Extension or no extension, Lovie Smith still needs to win next year

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith (R) greets tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Devin Hester after Olsen scored on a 58-yard touchdown reception during the first quarter of the NFC divisional playoff at Soldier Field in Chicago on January 16, 2011. The Bears won 35-24. UPI/Brian Kersey

The Bears made a wise decision on Friday by giving coach Lovie Smith a two-year contract extension. He had one year remaining on his contract and it wouldn’t have been prudent to make him a lame duck coach in 2011 after the success the team had last season.

The team had to show a little commitment to a man that led the Bears to an 11-5 record and an appearance in the NFC title game. Regardless of whether or not you thought the Bears’ season was a fluke, Smith coached his ass off last year. He and Mike Tice were responsible for making mid-season adjustments to the offensive line, which paid off in the second half. He also had a hand in making Mike Martz his offensive coordinator when other teams stayed away, and promoted defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to coordinator (a move that worked out despite many people believing it was made out of desperation because there was nobody else to assume the role).

Smith also seemed to hold his players more accountable last year, which is something that hadn’t happened in the past. He’s always been a mild-mannered coach and he’ll never be someone that rules with an iron fist (a la Mike Dikta), but the players certainly responded to his change in temperament.

But with all that, Smith still needs to win next season. The fact that the Bears won a division title and hosted the NFC Championship Game only puts more pressure on Smith to succeed next year. Let’s not forget that he was on the hot seat heading into 2010 and had a poll been conducted on whether or not fans wanted him gone after the ’09 season, I’m willing to bet that over half of Bears Nation wanted him replaced.

Just because he’s compiled a 63-49 record and has taken the Bears to the Super Bowl doesn’t mean that fans are willing to forget the three-straight years of mediocre football between 2007-2009. He and GM Jerry Angelo seemed to amp up their games last season and the results earned Smith an extension. But make no mistake, Smith, and possibly Angelo as well, is still on a de facto hot seat heading into 2011. The Bears need to win again.

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