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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Former Packer Koch latest to rip Cutler, also takes swipes at Lovie Smith and Kyle Orton

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler warms up before a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 21, 2010. UPI/Brian Kersey

Former Packers guard Greg Koch only missed two games in his 11 seasons in the NFL, so apparently he feels justified for being the latest athlete to call out Jay Cutler for not toughing out his knee injury in the NFC title game. What makes Koch extra special is that he also threw Bears coach Lovie Smith and former Chicago QB Kyle Orton shots as well.

From the Chicago Tribune:

“Nobody would’ve kept Tom Brady off the field if he wanted to play. Nobody would’ve kept Peyton Manning off the field. Then you don’t just sit on the sideline and ride a bike like a little girl. … I’ve never seen anything like it. If that’s the guy leading your team, you deserve a coach named Lovie.”

“This isn’t a normal profession where you go, ‘I’ve got the flu and I’m not coming in today,’ ” Koch said. “There are times you just gotta gut it up, shoot it up and play. It’s the NFC Championship Game. … If it comes out that he needs surgery, then maybe I need to take some of this back. But right now, I’m seeing it as a strained ligament and I’ve seen a lot of guys play with a lot worse.”

“If there’s two guys who do not look like an NFL quarterback, if you just look at their mug, it’s Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton, and they traded these two slobs for each other,” Koch said.

For the millionth time, we don’t know the extent of Cutler’s injury. John Paulsen posted an interesting video this morning about when Cutler may have suffered the injury and there’s reason to believe it happened on the first play of the second quarter. If that’s the case, then Cutler did try to “tough it out” by playing an entire quarter with a MCL tear. Furthermore, he came back out in the second half and tried to play with the injury then, too.

In the end, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t plant on his leg and he was highly inaccurate. I’m sure the layoff at halftime didn’t do him any favors, as his knee probably stiffened up.

Out of all the idiots criticizing Cutler, Koch may be the biggest. What I would like to know from clowns like him is whether or not he really believes Cutler wanted out of the game. This is Jay freaking Cutler were talking about. The man threw four interceptions to DeAngelo Hall in one game and then said in his post-game presser that he would continue to throw at him the next time he faced him. He has an ego the size of Lake Michigan – he’s not going to want come out of the NFC title game unless he’s seriously hurt. He doesn’t care how poorly he was playing – he thinks he can beat anyone on any given Sunday. Isn’t that what we always say about Cutler? That he’s arrogant?

People have the right to express their opinions but I don’t see what making fun of Lovie Smith’s name or Kyle Orton has to do with Jay Cutler’s injury. Koch seems like a former athlete who just wants to make headlines one last time. In reality, he sounds like a moron.

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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NFL Week 17 COY power rankings

It’s best to do this now, because surely our opinions will be skewed watching the playoffs.

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots—The Pats just kept getting better as the season wore on, save for that hiccup against Cleveland. This is actually one of Bill’s best coaching jobs.

2. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Bucs—From 3-13 to 10-6. But what might be most impressive is that Morris told everyone this team would win 10 games when he may have been the only one who believed it.

3. Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs—The AFC West winner has a home game Sunday. Did anyone pick KC to finish above third?

4. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears—Kudos to Lovie for sending his A-team out there last Sunday, and either way it’s surely been quite a year for his Bears, especially with that defense.

5. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles—He hasn’t hung around the city of Philadelphia for 11 years for no reason. The man just knows how to win with the talent he’s given.

6. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams—So close to grabbing that last playoff spot, but regardless, this is a team that will be reckoned with, maybe as soon as next year.

7. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons—The 13-3 Falcons are sharp heading into the big dance.

8. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers/John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens—Without Big Ben for four games, and still grabbed the 2-seed in the tough AFC. The Ravens, meanwhile, snuck up on everyone by winning 12 games too.

9. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers—His team was in every single game and could just as easily be 16-0 than 10-6. Keep an eye on these guys, they could win it all as a 6-seed.

10. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints—You just can’t forget about the defending champs and that win in Atlanta a few weeks ago proved it.

NFL Week 16 COY power rankings

The way things are looking, you’re on this list if you still have your job or expect to at the end of the season, because lots of heads are rolling already.

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots—The model of efficiency, and despite mediocre team stats (11th offense, 27th defense), the number that matters is 13 wins.

2. Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs—Who didn’t think the Chargers would trip the Chiefs up from behind?

3. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears—Nobody picked the Bears to finish higher than third in the NFC North, did they? And yet they have a shot at the #1 seed in the conference.

4. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles—So his team had a bad game against Minnesota. Big Andy stays on this list for his handling of the QB situation alone, but also for winning big games despite injuries.

5. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Bucs—When Raheem said he wanted to win 10 games, everyone laughed, and now he is laughing at them. Well, almost.

6. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams—Even though they lead the crappy NFC West at 7-8, this is just a remarkable story. You think the Giants had wished they didn’t let this guy go?

7. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints—Started slowly, but you know nobody wants to face these guys in January.

8. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons—Still sitting pretty for the #1 seed in the NFC.

9. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers/John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens—No reason to take either guy off the list.

10. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers—All those injuries and a late-season resurgence have the Pack in prime position.

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