I'll stick with the same theme as Lester. The argument that Smith isn't any good because he has no fire has about as much use to me as it does to Lester. Mike Singletary has tons, and he's out. Maybe no coach has ever showed more fire than Denny Green, and he's out, too. Mike Ditka is our model, and it didn't save the Saints. Outward expression of rage and the common lack of a self-censor switch that goes with it has little to nothing to do with whether a coach can win. Let's leave that at the threshold, shall we?
But, there are legitimate arguments against Smith and legitimate criticisms of the side that want to prop him up. Addressing those will be my point here, in the form of a rebuttal to Lester's recent post: Bears should extend Lovie Smith: Who'd you rather have?
Now let me first address two of the points that I agree with Lester about from both his post and the comment thread attached. The aforementioned "Lovie has no fire!" argument is one place that Les and I are in lockstep about. It's a waste of bandwidth argument that makes no sense. When someone can explain to me the direct correlation between acting like an ass and being a good head coach, then maybe I'll rethink my position, but until that point, I just think it's a silly argument.
Jeff Fisher. No. I get that people love him in Chicago because he was a Bear and because he has a fiery persona, at times, as a take no bull HC with a winning reputation. But the guy has had the same problems there as Smith has had here. Consistency. He's considered a winning coach because of his individual game winning percentage (.542). But in 17 seasons, he's managed just 4 divisional titles, 6 playoff appearances and 6 winning seasons. Pay special attention to that last part.......6 winning seasons in 17. And people think Fisher is a better coach than Smith? Really?
Now the fun part about addressing Fisher is that Lester's stance on Fisher is kind of inconsistent with his stance on Smith. See, one of the arguments that Les used was the idea of consistency. He pointed out Cowher in PIT, Reid in PHI and Belichick in NE. But Fisher is the example of holding on to a mediocre coach for too long. 17 years and nothing to show for it. Was Fisher a bad coach? No. His teams were always in the hunt in a tough division. While he only had 6 winning season, he also only had 6 losing seasons in 17 years of coaching. His players love and support him (and were surprised and not happy about his firing). And the common argument by those at Music City Miracles (the Titans SBNation site) is to question who they can get that's better and point out that Fisher has a winning record. Does any of that sound familiar? In short, Lovie Smith IS Jeff Fisher. He fields inconsistent teams and often times he seems to be losing control of what is happening around him.
Then there's the argument that Smith has a winning record (Jeff Fisher has a winning record) and he's took us to a SB and a conference Championship (Jeff Fisher coached his team to a Super loss and a AFC Championship game loss). The teams they have coached both average finishing 2nd in their division, and both have a decent playoff record (Smith is 3-3 and Fisher is 5-7).
Again, Smith is Fisher.
Now, let's look at the argument that Smith has a winning record. This is absolutely true. He also has 4 winning seasons out of 7. And he has 3 playoff appearances in 7 years. But let's look at Smith's record for a minute. Lovie has an excellent record in the division at 26-16. His record against Detroit alone is 10-4, and his records against the Pack and the Vikings are 8-6. His record against the rest of the league is 37-33, so it's not bad, either. But how has the team fared based on the quality of opponent?
Lovie's record against teams with losing records? An awesome 40-13. The Bears have, for the most part, done what they are supposed to do when they face teams with losing records. And his coaching record against teams with an even record is pretty average. 7-6.
But what bothers me is the Bears record against teams with winning records during Smith's tenure: 16-30. This is when the coaching really comes into play. And when the Bears face good teams, they lose about 2 out of 3 times over the past 7 years.
In other words, Lovie might have a winning record, but the Bears haven't been building that record on good teams. Only 16 of his 63 wins came from teams with a winning record. Now, to be fair, only 13 of his 49 losses came against teams with losing records. His teams have done a good job of pummeling the jobbers and there are plenty of coaches who wish they could say they have a .755 winning percentage against teams with losing records. I don't want to make the argument that Smith is a horrible coach. Horrible coaches lose to horrible teams. Smith doesn't, generally (everybody drops a fluke now and again. Belichick lost to the Browns this year). but when the Bears are stuck in with the winning teams, they don't fare well. Exceptions exist, of course. But as a rule, the Bears have not done well against winning teams, and that comes back to Smith.
