Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Hashing through the spin from Chicago
By Kevin Seifert
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I had the opportunity to watch all of Chicago’s nearly-hour long news conference Tuesday afternoon. I heard some interesting answers, a few ridiculous statements and got the impression that coach Lovie Smith will be fired next year unless he produces a winning season. Here are my random thoughts:
Lovie Smith likely has to produce a winning season in 2010 to keep his job.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo have kept their jobs. The Bears will hire new offensive and defensive coordinators from outside the organization. Assistant head coach/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli will remain in his role and is not a candidate to be defensive coordinator, Smith said.
Team president Ted Phillips produced a tortured and semantic argument for why the return of Angelo and Smith shouldn’t be considered a commitment to the status quo. At one point, Phillips said that “status quo was not an option and changes were necessary” after a third consecutive season without making the playoffs. A few minutes later, he added: “I know some may disagree, but I believe the fastest way to improve is to keep the continuity that we’ve had with Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith.” Huh? Phillips later said that adding two new coordinators “are not insignificant” changes.
In order for those changes to be significant, however, they will have to be just that: A change. But Smith testily defended his Tampa 2 defensive scheme and made clear he would prefer a defensive coordinator who shares his philosophies. Many of us thought we witnessed a fundamental breakdown of the Bears' defense in 2009, but Smith characterized the problems as fixable and said the new coordinator would just need to “tighten up a few bows.” Wow. Rather than change the scheme, Smith said: “These are things that we can correct. It doesn’t need a total overhaul of what we believe in.”
Offensively, Smith said he is “open” to any approach as long as it is balanced. In trying to suggest the team is better equipped to throw than it once was, Smith somewhat bizarrely said: “We realize that we have some of maybe our best weapons at the receiver position.” I don’t know if everyone in the NFL would agree with that. He said he will talk to young minds and old minds before hiring someone. One heavily speculated candidate is Jeremy Bates, currently the offensive coordinator at Southern California and once Jay Cutler's quarterbacks coach in Denver. Another is former St. Louis coach Mike Martz, who has already told the Chicago Tribune he is interested in the job.
Phillips said he arrived at the decision to keep Angelo and Smith in consultation with two members of the McCaskey family, Virginia and Michael. He said the 2009 season “tested” his confidence level in his top football men and said he had the “financial wherewithal” to pay both of their buyouts if he wanted to fire them.
It was interesting that Phillips noted several times that Smith has never had back-to-back losing seasons. That would suggest Smith needs a winning season next year to keep his job. Here was a key quote from Phillips: “We don’t think the cupboard is bare. We don’t feel that we have to put up with another losing year.”
Angelo said he didn’t think that making Devin Hester a full-time receiver was a mistake, despite his concurrent falloff as a kickoff and punt returner. “What we tried to do is get the ball more into Devin’s hands,” Angelo said. “It’s hard to be a prolific returner for a career. It’s a very difficult job to do.” I think Angelo was trying to say that Hester wouldn’t have maintained his return pace even if he hadn’t become a receiver. I suppose we’ll never know.