News came from Halas Hall regarding contract extensions for Bears coaches, but Lovie Smith was not one of them. At least, not yet.
These deals were given — although a better word might be earned — by offensive line coach Mike Tice, linebackers coach Bob Babich, secondary coach Jon Hoke and running backs coach Tim Spencer.
Keeping Tice, who was denied permission by the Bears to interview for the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator position, was a wise decision. Although the Bears allowed the most sacks of any team all season, the offensive line improved as the season progressed, particularly after the Bears settled on the starting five of J’Marcus Webb, Roberto Garza, Olin Kreutz, Chris Williams, and Frank Omiyale. If not for the improvement and stability of these five guys led by Tice, the Bears would not have went on a five-game win streak following the break, nor would they have won the NFC North or made the playoffs.
Some speculate that Tice was given an extension to keep him happy after not allowing him to interview with the Titans. While that may hold some water, that’s hardly the reason. What Tice brings to the table is a history of developing offensive linemen and head-coaching experience that will help serve this team well.
He also serves as the voice of reason that just might keep offensive coordinator Mike Martz from “straying from the herd.” Martz is notorious for abandoning the run and “going rogue,” so to speak. It has been reported — or, at least speculated — that Tice was responsible for the dramatic change in play calling following the Bears’ bye week that led to the Bears becoming a run-first team as opposed to the pass-first team that nearly got Jay Cutler killed.
Tice knew what he had to work with — which wasn’t much, to be brutally honest. So, he relayed to Martz and Smith that his linemen couldn’t handle all the responsibility that Martz was heaping upon them and Martz simplified the game plan. The change in plan helped running back Matt Forte have a great second half of the season, and thus helping to reward coach Spencer with an extension.
Babich, meanwhile, was a lousy defensive coordinator but he’s been a strong linebackers coach since his days with Smith in St. Louis. There’s no reason to let him go anywhere or try to replace him.
Hoke took a unit considered weak — the secondary — and turned it into a stable one that helped make plays this season. Danieal Manning, the nomadic journeyman who couldn’t find a position in his first four seasons in the league, settled in nicely at strong safety and was a force in the run game. He was joined by Chris Harris, who is not a free safety but his experience and knowledge helped keep things steady, as the two finally provided consistency to a safety position that has been a revolving door since Mike Brown left. Furthermore, after Zack Bowman lost his starting job in Week 3, Hoke deserves credit for inserting the diminutive Tim Jennings into the lineup and helping avoid disaster.
For the first several years of his career, Smith was criticized for not hiring good assistant coaches to help get the most out of his players. The past two years, he changed his ways and brought in coaches with great experience and the results of this season were dividends paid.