The only thing that has kept Smith in a job the past three years has been nostalgia and cowardice. There. I said it. And it's true, that's the killer.
The Bears have made the playoffs once since stumbling into a 29-17 loss in Super Bowl LXI. That's right, folks, just one playoff appearance. Now Lovie Smith has finally been held accountable for these failures.
"But, NFC Championship Game! Winning Record! Great Defense! Bad Line! Jerry Angelo! No Offensive Coaches! NOT LOVIE'S FAULT!"
Ummm.....yeah, it kinda was.
Smith had increased power over the draft upon receiving his contract extension, along with control over his coaching staff. For everyone's incessant need to shield Smith and place all the blame on Angelo for the shortcomings of this team, Angelo didn't fire Turner or Rivera. Angelo didn't hire Mike Martz or Mike Tice or promote Bob Babich or name Smith his own coordinator. It was Smith who had the power to fire Darryl Drake when the receivers under-performed year after year.
And it was Smith's inability to stay off the hot seat that likely turned off far better assistants from coming to Chicago.
Smith has escaped blame for the talent level for far too long, but reality is that drafts took a series plunge in success rate after Smith was granted increased say in the draft with his 2007 extension. And the lack of development of these players falls squarely on Smith and his "versatility" mantra. Moving players in the secondary around like checkers pieces and the offensive line around like he was playing musical chairs falls entirely on Smith and his inability to develop players and evaluate coaches. Allowing Devin Hester to be moved to the offense was ridiculous. The same goes for Rashied Davis. Danieal Manning and the syndrome named after him should be a primary point of reference every time someone defends Smith's firing.
And his deferring to Martz caused him just as many problems. One of the things you seldom see touched on around here was how badly Martz dismantled the offense and how Smith stood by and watched it happen. The argument could be made that Martz is an offensive mind and Smith is not, so why would Smith intervene, but the argument only holds so much water.
Smith didn't just delegate authority to Martz, but almost seemed to defer to him as if they were still in St Louis together. System moves aside, moves like trading Olsen, bringing in Orlando Pace, bringing in Manumaleuna in place of Olsen and relying on Kellen Davis as the receiving TE were among some of the more ridiculous moves that have reprocussions that are still being felt today. Is there anyone left still arguing that Greg Olsen was soft and the Bears were better off without him? How many games has Kellen Davis directly impacted through his incompetence?
As a defensive mind, Smith is about as under-rated as there is, and that's saying a lot considering the general esteem he is held in as a DC. I give him all the credit in the world for his defense and how consistent it has been over the years. I'll defend his bend-don't-break philosophy any day. I'll defend the passing yardage allowed any day.
As a man, Smith is a class act and a true gentlemen. The "fire and passion" argument against Smith might be the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard. Who knows who's testicles Smith is twisting in the locker room? What we do know is that the Bears players play with class that has trickled down from Smith and that they responded well to Smith, especially on defense.
Smith is a player's coach, and I personally have no problem with this. In fact, I prefer it. For all the complaints about Smith and his challenges, Smith seemed to use them more to stick up for his players and to stand behind them as much as for anything else. Who can forget his challenge against the ref's ruling that Marty Booker's one handed grab behind a Lion defenders back was incomplete, even though pass interference was called? Smith used that challenge to stand up for Booker and ensure his skill and hard work were rewarded with that catch. That is solid coaching.
But the laundry list of excuses have officially met an end.
"Hey, wait! You called this the end of the Era of Cowardice! Lovie is no coward!"
First, the Era of Cowardice is a reference to the McCaskey's, as well as to some segments of the fan base who support Smith based on fear. Though I can certainly make an argument that Smith was afraid to take chances and that his cowardice (and arrogance) was the catalyst for Ron Rivera's departure.
"But we could get worse!"
And? How many Championships did Smith win again? How much worse could you get than zero? What good is being 10-6 on the couch?
"But we could end up like Detroit!"
You mean having one playoff appearance in the last six seasons? Wait......
"But he has a winning record!"
And? A lot of good it does to beat up on Detroit while getting your ass handed to you every time you play a good team. That winning record is a feast upon losing teams, while his record against good teams is terrible. One playoff win in six years. Chicago is the definition of mediocre under Smith. Winning is meaningless if your watching from home in January.
"What if Smith ends up somewhere else and owns Chicago?"
Ummmm....good for Smith? It would just mean he was still the cause of Chicago not making the playoffs? Seriously. If Smith ends up in Detroit, good for him. Detroit will certainly improve under him. But Chicago isn't improving under him now so what difference would it have made here? Keeping him just so someone else doesn't get better is ridiculous.
Keeping Smith around and missing the playoffs yearly because the Bears can't win games against quality opponents solely because you're afraid of screwing up even worse is the recipe for mediocrity. Is the goal to win titles or is it to avoid being Cleveland? Aren't those really the same goal? Accomplishing only half is really accomplishing neither.
Chicago finally made the right choice. Best of luck to Lovie Smith in all of his future endeavors (excepting against the Bears), but it was time for Chicago to grow a little courage and make an attempt at moving beyond mediocrity, lest they sit behind the Packers in the North forever.