Chicago Bears: Lovie Smith
Dungy was asked in an interview with The Sporting News whether the firing of his longtime friend and opponent in Super Bowl XLI was fair.
The Bears fired Smith on Dec. 31, 2012, a day after the club closed the season with a 26-24 triumph at Detroit to improve to 10-6. Chicago missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, and the organization believed it was time to head a different direction. So ownership brought aboard Marc Trestman.
Since making the change, the team -- which openly discussed the desire to close in on the Green Bay Packers -- has deteriorated under Trestman’s watch, finishing 8-8 in 2013, and well on the way now to a record worse than that in 2014.
Smith produced at least 10 victories in two of his final three seasons. Having worked for Indianapolis and Tampa Bay as a head coach, Dungy understood the win-now mindset that led to Smith’s ouster.
“Sometimes you can get spoiled by success,” Dungy said. “Nine-, 10-, 11-win seasons, but you didn’t get to the Super Bowl, so that’s unacceptable. You have to strive for more.”
Dungy declined to criticize Trestman, but mentioned Chicago’s front office hasn’t provided the coach enough talent to field a consistently competitive team.
"From the talent part, they’re really a ways away," Dungy said. "You take away some of the guys that Lovie had, [Charles] Tillman, [Julius] Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and you’re gonna be a ways away."
CHICAGO -- Lovie Smith stamped Chicago's defense with a takeaway mindset during his nine-year tenure, and standing on the opposite sideline Sunday as coach of Tampa Bay, he watched the Buccaneers fall victim to his Bears brainchild.
Down 10-0 to start the second half, the Chicago Bears scored 14 points off three third-quarter takeaways to best the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-13 at Soldier Field.
In all, Chicago gobbled up four takeaways.
A light rain fell at kickoff, but as the game progressed, the precipitation increased along with Chicago's prospects for forcing turnovers. Several Bears defenders said the sloppy conditions helped them to take away the ball.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," safety Ryan Mundy said. "But takeaways are our focus every game. We come in trying to be plus-2 [in turnover margin] every game because that's what this defense has thrived on for so many years. That's one of the pillars of our defense. Particularly, when the weather gets nasty, offenses have trouble handling the ball. So we need to exploit that moving forward. We knew they were going to be playing for takeaways because when Coach Smith was here, those were the coaching points for [the Bears]."
David Bass' strip-sack of Josh McCown with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter turned the tide of the game, as Matt Forte busted a 13-yard touchdown run behind left guard Kyle Long on the next play from scrimmage to give the Bears a 14-10 lead after the extra point.
In a span of 1:49, Forte scored two touchdowns off Bears takeaways. Mundy picked off a pass that bounced off Charles Sims' hands to set up Forte's second score. Chicago needed to move the ball a total of 28 yards on five plays for Forte's touchdowns.
"When you get into this weather, it's not optimal throwing conditions," McCown said. "But you've got to manage it the best you can. Those two [turnovers] right there back-to-back hurt us. It's tough, but we've got to do a better job of managing it."
Earlier in the game, Chris Conte picked off McCown. But Jay Cutler fumbled on the ensuing possession, and Tampa Bay capitalized with a McCown touchdown pass to Mike Evans. Chicago's opponents this season have now scored 82 points off turnovers, with Cutler committing 18 of the team's 21.
The Bears' defense, however, has scored 63 points this season off 18 takeaways. Since 2006, the Bears are 50-10 when they finish games with a positive turnover margin (8-0 under Trestman in those conditions), 13-35 in games on the negative side of turnover margin and 14-16 when the turnover margin is equal.
"With them coming in, Lovie preaches [turnovers] a lot, so we knew we had to win the turnover battle," cornerback Tim Jennings said. "That was huge for our success today. We needed that."
During Smith's tenure in Chicago, the Bears led the NFL in takeaways (310), returning 34 of them for touchdowns, including 26 interceptions returned for scores. That tied for the most in the NFL during that span.
Smith couldn't help but admit that the Bears beat him at his own game.
"Yeah, I think most teams win with that turnover ratio," Smith said. "There are a lot of defensive players [for Chicago] that bought into that, and, like most games, that's normally what's going to determine the winner."