Next, I want to tackle the argument that long term stability at the coaching position is critical to success. I believe that Lester is partially correct in this. Again, you can look to the Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Giants and Eagles and say that they all have had coaching stability and that they have been the most consistent teams in the league. But then, Andy Reid was hired after Ray Rhodes was fired. Belichick replaced Pete Carroll after the Patriots bumbled through mediocrity for just three years. Coughlin was hired after Fassel had a very Smith-like run. Turner was hired after the Smith-Schottenheimer Affair. Dungy and his successor Caldwell were only in Indy after Jim Mora was fired. In other words, these consistent teams didn't stick with stability for stability's sake. Consistency is great. Consistently mediocre is not. I guess I would prefer to chance making a mistake than sitting around for the next ten year talking about how great it was when we almost won a Super Bowl because I was to afraid to step out of the shelter of mediocrity. Ask the Titans how great 17 years can be under a winning coach who's team is always in the hunt....always giving them something to hope for, and then disappoints them.
The reverse of that is the Oilers/Titans, who stuck with a mediocre coach for 17 years in Jeff Fisher. That got them all of 6 playoff appearances and no rings. But why let go of a coach when there are worse coaches in the league?
Another argument that I find bothersome is the "there are no proven coaches available" argument. Had the Patriots used that argument, Pete Carroll would still be the head coach of the Patriots. He had a winning record. But he was fired and Bill Belichick, who had a losing record as a head coach, was brought in. And was Andy Reid proven when the Eagles brought him in? Nope, he was the Packers QB coach. How about Sean Payton? Dallas Cowboys QB coach. Mike Tomlin? Vikings DC. In other words, these teams didn't look for a "proven" coach. They looked for a coach they could believe in. And BTW, Lovie Smith wasn't "proven" when we hired him. I think the "who would you rather have" argument, from a fan perspective, is only slightly less useless than the "Lovie has no fire" argument. I'm willing to bet you that the Patriots fan base weren't jumping up and down about Belichick and the Saints fan base asked "Who Dat?" when Sean Payton was announced. Truth is that we, as fans, even the most educated among us, have very little insight into the potential of assistant coaches. I doubt we would have been happy with Belichick had he come here after his losing effort in Cleveland. And I doubt that anyone but Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick envisioned the results of that hire.
Now, I do see the dilemma in the "Lame Duck" coaching position, and I believe it to be a valid argument. But I don't believe it is any more valid than the argument that the Organization is cheap. If Lovie is released after a high dollar (and it will be high dollar) contract extension, and that isn't a guarantee considering they kept him after 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the third year while his defense was giving up the 6th most points in Bears history, then the Bears could very likely hire someone based on price to replace him instead of skill. And I find another flaw in the argument, as well, and it relates to another argument that I disagree with: The players want to play for Lovie. I find it suspicious that the same people that tell you how Lovie should be kept because the players like him (though I didn't hear the same argument when Jauron was fired here or in Buffalo, nor when Marinelli was fired in Detroit) but them assume those same players will quit on him when his job is on the line, a la John Fox's Panthers circa 2010 (John Fox had a winning record, BTW, and was longer tenured than Smith and had taken his team to a Super Loss and an NFCCG Loss and had a winning record in the playoffs at 5-3). How can both of those things be true?
I understand the bidding war fears. But in the end, the bidding war may cost the Bears less in the long run, financially, than paying $12M for two year than Smith doesn't coach if the Bears miss the playoffs next season and less moving forward as the organization would not have to consider having to pay for two head coaches over the next few years and thus can worry less about money as they look for his replacement. In terms of risk reward, waiting may be more beneficial.
I don't advocate firing Smith. Even considering the team's inconsistencies both season-to-season and game-to-game, making it to the NFC Championship game and winning the division is enough to earn Smith a reprieve, but the poor championship game performance and the inconsistencies throughout the year and over the course of his tenure should also be enough to warrant waiting to see what happens next season before extending Smith.
Of course this is all a matter of opinion. If your opinion is that continuing down the same path we have travelled is enough, then it will effect your position on Smith. If your opinion is that you are afraid of ending up like the Lions, then you probably don't want to see Smith go, as he will never let that happen. He's just not a bad coach. If your opinion is that the Bears need to win the Super Bowl and you don't have faith in Lovie to do it, then that will effect your decision, as well. All of our opinions are just speculation. And what each of us wants is based on our priorities for the team, whether you place being the best first or not being the worst first will effect your decision. And there are far more priorities than those two options that many of us fall into which affect our opinions on this.