In this day and age, finding a head coach that can manage the various personalities on his team is just as important as the Xs and Os. Understanding how to push players buttons is right up there with understanding how to stop the read option. It's his ability as a leader that had kept Lovie Smith with the Chicago Bears for so long, and every man in the Bears locker room will be sad to see their leader go.
Part of managing a team is finding the right people to surround yourself with, and Lovie Smith failed at finding an offensive coordinator. From first time NFL O.C. Terry Shea, to former Bears O.C. Ron Turner, to the Mad Mike Martz, to o-line coach Mike Tice, Lovie just couldn't find the right man for the job.
Lovie spent time with the Greatest Show On Turf Rams teams, and he wanted an explosive offense to match his speedy defense. His first hire of Terry Shea as O.C., who was working in Kansas City with former St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil, was a failure. Lovie Smith's 2004 team won just five games and managed to score a mere 14 points a game, which was dead last in the NFL.
He moved on to Ron Turner and the Bears won 11 games in 2005, and then 13 games while making the 2006 Super Bowl. The wheels fell off after the Super Bowl loss, as they averaged eight wins a year the next three seasons. In hindsight Turner's philosophy was probably best suited to the sound byte Lovie kept cramming down out throats.
'We get off the bus running'
The first day I heard Lovie spout that, I wondered how much of that was just coach-speak, or if he truly wanted that to be his philosophy.
His Terry Shea hire would seem to contradict the run first mentality, but I suppose you could chalk it up to him finding his way as a head coach.
After springing Ron Turner he hired a guy he worked with before, the offensive architect of the Rams Super Bowl champion team, Mike Martz. From a personal stand point the hire made sense, but from a personnel stand point it didn't. He and Lovie worked together before, but his Martzfense would seem to go against Lovie's 'get off the bus' approach. The seven step drops, block only tight ends, leaving offensive tackles on an island, five WR sets, and more importantly, a pass first system.
But somehow the Smith / Martz marriage managed an 11-5 record and an NFC Championship appearance. The following year the Bears seemed to be hitting their stride before Jay Cutler was lost for the season, and they fell to 8-8. Each of the two seasons the offense started to gel after Lovie Smith seemingly put his foot down and demanded more offensive balance. If Lovie wanted balance, why bring in Martz in the first place?
After two years with Martz another change was made. While officially it was Martz that elected not to return, I find it hard to believe that he would have been welcomed back by Lovie for a 3rd season. Mike Tice was next up to call plays, and we were promised that the new O would be a mix of what worked in the Martzfense, what Tice liked in Minnesota, and what Cutler liked in Denver. What we got was the the 28th ranked offense in the NFL that averaged 310 yards per game.
Under Mike Martz the offense raked 24th (314 ypg) in 2011, and 30th (289 ypg) in 2010.
Ron Turner presided over the best offense in the Lovie Smith era. In 2006 the Bears were 15th with 324 yards per game. Not exactly electric, but effective. His other ypg averages were 310, 295, 293, 256, and 238.
The Terry Shea experiment netted the Bears the 32nd ranked offense with an anemic 238 yards per game.
Lovie Smith sounded like he wanted to win with defense, special teams, and a clock controlling power run game, but he was never able to find an offensive mind that matched his beliefs.
It seems like Lovie Smith not only failed at finding an offensive coordinator, but also at finding his teams offensive identity.