During his tenure in Chicago, Smith gained a reputation for being able to motivate his players to play for him. The same should be expected of Smith in Tampa Bay. So the Bucs’ 2-8 record shouldn’t be a major consideration in this game.
The Bucs are coming off a road win at Washington and are just two wins out of first place in the NFC South.
The Bears, meanwhile, are allowing a league-worst 29 points per game, and let’s remember this team hasn’t allowed fewer than 20 points in consecutive games since 2012. With Cutler targeting Brandon Marshall 78.9 percent of the time over the last two games, look for Smith to take away the receiver.
Defensively, Chicago’s secondary will struggle to match up against Tampa Bay’s big receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.
Prediction: Buccaneers 20, Bears 17.
It's interesting to read all the different takes on Smith from our local media.
" Naturally, with Smith coming to town, the inevitable comparisons would be made between the former Bears coach and the current coach. As down as folks seem to be about Marc Trestman, it’s important to remember we’re just in Year 2 of his tenure. Perhaps it’s too early to count out Trestman? Either way, colleague Michael Wilbon provides his take on Smith and Trestman here.
Wilbon writes: We can't be revisionist to the point of thinking that Smith's tenure, while it resulted in a trip to the Super Bowl, was problem-free; the mistakes made hiring and firing coordinators alone surely cost the Bears a trip or two to the playoffs. But his teams in Chicago never seemed rudderless, as is the case now. And Arians-coached teams in both Indianapolis and Arizona have shown a combativeness that has been absent on the Bears.
The only way to change that narrative is for Trestman to rally his team in a way he's mostly been unable to do, especially because quite a few men on his roster performed with so much more passion and success for his predecessor.
" Just in case you missed it, ESPNChicago.com’s Jon Greenberg takes it a step further here.
Greenberg writes: While the Lovie love stories this week have resulted in sentimental longing from some fans, I'm thinking toward the future. I'm reading "Collision Low Crossers," Nicholas Dawidoff's book about spending the 2011 season with the New York Jets. So, I'm thinking about Rex Ryan with the Bears, and not as defensive coordinator.
I know, I know. Too easy. Too meatball. The woeful Jets are 2-8 this season, having just ended an eight-game losing streak.
But you always go with opposites when it comes to coaching changes, right? And Rex is not just a personality. He's a defensive guy. For all his recent struggles and concerns about his outsize persona, Ryan did take the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Games, and he is more than just Buddy Ryan's son. Imagine Rex Ryan, who isn't long for his job with the Jets, winning in Chicago.
Ah, I'll save that for next month, when Trestman's seat could be red hot.
We've got six weeks left in this season, plenty of time to daydream about the future. For now, let's live in the past. Lance, pass the ribs and tell me another Lovie story.
" David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune takes a look at Smith here, and calls him a good, but not great coach. That’s probably the best way to describe him.
Haugh writes: He never won a championship but never embarrassed the organization. He talked down to the media but spoke to players like men. He preferred to avoid the spotlight and controversy in the NFL's second-largest market but led with quiet strength that made players never want to let him down.
As one of his biggest critics from 2004 to 2012, I can say without hesitation that the positives outweighed the negatives during Smith's time as Bears head coach. The one prediction that came true from the day the Bears introduced Smith was that he indeed was a good hire — good, not great.
" Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune writes that the Bears gained some confidence on defense from their performance in last Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings.
" Arthur Arkush over at Chicagofootball.com writes that Jay Cutler wants to utilize his mobility more, the way the club used him last week against the Vikings.
“They’re similar to our defense now, too, with that Cover 2-type defense,” Forte said. “Obviously, they try to get pressure on the quarterback with their front four, and then they play takeaway football. That’s all they preach is takeaway, takeaway; especially when he was here. So I know he’s been teaching the same thing to them. The key is to guard the ball at all times.”
Despite Smith’s reputation for preaching the importance of taking away the ball, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently tied for 16th in the NFL in takeaways (15). The Bears are ranked fourth in the league in giveaways (20).
Tampa Bay forced three takeaways last week in its victory over the Redskins.
