Lovie Smith’s lawyer couldn’t have made a better argument. Zach Zaidman, WSCR radio’s Bears beat reporter, made an impassioned, thorough and thoughtful defense to two of the Chicago coach’s most persistent detractors Wednesday.
Lovie Smith’s lawyer couldn’t have made a better argument.
Zach Zaidman, WSCR radio’s Bears beat reporter, made an impassioned, thorough and thoughtful defense to two of the Chicago coach’s most persistent detractors Wednesday.
His main points were:
Lovie has a 56-45 career record, third in Bears history in both wins and winning percentage (.554).
Lovie is 23-15 vs. NFC North teams, a .605 winning percentage. Beating your division rivals, as the Twins showed the White Sox, is the quickest route to the playoffs.
Lovie has a .625 winning percentage in seasons where he’s had a quarterback start at least 10 games.
In short, Zach told us — yes, I was one of those with no love lost for Lovie — the oft-maligned Lovie Smith is easily the Bears best coach since Mike Ditka.
Zaidman’s right. But Ditka was fired, too.
And not just Ditka. Every team in the division has fired a coach better than Lovie Smith in my 20 years of writing about the Bears:
Minnesota fired Dennis Green (97-62, .610), who made the playoffs eight times in 10 years.
Green Bay fired Mike Sherman (57-39, .594) after his only losing season. He made the playoffs four times in six years.
Detroit fired Wayne Fontes (66-67, .496), who doesn’t match Lovie Smith’s winning percentage, but easily tops him in peer comparisons. Fontes is the Lions’ all-time winningest coach, made the playoffs four times in eight years and beat the Cowboys 38-6 in the playoffs. That’s Detroit’s only playoff win in the last half-century and four of their nine playoff berths in the last 53 years.
Even former black-and-blue NFC Central rival Tampa Bay joined the crowd, firing Tony Dungy (54-42, .563) after he led the Bucs to the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Every coach on this list led his team to the playoffs at least twice as often as Lovie Smith’s two playoff trips in six years. And fans were all eager to see them go.
The reasons were the same as for Lovie Smith. In a combined 30 years of coaching Chicago’s rivals, Green, Sherman, Dungy and Fontes never won more than one playoff game in a season. If not for eking out a first-round win in overtime over a Seattle team that was so injury ravaged it pulled two starting defensive backs off the street, Smith would have zero playoff wins in six years.
That’s also what haunted Ditka, who was 2-5 in the playoffs in his seven years in Chicago after the 1985 Super Bowl season.
And all, like Smith, have been haunted by quarterback decisions. That’s not an excuse for failure. It’s a cause.
Green chose Randall Cunningham, who won five more games the rest of his career, over Brad Johnson, who won 57 and a Super Bowl (with Tampa Bay), during Minnesota’s great 15-1 season in 1998.
Fontes picked the likes of Eric Hipple, Rodney Peete and Scott Mitchell over Erik Kramer, who had a 129.4 passer rating in that playoff route of Dallas.
Sherman let Brett Favre run amok. Favre could do no wrong in Sherman’s eyes, which encouraged Favre to do a whole lot wrong. Favre’s three worst playoff games all came under Sherman; six interceptions against the Rams, four against the Vikings and a 54.4 rating against the Falcons in Green Bay’s first-ever home playoff defeat. And that doesn’t even count his horrible overtime interception against the Eagles.
Dungy stuck too long with Trent Dilfer, then turned too quickly to overmatched rookie Shaun King.
Lovie Smith hasn’t had bad luck at quarterback. He and GM Jerry Angelo have created their own bad luck.
Injured quarterbacks haven’t kept Chicago from winning. That 11-5 division title season of 2005 that Zach Zaidman puts in the stability column belongs in the injured column. Rex Grossman started only one game and backup Chad Hutchinson was so bad in the preseason he was cut at the last minute. Kyle Orton, who was supposed to be a rookie third-stringer, started 10 of those wins.
And no one was hurt badly in that unstable 7-9 season. Grossman and Brian Griese were benched mostly for being bad, not for being injured.
Uninspiring quarterbacks also hastened the demise of Lovie Smith’s predecessors Dave Wannstedt (Rick Mirer, Dave Krieg, Steve Stenstrom, Erik Kramer at the end) and Dick Jauron (Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Kordell Stewart, Chris Chandler).
Lovie Smith finally has the right quarterback in Jay Cutler.
If Cutler and Smith lead the surprising Bears (4-1) to the playoffs this year, the vast majority of Chicago fans and media critics will agree with Zach Zaidman.
If not, Smith could be another in a long line of good coaches who turned out to be not good enough. And most fans, after four seasons in a row with no playoffs, would say good riddance.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.