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Fire Lovie Smith - Again

The Chicago Bears fired Lovie Smith, but they also tried to keep his defense in place. They failed.

I say we fire him every season.
I say we fire him every season.
Christian Petersen
Like a well-intentioned stepfather, Mel Tucker joined the Chicago Bears with a mind to keep things just as they were under father-figure Lovie Smith. But just like that well-intentioned stepfather, Tucker wasn't able to fill the shoes of the man who came before him. There were early rumors of unhappiness among Bears veterans, a complete lack of development of younger players, and constant breakdowns in the on-the-field communications among players.

Head coach Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery can't be blamed for trying to keep the defense where it was - that 2012 Bears defense was pretty good, after all. Still, it's time to be honest: if the Lovie Smith Bears defenses were that good, the team would have won more games, made more playoffs, and would perhaps even have a Super Bowl title to their name. The head coach bet the house that the defense could win championships, but it was the defense that gave up 200+ yards to Steve Smith in 2005, was picked apart by Peyton Manning in 2006, and then sliced up by Aaron Rodgers in 2010. Add in the many seasons of .500-level futility, and you have the sum achievements of Lovie Smith's "great" defenses.

Chicago finally caught up to the times, fired Lovie Smith, and centered itself on a high-powered offense. For some reason, however, the team saw fit to couple an offense designed to pick apart a defense one short, high-percentage play at a time with a defense designed to give up one short, high-percentage play at a time with the hopes of eventually making a stop. Add in a defensive coordinator attempting to learn a defense from the same players who were rumored to still be simmering about the release of the consummate "players' coach," you've got a perfect recipe for failure.

By giving their replacement defensive coordinator a mandate to keep things the same on defense, the Bears were trying to have their cake and fire it too. Bring in anyone - even Mel Tucker - and tell him that it is his defense to run, and things would have certainly gone better. Players would have adapted to the new signals and playcalls: they're getting paid millions to do so. The defensive coaches would have had every mandate to spend extra time on and off the field to make sure players were communicating with one another as part of learning the new system. Finally, the sheer newness of the whole thing would have led to a better sense of team and ultimately a better on-the-field product.

What we saw instead was a team where veteran players got injured and their replacements looked lost. This is no surprise - the defensive coaches were learning the system from those same veteran players. We saw a team that made an effort to force fumbles but often gave up extra yards instead, a team that blitzed more but got fewer sacks, and a team that all and all just looked bad.

The solution is simple - fire Lovie Smith's defense. Throw the old terminology out the window and start fresh with a new defensive system. 4-3, 3-4, a 5-2 - the specifics don't really matter to me. What I think would be important is to make a clear break from the previous regime, both in the way plays are drawn up and in the ways that players are taught to think about the game. Reboot, and send a clear message that everyone needs to get on the same page.

Mel Tucker could have been the right guy to do that - the man learned defense from some of the best minds in the business, including Nick Saban and Barry Alvarez. At this point, however, Tucker must be down to zero credibility with anyone on this Bears roster. After all, he's the guy who tried to be Lovie Smith but then oversaw a defense that went from first to worst, who let rookies get onto the field looking worse than in the preseason, and who couldn't get his players to successfully use their old communications system on the field.

Every indication is that the Bears are going to let Tucker take another bite at the apple, this time with a greater freedom to run things his own way. One year too late, but at least a move in the right direction. What's your take? Should the team keep the Cover 2 for one more season and hope that a healthier roster leads to a healthier performance? Or is it time to blow it all up? One thing is certain - there's nowhere for this defense to go but up. Let's just hope that Emery, Trestman, and Tucker are the right people to chart that course.