During Smith's tenure in Chicago, the Bears led the NFL in takeaways (310), three-and-out drives forced (485), three-and-out drive percentage (26.4), third-down percentage (34.1) and red-zone scoring efficiency (79.3). Under Smith, the Bears returned 34 of their 310 takeaways for touchdowns, including 26 interceptions returned for touchdowns, which tied for the most in the NFL during the coach’s tenure.
“As much as we know about the Chicago Bears, they know about us,” Smith said. “It’s not like we’re changing defenses or anything like that. We’re both familiar with each other, but that’s kind of the case in the league a lot. You play teams that you’re both familiar with each other, but it’s about what happens after the ball is snapped and that’s what it comes down to.”
The Bears fired Smith at the conclusion of the 2012 season, after the team finished with a 10-6 record. So while the revenge factor “probably plays a little bit into it,” according to Forte, what makes the Bucs a serious threat despite their 2-8 record is the way they’re coached.
“Just from the experience of him being here, me being on offense and watching the defense play, they want to stop the run and get turnovers,” Forte said. “That’s what they want to do, force us to try to throw the ball, and then get strips, interceptions and sacks. If we can stay out of the way of that and control the game by running the ball and converting third downs, it’ll be advantageous to us.”
Cutler and Smith meet again Sunday when the Bears host the Smith-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field.
Cutler was complimentary regarding his relationship with Smith.
"I think anytime you’re with a head coach as long as Lovie was here and I was here, there’s definitely a relationship," Cutler said.
The team’s struggles to field a consistent offense during Smith’s nine-year tenure played a role in the team’s decision to fire him. Despite having a Pro Bowl receiver in Brandon Marshall and other strong supporting cast members such as Cutler and running back Matt Forte, the Bears finished 2012 ranked No. 28 in total offense.
Despite the organization firing him, Smith spoke highly of the Bears and Cutler.
"Jay’s been a great quarterback in the league for a long time," Smith said. "Things that bother you as a defense: a quarterback that can make all his throws with mobility that can move around in the pocket, of course, Jay has all that. When he looks to throw the ball, he has some great targets. I think every opposing team that comes in will say the same thing."
-- Linebacker Lance Briggs places former Bears coach Lovie Smith among the greatest coaches in franchise history, writes ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson.
Smith’s 84 wins in nine seasons (84-66) ranks third in Bears history behind only George Halas (324-151-31) and Mike Ditka (112-68).
“Lovie should be remembered as one of the great coaches of Chicago,” Briggs said Wednesday. “You have George Halas, you have Mike Ditka, and then Lovie Smith comes next.”
-- Bears cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Tim Jennings face a difficult challenge defending Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, writes Larry Mayer of the team’s official site.
-- Former Bears nickel corner Isaiah Frey believes Smith will have a chip on his shoulder Sunday at Soldier Field.
"It's going to be fun, emotional," Frey said. "I think he's going to be excited, too. Quite honestly, I think he's going to have a chip on his shoulder. The year he left, my rookie year, we were 10-6. That's not easy to do."
The Bears now know this all too well.
-- Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune looks at the somewhat symbiotic relationship between Jay Cutler and Josh McCown.
-- Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times compares the styles of Smith and current Bears coach Marc Trestman.
Morrissey writes: Both coaches are from the never-a-discouraging-word school of leadership, which makes this week so compelling. Who has the edge in seeing, hearing and speaking no evil?
I’m going with Smith, but only because he has never wavered in protecting his players. Had he been asked about the performance of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, a kicker, Lovie would have told reporters, “None of us played well.’’
Trestman’s history is a little more uneven. When he arrived in Chicago, he was much more forthcoming with the media about what went wrong in games.
Fired by the organization after a 10-6 finish in 2012, Smith spent all of 2013 out of football until taking over in January as coach of the Buccaneers. Smith expects to reminisce over "special memories" formed during his time in Chicago on Sunday, "but as far as the game is concerned, once we tee it off, it's another game we're trying to win."
"I know how I'm remembered there," Smith said. "As I come in Sunday, I'm coming in as an opposing coach. That's how I'm looking at it. The year I had off and just being in Chicago for nine years, I don't need anything validated this week. Fans were great to me and my family while we were there, administration was. I have lifetime friends on the Chicago Bears football team. I think I have all those things right now. I'm an opposing coach on the other side of the field coming in this week."
Asked if he received a fair shake in Chicago, Smith eschewed expressing bitterness and focused on the positive.
