Should the Bears extend Lovie Smith’s contract?

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith watches his team play the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Soldier Field in Chicago on December 12, 2010. UPI/Brian Kersey

If Bear fans were presented with this question before the season started, half of them would have probably said that Lovie Smith would have to win the Super Bowl this year and the other half would have given an empathetic: “No.”

If the hated Packers wax the Bears this Sunday at Solider Field, it stands to reason that Chicago fans will return to the same mindset they had before the season and wish Smith the best as he heads out the door. But what if the Bears win? Then what? Even if they lose to the Steelers or Jets in the Super Bowl, Smith would be responsible for taking the Bears to the title game twice in the past five years. Doesn’t he deserve a contract extension because of that?

Smith has one more year left on his current deal and at least one of his players thinks that he deserves an extension (from ESPN.com):

“I believe he has done a great job here. He’s the reason we’ve won,” [Brian] Urlacher said Wednesday on “Mike & Mike In The Morning” on ESPN Radio. “I think he’s been here seven years and this is our second NFC Championship [Game], and it hasn’t been that way around here in a long time. There were a few years where we were 7-9, 8-8 and that was good. People were excited about that because it meant we were getting better.

“Now if we’re not in the playoffs or the NFC championship people are disappointed, and that’s because of him. That’s how he makes people believe around here, and that’s what he expects out of us. I believe in him. I don’t see why he wouldn’t get an extension. He’s earned it, and I don’t want to play for any other coach.”

Urlacher makes a fair point but fans aren’t going to forget how Smith has struggled with game preparation and in-game management over the years. Good coaches put game plans together that take advantage of their opposition’s weaknesses throughout the course of a game. The better ones are not only good game-planners, but they make solid halftime adjustments to win in the second half.

The best head coaches, guys like Bill Belichick, Sean Payton and even Rex Ryan from a defensive standpoint, can make adjustments on the fly. They don’t stray from their game plan, but they can attack opponents series-to-series and strike when the iron’s hot. Whether fans like to admit it, Smith can put together a good game plan more times than not. But he doesn’t always make sound halftime adjustments and he rarely makes in-game adjustments to attack his opponent when they’re not looking.

That said, this doesn’t make Smith a bad head coach. The players believe in him and he treats them like men. They want to play for him and most of the time his teams play hard. He also understands the value of special teams (of course, it helps having players like Devin Hester and Robbie Gould) and his defenses pride themselves on turnovers (even though sometimes it leads to missed tackles, which drives fans nuts). Some fans loathe the Tampa 2, but if it keeps Aaron Rodgers in check this Sunday or better yet helps the Bears win a Super Bowl, then how can anyone complain?

Personally, I wouldn’t give Smith a contract extension regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game. He was on the hot seat coming into this season and probably would have been fired had the Bears not made the playoffs. His team was rather fortunate to play a 7-9 Seahawks team at home in the opening round, but that doesn’t mean the Bears are lucky to be where they are. I think the remaining year that he has left on his contract is like an extension. He earned the right this season to see what he can do next year.

With the threat of a labor lockout looming, it doesn’t make sense for any team to extend their head coach right now. The Bears should sit tight and if the time is right next year, then they can extend Smith’s contract.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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