|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
|Bears coach Lovie Smith tries to keep a level head, but isn't afraid to grab his team's attention.|
“A few months ago, a statement like that would have been further evidence that Smith was lost inside his own head, a victim of his own bravado. But now he just sounds like a confident coach, a low-key Rex Ryan. And I bet that's exactly what opposing offenses are thinking. Smith's calmness may be reassuring, but so is his confidence. The Bears say he encourages the "us against them" mentality that permeates Halas Hall. "We'll probably be getting doubted again, saying, 'They can't beat the Patriots or whatnot,'" said Moore, who leads the Bears with 5.6 "whatnots" per interview. At the beginning of this season, I wondered if Smith was the most hated current figure in Chicago sports. He had to be, I figured, even more than Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, because every Chicagoan, it seems, follows the Bears. White Sox fans love Hendry when the Cubs are down. Smith has rubbed fans the wrong way by missing the playoff the past three years, and lacking the public personality we desire from our coaches here in Ditka-go. Parting ways with Ron Rivera while espousing the "Rex is our quarterback" mantra sure didn't help. But even hard-core Lovie-haters have to admit he's done a fine job motivating this team, and the Bears' five-game win streak since the bye is further proof that he's not going anywhere when his current contract is up -- even if the team misses the playoffs, which is, of course, very possible in the nip-and-tuck NFC. I'm not saying it's time to re-up Lovie, that's for after the season, but it's definitely time to appreciate this season for what it is, a major step forward from the post-Super Bowl malaise. This is also about the time when we start talking about award winners, and Smith's unlikely candidacy for coach of the year. "I think he's in running for coach of the year," Harris said. "We're 9-3. People had us picked to finish last in our division, if not third." He won't win -- there are plenty of solid candidates, from Raheem Morris to Mike Tomlin to Todd Haley -- but he should get consideration. Is there a comeback coach of the year award? If so, maybe Smith and his top two assistants, Mike Martz and Rod Marinelli, could all share it. It's pretty amazing when you think about them. Marinelli coached the only 0-16 team in league history, Martz has been fired from some horrendous teams and Smith was seemingly "dead man coaching." Now the Bears are probably two wins from making the playoffs, with a Super Bowl appearance on the horizon. Smith and Marinelli's defense is among the best in the NFL and the offense has evolved from its jumbled beginnings. So Smith's pretty happy, right? Not quite. Not yet. "The most disappointing thing we've done, the last couple of games we haven't taken the ball away enough," he said. "Zero takeaways yesterday won't get it." The defense's newest challenge will be playing without linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who missed the Lions game with a knee problem. Tinoisamoa had a knee scoped and will likely be out a couple weeks, though Smith was cagey with the details. Rod Wilson will join Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs as starters. No takeaways, no Pisa. Smith's reassuring words will mean more than ever with the Patriots coming to town, because Chicago can't let up at all. Because as Smith reminded us, it's the fourth quarter of the Bears' season. Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
I think he's in running for coach of the year. We're 9-3. People had us picked to finish last in our division, if not third.” -- Bears safety Chris Harris