"To be at a place for nine years in the NFL is pretty good," Smith said. "I enjoyed every second I had there. A part of life sometimes [is] you move onto other places. The best job I've always had has always been my next job; couldn't be happier where I am now."
Here are a few more highlights from Smith's conference call Wednesday with the media assembled at Halas Hall:
On proudest memory of his time in Chicago: "Oh, I'm proud of everything we were able to do. I loved my time there. I loved the organization that I worked for and the opportunity they gave me. But as much as anything, the players I got a chance to lead and to coach. The lifetime memories, the lifetime relationships I was able to form from being there, of course that's what will stay with me forever."
On how Smith implemented his program upon first coming to Chicago: "When I talk about the special players that I had a chance to coach, when you come into a new program -- which we've had to do here -- you lay out the blueprint on how we're going to do things: what would be our philosophy, just how we're going to win football games. So I laid that out and we had guys who bought into it right away. A lot of students of the game, a lot of good players. Then from there, you just start building each day and working to get better. And we did that. Initially we had a few tough times early on. But you know, after we got going, things really turned around quickly."
On what he learned most from nine-year tenure in Chicago: "It's pretty hard to say 'most.' There are so many things. When you're in a place for nine years coaching a team, you can't really point out just a few things. You just kind of formed everything. And for me, being my first head coaching job, all of my philosophies and things I thought I believed in, I got a chance to see. Every imaginable situation you can be in as a head football coach, I feel like I had a chance to be in there. Just about any game, coaching the Hall of Fame game to a Super Bowl, besides winning a Super Bowl, I think as a coach I got a chance to witness and be a part of just about everything you could want to as a coach."
On his year away from football in 2013: "I'll tell you, there wasn't a whole lot of negative things that came from it, as I saw it. In coaching, it's non-stop. In every year of my life, I've been involved in coaching. So to take a chance to step back, enjoy some of the other things, my family. You know I'm a big family man. But I got a chance to spend a lot more time with them; got a chance to see how much I loved football and look at it from a different perspective. And then just start planning to come back into the game. It's not like the year I was out I was retiring or anything like that. I started planning for my next job. My next job has always been the best job I've had, so that's what a year off allowed me to do; one of the best years of my life."
On what it was like dealing with expectations of Chicago's fans as a first-time head coach: "A dream come true. Everything that you thought was kind of how it turned out being for me. To come to a storied franchise with a great fan base and to just help to bring that fan base and what was expected, back. The things you dream about, that's how it really turned out for me. I enjoyed every day I came to work and the people I had a chance to work with. Not only the players, of course, but the staff and the administration, too. Again, your first job, I'm sure everyone would hope that your first job would be something like my first job."
“We’ve had to circle the wagons just because we’re taking fire from everywhere,” Long said Tuesday during the “Carmen & Jurko Show” on ESPN 1000. “When you string together a few losses in that fashion, people want answers. People want change. What we need to realize is the only change that needs to happen is we need to change our attitude, and we need to figure out how to quit making mistakes and start playing to a higher level.”
Although the Bears captured a much-needed win, it didn’t come without the club starting slow and making mistakes along the way. Chicago’s opening drive lasted 10 plays but was bogged down by penalties for illegal formation (Martellus Bennett), false start (Long) and unsportsmanlike conduct (Jay Cutler) as the possession ended at Minnesota’s 29 with Robbie Gould missing a 47-yard field goal wide right.
Interestingly, the Bears didn’t commit a penalty on their second possession, which Cutler capped with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.
“I think the biggest thing to the penalties is it’s something we were able to correct and get out of that business very early,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said on Monday. “But it certainly slowed us down. It slowed us down on both sides of the ball early on, getting off the field defensively and staying on the field and continuing drives offensively. It’s not what we want. It’s not acceptable to us. But at the same time, I appreciated the fact that our team was able to clean that up and move forward. We were pretty clean the rest of the way.”
The Bears finished the game with seven penalties for 60 yards. They’ve committed five penalties or more in all but one game this season.
The last time the Bears played a home game, fans at Soldier Field booed the team coming off the field down 14-0 to the Miami Dolphins, resulting in Long criticizing the fans after the 27-14 loss. Long expected a similar reaction from the fans against the Vikings, but understood why this time.
