers and points.
Jay Cutler's inconsistency
The Bears acquired Cutler and a fifth round pick for Kyle Orton, two first round picks and a fifth before the 2009 draft. He was hailed as the savior of the franchise. He has a 32-21 record in his three plus seasons in Chicago. The Bears have only one playoff appearance and one postseason win in his first three seasons. His quarterback rating is just 81.8 as a Bear. He has thrown 79 touchdowns and 62 interceptions in his Chicago tenure. His QB rating and touchdown to interception rate are both worse than they were in Denver.
Many have criticized the turnover of the offensive coordinators and Smith’s conservative approach offensively. The Bears have not finished higher than 23rd in total yards during Cutler’s tenure. Cutler could be going on his fifth coordinator in six years if Tice doesn’t return for the 2013 season.
The Bears have had four offensive and three defensive coordinators during the Smith era. The defense, which is overseen by Smith has been one of the best in the NFL since his arrival in 2004.
His Offensive coordinators have been Terry Shea (2004), Ron Turner (2005-09), Mike Martz (2010-11) and Mike Tice (2012- ).
Only the 2006 season can be deemed a success offensively for the Bears during the Smith Era. They finished 15th in yards that season and second in points scored. That was the only time since 2004 the Bears have finished above 23rd in total offense. The changing systems offensively have hurt any continuity the Bears have had. In six of Smith’s nine seasons (including 2012), the Bears have finished in the bottom quarter of the NFL in total offense.
Although Smith is the defacto defensive coordinator, he has has a defensive coordinator in each of his nine seasons in Chicago. Ron Rivera (2004-06), Bob Babich (2007-09) and Rod Marinelli (2010- ). Have been essentially Smith’s lieutenant’s on defensive. They have utilized the Tampa Bay cover two during the majority of Smith’s tenure.
The defense has four top ten finishes in total yardage under Smith, but the other five seasons have seen the Bears finish from 13th to 21st in total defense. Smith’s defense is predicated on forcing turnover and limiting points more than worrying about how many yards the team has given up. They have four top ten finishes in points allowed during Smith’s tenure. The other five seasons have had the Bears wind up between 13th and 21st in points allowed. They are number one overall in turnovers forced since Smith took over in 2004.
The Defense averaged a sixth place finish in points allowed and ninth in yards given up under Rivera, 18th and 22nd under Babich and seventh and tenth under Marinelli. Its the defense that has fueled the Bears success in all but the Superbowl season under Smith.
Inability to develop talent
Although Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery have overseen the nine draft since Smith was hired in 2004, his inability to cultivate that talent has been hurt the Bears in recent years.
Nine Players that were drafted by the Bears have been to the Pro Bowl under Smith. Five defensive players earned trips, two on special teams and two on offensive. Matt Forte is the only skilled position player on offense selected to the pro-bowl in Smith’s tenure. That should change this year after the season Brandon Marshall has had. Three of the players were drafted before Smith was hired.
Shea McClellin and Gabe Carimi are the only Bears first rounds picks since 2004 that are still on the roster. Neither is a starter at the position that were drafted at. Smith has done a solid job with the players drafted on the defensive side of the ball, but the offensive players that they have drafted have been a disaster with the exception of Forte. Smith has to be liable for some of the blame to develop the players. Scouts and management find talent and coaches are supposed to develop the players provided to them.
Disastrous offensive line
The Bears have been in the top six for most sacks allowed in each of the last three seasons. The Bears have had to repeatedly draft offensive lineman in an attempt to get to produce results. After drafting the injury prone Chris Williams at guard in 2008, the Bears had to let him go earlier this season due to more injuries and ineffectiveness. That was after moving him inside to guard.
They seemingly bring in free agents that have not worked out in attempt to patch up the O-Line. It hasn’t worked and now the Bears will go into another off-season needing to find help on the offensive line through the draft and in free agency.
Lack of recent postseason appearances
Smith made a big splash early in his tenure with the Bears. After a 5-11 inaugural season, the Bears went 24-8 in his next two including a Super Bowl appearance after the 2006 season. The five plus seasons since then have seen the Bears only go 50-43 with one playoff appearances. If the Bears collapse and miss the playoffs that will make it five of the last six seasons out of the postseason. Most NFL Head Coaches would not survive that.
The Devin Hester failed experiment at Wide Receiver
Hester’s first two seasons in the NFL were magical. He scored 11 times on punt and kickoff returns and electrified the NFL. Bears play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak dubbed Hester as ridiculous. After his first season, the Bears thought they could duplicate that magic on offense.
Hester has produced 217 receptions for 2807 yards and 14 touchdowns in his six seasons as a wide receiver. That would average out to 31 receptions for 408 yards and two touchdowns per season.Hardly inspiring numbers. He has started 46 games at Wide Receiver since 2008. The Bears insistence on continuing to give him chances despite his frequent drops and lack of understanding of the offense has hindered the progress offensively.
December record Under Smith the Bears are 20-21 in regular seasons games in December and January. In a league where finishing strong has become more important in the last few seasons, Smith’s teams seem to coast at the end. Four of the last five NFC Champions have been teams that peaked going into the playoffs.
Packers Recent Dominance Over the Bears
Smith mentioned in his introductory press conference as the Bears head coach the importance of beating the Packers. After winning six of their first ten against Green Bay in the Smith era, the Bears have lost eight of their last ten against the Packers. That has included five in a row.
The loss to the Packers in the 2010 NFC Championship game did not sit well with Bears fans. If they lose this Sunday, the Packers will clinch the division. A win would pull the Bears back into a tie for first and in solid contention to still claim the title. Smith has always put a premium on divisional games and now would be a good time for his team to back that up.
It Could be Time for a Change
Sometimes there is a just a need for a new voice. A coach’s message can last for only so long. Smith’s easy going approach has made him into a coach the players love to play for. How long can that last though. What kind of coach would change things for the Bears?.
Although that have had a better than average record under Smith, the majority of it came in three seasons. The 2005, 2006 and 2010 seasons were the only trips to the playoffs. They added a 9-7 non playoff season in 2008. If they win just one of their last three this season they will have another plus .500 season in Smith’s tenure. That would leave it at five seasons above .500 and four below in the Smith era.
Smith is the third straight defensive minded Head Coach the Bears have had. Dick Jauron was the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville and Dave Wannstedt the DC in Dallas before leading the Bears.
The Bears offensive needs a complete makeover. Other than the 2006 Super Bowl season, the defense has fueled the Smith era. Another offensive coordinator might not be the best thing for Cutler though. The Bears are not in an easy position. There are many factors into what goes into firing a coach.
Smith has given the Bears many reasons to look for a new coach. Ultimately, the next three games could determine his fate.