I’ve had an awful lot on my mind with all the action that’s occurred around the NFL and with the Bears this weekend. To me, perhaps nothing is more interesting than Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy retiring from coaching after 7 seasons with the club.
I find Dungy a fascinating coach and person. First and foremost, he’s deeply spiritual and finds a lot of parallels between football and life. You can’t help but feel for the guy after his teenage son committed suicide in December 2005. I was watching the NFL Network and Warren Sapp was on to talk about his relationship with Dungy when they were together in Tampa Bay. Sapp was asked by Terrell Davis about the closeness Dungy had with his players and Sapp concurred. He was more than just a head coach; he was like a father figure to many of his players.
Bears coach Lovie Smith was obviously moved by Dungy’s announcement today. Smith worked under Dungy as linebackers coach in Tampa Bay and was largely responsible for Smith becoming a head coach.
“I owe Tony a lot,” Smith said Monday. “I would not be in my position today if it wasn’t for him providing me with an opportunity and mentorship. I learned a tremendous amount of football in my time with Tony in Tampa and made a friend for life. I’m proud to be a member of his coaching tree.”
Dungy retired with the all-time league-high average of 10.7 regular season wins. Think about how impressive that statistic is. With all the great coaches in league history and all the old dynasties of the 70s, 80s, and 90s — and, the 2000s, if you want to include the Patriots — the fact that Dungy sits atop the list is a testament to how good a coach he really was.
Leftwich extends unusual invitation: With his team still in the thick of a Super Bowl run, Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, the former 7th overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2003 NFL draft, made an interesting comment to the Chicago Sun-Times about his availability next season.
Seeking to compete for a starting job somewhere in the NFL next year, Leftwich said:
“I’m a fan of Lovie Smith, I’ll just say that. I thought that was where I was going to go in the beginning. I remember hoping that I would go there. I just wanted to be a part of the tradition, the history of the Bears. You’re growing up, watching games at Soldier Field on TV, I wanted to be a part of that coming out. I thought there was a chance I would go there.
“I want a chance to go somewhere and play. I guess everybody wanted to see if I am healthy, and now they can see it. I’m ready to play again.
“We are in the playoff run right now… but tell them to look me up.”
Revisiting the Rod Marinelli hiring: There are still concerns among a lot of Bears fans about the hiring of Rod Marinelli as defensive line/assistant head coach, so I just want to reiterate some comments I made this weekend when the signing became official.
Marinelli is a bad head coach. That’s fine. There have been countless coaches — and I say countless because there are too many for me to even go back through the record books and add up — that have been fantastic coordinators and position coaches but have failed miserably in the lead roll.
For the most recent examples, take a look at guys like Romeo Crennel, who was a solid defensive coordinator with New England but bombed in Cleveland, and Cam Cameron, who had one win as a head coach with the Miami Dolphins last year, but remains a solid offensive coordinator, once with the Chargers two years ago and currently with the still-alive Baltimore Ravens.
I know Bears fans are skeptical of Marinelli because of his 0-16 record as head coach last year and the fact that his defense didn’t play very well. But aside from the fact that he didn’t have much talent to work with in Detroit, his head coaching record holds no weight with how he coaches the defensive line.
Other Bears fans are cautious about supporting Marinelli because he’s a close friend with Lovie Smith, and Bears fans know how well Smith’s last “buddy hiring” went with Bob Babich.
Keep in mind, skeptics, that despite his “assistant head coach” title, Marinelli will be in charge of only the defensive line. And since the Bears had an opening on their coaching staff, they went out and filled it with one of the best possible candidates.
Wild divisional round: Raise your hand if you expected the Cardinals to beat the Panthers in Carolina this week. No cheating now. Be honest.
I know that no one on ESPN’s panel of experts predicted Arizona would win. Countless other “experts” likewise picked Carolina to triumph. It’s baffling how the Cardinals waltzed into an east coast city — where they hadn’t won this year — and pushed around a much more physical Panthers team.
What’s also confounding is how easily the defending champions fell to the Eagles. I actually tossed around the idea of picking Philadelphia because they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the NFL the past month of the season, but I thought the Giants would at least win one playoff game.
Likewise, the NFL’s best team — record-wise, that is — lost to a rookie-led Baltimore Ravens. I liked Joe Flacco entering the 2008 Draft, but he’s not exactly lighting the league on fire. He doesn’t do anything particularly great, but what he does well is take care of the football and he helped guide Baltimore to a victory over the Titans in Tennessee.
The only game I managed to predict correctly this week was the Steelers over the Chargers, but that’s only because we knew ahead of time that LaDainian Tomlinson was not going to play. You couldn’t pick San Diego over Pittsburgh unless you had some insider information.
2009 road blocks: How’s this for justice: the Bears were the only team in 2008 to open the season with two straight road games. Their 2009 quandary? They will be the only team to play all four of the remaining conference championship teams next season.
Given the yearly turnover in the league, I wouldn’t be all that concerned about facing all these teams. Three of them will have to come to Soldier Field, and it’s possible none of them — although, probably one (Pittsburgh) — will get back to the playoffs next year. The Bears will host Arizona, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh and travel to Baltimore.
The Bears do appear to have a favorable schedule, though, with seven games against Detroit (twice), St. Louis, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Cincinnati. And if the schedule-makers are generous, getting the Cardinals to come to Chicago in December would help add to the win total.