“Rightfully so, I was expecting to be met with some adversity when things would not go our way because throughout the course of a game, there’s ebb and flow. Things go well. Things go not so well,” Long said. “We were greeted with a few boos, and that’s understandable. That’s the kind of football we’ve put out for Bears fans in recent memory. But we’re trying to change that course and try to have them singing a different tune next time around.”
The next opportunity for that takes place Sunday at Soldier Field with the team hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by former Bears coach Lovie Smith.
Perhaps a 4-6 start after lofty expectations to start the season makes you a tad salty.
Let’s get started:
-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson reports the Bears are downplaying Sunday’s reunion with former coach Lovie Smith.
Here’s what Bears Trestman said when asked about Smith’s influence on the organization.
“I’m not going to go through a dissertation like that,” Trestman said. “The thing I can tell you about Lovie is that I’ve watched him for years and played against him for years and I know him as a person and I have tremendous respect for him as a person in all areas. That’s the only thing I can speak of at this point and I truly mean that.”
Brandon Marshall also sidestepped questions about his former coach.
“It’s just another Sunday,” Marshall said. “I won’t get into it throughout this week. I won’t get into it with you now.”
-- Here’s Dickerson’s stock watch coming off Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings.
What’s interesting here is Dickerson notes how Trestman is now conducting press conferences compared to when he first took over the Chicago Bears. There’s definitely a change, and not a good one.
Dickerson writes: This is what happens when a guy is blasted from coast to coast. Can you truly blame Trestman for shutting it down with the media? Say what want about Trestman’s coaching style, I used to enjoy his press conferences. Trestman gave insightful and sincere answers, even if you disagreed with the message. Trestman never backed down from a tough question, unlike his predecessor, who acted insulted when a reporter asked about a sensitive issue. That’s all over now. Trestman isn’t giving much anymore -- another casualty of this wasted season.
-- Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune discuss Trestman’s new guarded demeanor at press conferences.
-- Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times gives you 10 points regarding the Bears. Is there a chance the Bears are better than we all think? Probably not, but Potash makes some interesting points in this piece.
-- Here’s the Sun-Times’ weekly exclusive video with Bears kicker Robbie Gould.
Thanks everyone for participating. Let's get started:
@mikecwright: Just because I believe Christian Jones is the future at strongside linebacker for this team doesn't mean I think Shea McClellin doesn't belong on the team or the NFL. Jones is just better suited to play the position than McClellin. But I still think there is a place for McClellin on this team as a reserve and as a designated pass-rush specialist.
@mikecwright: They sure make it seem that way, don't they? I personally don't believe that Marquess Wilson is going to add significantly to the offense upon his return. I know Wilson and Jay Cutler developed a rapport during the offseason, but from what we've seen thus far, the quarterback rarely throws to anyone not named Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte. So I don't see Wilson making a huge impact once he's back out on the field. Also, I don't consider Wilson a player capable of taking the top off the coverage. I think he will fare well in the slot, but he's not a speed-burner by any means. And I think when you have got a speed receiver in the slot, you force teams to play you more honestly. When Wilson returns, I anticipate teams continuing to devote the extra coverage on the outside to Jeffery and Marshall. Now if Cutler hits Wilson down the seam a few times when he comes back for big gains, it will make defenses respect the threat of a slot receiver.
@mikecwright: That is a great question that unfortunately I don't have a good answer for. Ted Phillips played a key role in the Bears hiring Phil Emery, and obviously, you know what the general manager did in terms of firing Lovie Smith and bringing in Marc Trestman. The thing about Chicago's ownership is the group doesn't meddle, which can be both a positive and a negative. I think the best course of action for ownership is to hire football people to run the football side of things. Obviously, you know that Phillips isn't a football person. I certainly think Phillips should be held just as accountable by ownership as he and George McCaskey hold Emery and Trestman.
