The beginning of the end of an era: Lovie Smith's future in Chicago

US PRESSWIRE

Lovie Smith's tenure in Chicago has seen its ups and downs, but Bears fans could actually be seeing the end of an era.

With the recent news that Brian Urlacher, the face of the Chicago Bears over the last 13 seasons since debuting as a rookie in 2000, will likely miss the rest of the season with an injured hamstring, Chicgo Bears fans have begun chattering about the future of not only their defensive team captain, but also the team as a whole.

Watching Russell Wilson, a rookie quarterback, shred the Chicago Bears defense, which is full of Pro Bowlers and veterans, could very well have been a sign of things to come... Is it time for a shift in scheme, personnel, paradigm, in Chicago? Has the team clung a little too tightly, for a little too long, to a handful of players and coaches that need to be shown the door?

According to Hub Arkush, that could be a very distinct possibility. Arkush reported on the Boers and Bernstein show that, should the Bears not make the playoffs this season, Lovie Smith would be sent packing. This is coming on the heels of Terry Boers saying that Lovie Smith had actually been offered a two-year extension during the Bye week, but he declined, wanting more. Both Smith and Emery denied that, but Boers didn't just make that up out of the blue.

Let's say that the Bears do make the playoffs, which is likely considering their remaining schedule: at Minnesota (6-6), vs. Green Bay (8-4), at Arizona (4-8), at Detroit (4-8)...

What if Lovie sneaks into the playoffs, but loses in the first round? What if his defense continues to look like it did last week versus the Seahawks?

Lovie Smith, as a coach, has always been tough to read. He's won a lot of football games, but has also had stretches of mediocrity. Look at each of his seasons in Chicago:

2004: 5-11

2005: 11-5

2006: 13-3

2007: 7-9

2008: 9-7

2009: 7-9

2010: 11-5

2011: 8-8

We've seen Lovie Smith orchestrate some of the best defenses in the league, creating turnovers like no one ever has, developing monsters on the field, and bringing up unlikely talent. But we've also seen several-game stretches, every single year, where the defense doesn't even know how to tackle. We've seen Lovie's deer-in-the-headlights expressions when he botched a clock-management situation. We've seen his team come out fully healthy after a Bye week, only to look completely disorganized and confused as to what game plan they were going with.

Has Lovie Smith done some great things as a coach? Yes. But he's never been constantly good.

Some will point to the many years of Jerry Angelo running the show, and will say that Lovie was doing the best with what he had to work with. Maybe so. Maybe Lovie Smith is one of the top-5 coaches in the NFL, as he's been paid top-5 money for all these years. Maybe he just couldn't live up to his coaching potential with Jerry Angelo constantly doing the drafting.

But maybe not. Maybe Lovie is average, but he's been able to be the captain of a ship that had guys like Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Julius Peppers, and Lance Briggs. Maybe even an average coach can look like top-5 material when he has that type of talent to work with.

Lovie Smith is hard to read, very private, and consistently over- and under-whelming and over- and under-performing. He's still got a year under his most recent contract extension, which was signed before the 2011 season, so at least on paper, he'll be here through 2013.

One thing is for certain, we could very easily be seeing the beginning of the end of an era in Chicago. Brian Urlacher and Lovie Smith have long been the faces of the franchise. And both of them could be out the door after this season.

Stay tuned...

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