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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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.

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