@mikecwright: With the Bears being what I'd consider a mom-and-pops organization, I don't think ownership would be interested in eating another contract with Trestman the way they did when the club parted ways with Smith and Jerry Angelo prior to that. Besides that, I think you would have to consider what a new coach would mean for Cutler. Emery wanted to give Cutler stability with the coaching staff when he brought in Trestman. Now that the team has invested so much financially in Cutler, do you want that stability Emery has built around the quarterback to be disrupted? So if Jim Harbaugh does become available, I don't think the Bears will be interested unless ownership decides to get rid of Trestman. I seriously doubt Emery would want to fire Trestman regardless of what transpires over the last half of the season. Then again, ownership could take that decision out of Emery's hands. I don't see that happening.
@mikecwright: You're not going to like my answer here, and although I never played in the NFL, I did play from the age of 6 through four years of college. From my own playing experience, all the talk about leadership is way overblown. No player needs another player for motivation. At the NFL level, even on the college level, if a player isn't self-motivated, the truth is he shouldn't be on the team. He shouldn't be in the sport. Honestly, it used to irk me to have those teammates who used to yell all the time, give the rah-rah speeches, and scream out, "Let's go guys." That's all unneeded hot air. Leaders do their thing by example. In Brian Urlacher's case, he produced on the field, worked hard in practices and in the weight room, and the other players saw that and figured if they conducted themselves in a similar fashion, they would achieve success, too. That is leadership. So do I see a lack of leadership in the locker room? Not really. When a team is 3-5 like the Bears, "leadership" or lack of becomes one of those low-hanging fruit types of storylines. Leadership truly starts with the coach and his staff. If the coaching staff consistently puts players in the position to succeed, they gain the trust of the players, who will run through a brick wall for their coaches. Lovie Smith built that type of trust from players during his tenure in Chicago, which in turn led to the players self-policing in the locker room to make sure the team took the lead of its coach. That is not what's currently going on with the Bears. But it's not a locker room leadership thing. I think it's more an issue of the coach not getting through to the players..
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Lance Briggs’ muted reaction to Brian Urlacher announcing his retirement in 2013 spoke volumes about the fate he probably anticipated at the end of his 12th season as a Chicago Bear.
Briggs played 10 years alongside Urlacher, a franchise icon, who was unceremoniously dumped in March 2013 when the sides couldn’t come to an agreement to bring him back for a 14th season. If the Bears could let things play out that way with Urlacher, what would be different about the team’s handling of Briggs once his contract ends?
“Here is the thing: I don’t have words in regards to Brian right now,” Briggs told “The Carmen & Jurko Show” right after Urlacher’s retirement announcement. “He meant something different for me than he did for most. So for most, it’s just a thankful answer. For me, it’s deeper than that. I’m just not ready to speak on it.”
Surely during the flood of emotions smacking him upside the head the way he’s hit opposing running backs over the past 12 years, Briggs thought about his own pending fate. When Urlacher and the Bears cut off talks during the 2013 offseason, the team almost immediately issued a statement announcing the sides couldn’t come to an agreement.
Chicago’s best and final offer to Urlacher was a one-year contract that maxed out at $2 million. At the time, Urlacher was the face of the franchise. Briggs isn’t. Briggs currently earns $4.75 million in base salary for this season. So if there’s any chance the Bears bring back Briggs, he can expect the club to come to the bargaining table with a low-ball offer.
A one-year offer in line with the deal the Bears submitted to Urlacher would actually come as a surprise. Besides, it’s worth noting that receiver Alshon Jeffery comes up on the end of his contract in 2015, and there’s a good chance the Bears would look to extend him before the final year of his deal. When the team signed Brandon Marshall to an extension, he received a $7.5 million signing bonus and $22.3 million guaranteed, not to mention an average yearly salary of $10 million.
Jeffery would seem to be in line for something similar, which means Briggs’ slice of the salary-cap pie simply can’t be what he’s accustomed to. Briggs knows that, too, and more than likely there will be another team in free agency willing to spend more for him than the Bears.
Besides, Chicago’s current roster features several younger linebackers in players such as Christian Jones, Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene just waiting for their chance in the spotlight.
“It's the last year of my deal. It's not like I'm going to magically show up after this year, and they're going to open the gates up for you,” Briggs said. “I've talked to my buddy [former Bears defensive end] Alex Brown. Those gates are closing, you're a free agent. I know the reality of it, and I'm proud of all the years I've had here. It's been great.”
When asked whether 2014 would be his last season in the NFL, Briggs said “I don’t know.”
