I’m a patient, trusting guy by human nature who is willing to give a head coach the benefit of the doubt. Take the Chicago Bulls’ Vinny Del Negro, for instance, who was hired by the team without any prior head coaching experience at any level. I had my doubts about what he could do with the team but I was willing to give him a chance before cussing out general manager John Paxson for making the hire.
Similarly, I wasn’t high on Lovie Smith in 2004 when Jerry Angelo was interviewing him for the Bears’ job. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, anyway, and he turned around a losing culture in Chicago football. He brought them to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since the “glory days” of 1985 in only his third season with the team.
That moment was the “fork in the road” with two paths diverging.
Path 1 was a road down which fans could travel, continuing to support Smith through all the difficult times because he had earned it with his turnaround of the ballclub.
Path 2 was for the angry mob who holds a “what have you done for me lately” mentality and was ready to storm Halas Hall with pitchforks and flaming sticks.
I, of course, never one to do anything easy, forged my own path somewhere in the middle and have chosen to judge Lovie’s effectiveness as a coach based on a cumulative effect rather than a year-by-year basis. And from where I stand on my path, I still hold faith in Lovie, but my trust is wearing thin.
Perhaps the first mistake Lovie had made was hiring Terry Shea as offensive coordinator and allowing him to vouch for Jonathan Quinn as a respectable NFL quarterback.
Mistake, yes. But quickly remedied after just one year.
I didn’t have much of a problem with him during the next two seasons when the Bears won back-to-back division championships, had a 24-8 regular season record in that span, and, of course, went to the Super Bowl.
Then, the problems started adding up and my trust began to slip.
He refused to retain Ron Rivera after two stellar seasons in which the Bears were a Top 5 defense and promoted his long-time friend, Bob Babich, instead.
Then, he promoted Mark Anderson over Alex Brown, which proved to be a colossal mistake.
Next, he gave his stamp of approval on a trade that sent Thomas Jones out of town and promoted Cedric Benson to the starting running back position (although, I can’t totally pin this all on him because Angelo had just as much, if not more, to do with this as Smith did).
Who could forget the trade for Adam Archuleta and how miserable Archuleta played that he wound up on special teams before long? All it cost the Bears was a sixth round pick, but again, it’s the trust and the talent evaluation that is called into question.
With Archuleta in the fold, Smith and Angelo teamed up again to ship Chris Harris out of town because they felt strongly in the aging veteran and young Brandon McGowan and felt they didn’t need Harris. While Harris is no Pro Bowler, he did have 8 forced fumbles and does play physical in the run game whereas the Bears’ secondary was left depleted in 2007.
I think what bothers most fans — and, to some degree, me — is the level of stubbornness and arrogance Smith sometimes portrays. I know the media feels as though Smith lies, exaggerates, and gives an abundance of clichés and coach-speak. I’m not going to pretend that most coaches aren’t like that. In fact, I’d argue that all coaches have some level of stubbornness.
When a team wins, fans are willing to give that kind of behavior a pass. When they lose, it wears awfully thin on them.
I remain in Smith’s corner and I still have trust and faith in him. I’m not about to join the angry mob calling for Smith’s head on a stick. But 2009 could be Lovie’s make-or-break season.
If he retains Babich as defensive coordinator — which, by all accounts, appears likely — and the Bears’ defense does not break the Top 10 or 15, there won’t be much trust left in the tank.
If he stands by certain players and puts his reputation on the line for them while they fail unequivocally, the well will run dry.
And if Angelo gives Lovie the resources to be successful and the Bears fail to make the playoffs for the third straight season — and not because of injuries — the path I’m currently traveling will slowly drift away from isolation and merge back with the crowded road.