“Somebody's got to want you first and then you go from there,” Briggs said. “But right now, my focus is the Packers.”
That’s where it should be because now is the time for Briggs to put his skills on display -- most importantly, on film -- for the rest of the NFL to see when free agency hits.
Given Chicago’s negotiating tactics, which fall in line with pretty much every other team in the league, you can count on the Bears questioning Briggs’ durability and using the fact he’s missed 10 games over the past two seasons as ammunition to devalue the linebacker. The fact Briggs turns 34 next week doesn't help, either.
So when Briggs says he understands “this is probably my last year as a Chicago Bear,” he’s not saying it to garner sympathy.
Through watching how the Bears dealt with Urlacher in 2013, Briggs knows exactly the way the game is played.
Back in July 2013, headed into Marc Trestman’s first season as head coach, Briggs was asked whether the departures of Lovie Smith and former teammates was difficult to take after so many years working with them.
“The values and things Lovie instilled in us will always be with us. We will carry that over. Lovie will live through us. Brian Urlacher, Israel Idonije, Mike Brown, all those guys will continue to live through us,” Briggs said. “The business stuff, we have to talk about after the season is over. I don’t want to take anything away by thinking about after the year, the future. Right now is more precious than tomorrow.”
Especially when tomorrow basically doesn’t exist for Briggs, at least not in Chicago.
“I strongly recommend if you get fired, take the year off like I did and it will help you an awful lot,” Smith jokingly said.
After spending the entire 2013 season out of football, Smith, in January became the head coach at Tampa Bay. Since coming into the new job, Smith said he hasn’t run into any surprises, and credits the experience gained in Chicago, where he served nine years as head coach of the Bears.
“Whenever you’ve had a chance to be somewhere for nine years, the next place should be easier,” Smith said. “There hasn’t really been anything that’s caught me off guard or anything like that. Having the year off helped. [I] had a chance to evaluate everything I believe in, I came to some of the conclusions that I thought.”
Obviously one of those was to remain classy. Smith refused to go into his personal thoughts about being fired in Chicago. Asked if he received a fair shake with the Bears, who fired him on Dec. 31 of 2012 as the club came off a 10-6 season, Smith quickly said, “It’s a Bucs life for me now; my focus is definitely on that.”
“I’ve worked at a lot of different places in the past. If you’d like to talk about Big Sandy [Texas] High School, I used to work there, too,” Smith added. “Great experience there. I’m excited about Tampa and what we’re doing. I’ve had the opportunity to work at a lot of great places. Chicago was one of them.”
With Smith out of football, his former defense in Chicago fell on hard times. Last season, the Bears gave up the most yards (6,313), points (478), and rushing yards (2,583) in franchise history. During Smith’s tenure, Chicago’s defense consistently performed among the league’s best in most statistical categories.
Smith couldn’t point out anything specifically that explained Chicago’s defensive demise in 2013, but the coach expressed confidence in the group bouncing back this upcoming season. The Bears host Smith and the Buccaneers in 2014.
“Every year is a different year. That group of guys have played pretty good defense in the past, and I don’t know exactly what happened this year,” Smith said. “But sometimes you have bad years for whatever reason. I know there are some warriors on that team that I’m sure will come back hard this year.”
Urlacher apparently knows firsthand after he and the team couldn't come to agreement on a new contract last March, shortly after Marc Trestman took over as the club's head coach. The Bears offered Urlacher a one-year deal worth $2 million, but the linebacker submitted a counteroffer of $3.5 million. Eventually, the Bears announced through a press release they would be parting ways with Urlacher.
The difference in this case, however, is that Tillman still appears to be a productive player, while Urlacher was clearly on the downside of his storied career in 2012.
Tillman was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2012, but he played in only eight games last season before suffering a torn triceps that forced the Bears to place him on injured reserve on Nov. 11. Tillman picked off three passes in 2013, and he ranks No. 3 in franchise history with 36 picks in 154 games. He forced six turnovers in 2013, taking into account the three fumbles he forced.
"If I'm in the front office, I'm trying to give my team the best chance to win. For me as a front-office guy, he gives my team the best chance to win at left or right corner, wherever he is," Urlacher said. "If I was a GM and I had a chance to sign Charles Tillman before anybody else could sign him, I would love to sign him. Especially if he was with my team for 11 years, I would be happy to keep him on my team with the type of teammate he is and leader. But maybe there are different opinions about that in Chicago. You think about Charles Tillman, you think about a Bear, a guy who pretty much led the Bears through takeaways. When you think about the fumbles and stuff, he's the guy you think about."
Drafted by Chicago in the second round in the 2003 draft, Tillman has played his entire career with the Bears.
Since coming into the league in '03, Tillman ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in interceptions (tied for fifth with 36), interception return yards (fifth with 675 yards), interception return touchdowns (tied for second with eight), forced fumbles (second with 42) and pass breakups (fifth with 133).
Tillman's contract paid $7.5 million in 2013, and given the team's salary-cap constraints, it's unlikely moving forward that he'll receive a similar deal from the Bears.
"I think I'm OK with it," Tillman said in December as the team cleaned out its lockers. "I think it's the first time in my life I've had to make decisions like this. But I don't know. I'm just kind of waiting to see how it plays out. I'm not stressing. I'm not worried about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. Whatever happens is going to be for the good."
One scenario Urlacher could see playing out is a reunion between Tillman and Smith, now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also brought aboard former Bears assistant Gill Byrd to coach the secondary.
"That would not shock me one bit," Urlacher said. "Imagine that corner tandem [of Tillman and Darrelle Revis] right there. I would not be surprised if that happened. But I just don't see them letting him get away in Chicago. He's been too good of a player there for too long to let him get away for nothing."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith on Wednesday as their next head coach, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and Jay Glazer of Fox.
My reaction to the news: About time somebody snatched him up. Smith should've gone into the 2013 NFL season as a head coach. But after a couple of interviews, he emerged as a potential coordinator instead of leader of men, and a coordinator position was something he wasn't interested in accepting. So, good for Smith he waited for a head coaching gig instead of settling for a job as a coordinator.
Ask any of Smith's holdovers on Chicago's roster and they'll tell you Smith is more than deserving of a second chance as a head coach in the NFL.
Smith spent nine seasons as the head coach for the Chicago Bears before being fired at the end of 2012's 10-6 season. During his tenure in Chicago, Smith posted a record of 84-66, in addition to winning three division titles and leading the Bears to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
Given what's transpired in Chicago (the demise of the once vaunted defense), several hypothetical scenarios involving Smith have been mentioned. But for one minute, let's forget about those and salute Smith for his latest accomplishment. Having spent five years with the Bucs before leaving to become the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in 2001, Smith has familiarity with Tampa Bay's organization.
But more than that, Smith paid his dues toiling as an assistant all those years before actually proving himself as a winner and galvanizing force with the Bears.
Smith didn't return calls seeking comment about his latest move, likely because that's just not his style.
Smith is a results-oriented coach, who ultimately understood he didn't get it done in Chicago to the organization's standards and accepted his fate as gracefully as one could. That's why Smith never made salacious headlines, why he never talked about the current state of the Chicago Bears or why he never gave his side about being fired despite putting up a 10-6 record in his final season.
What stands out the most about Smith is how his players reacted to him. During training camp going into the 2012 season, three players in a restaurant one night gave distinctive accounts about what made Smith stand apart. Every one of those players spoke about Smith's calm demeanor, how he never became overly emotional no matter how dire the situation.
But what stuck out is how each of those players never wanted to disappoint Smith. One player talked about making a mistake in a game and getting "the look" from Smith that made him feel as if he disappointed his own father. It was enough to make that player vow to never do it again, and that conversation took place a few years after that player committed the original transgression. That's the type of power Smith carried, and it was one of the most underrated of Smith's attributes in the public eye.
Either way, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored big with the hiring of Smith, who served as the franchise's linebackers coach from 1996 to 2000. With Smith in control of Chicago's defense, the Bears surrendered just 1.4 points per drive, which ranked as third-best during his time as the team's head coach.
Perhaps former Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy summed it up best on Twitter when he said, "I think they made a very good choice in hiring Lovie Smith. Now I'm excited about watching the Bucs next year!"
Despite being way up here in frozen Chicago, I feel the same way. Bucs ownership will, too, with Smith at the controls.