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The WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka Team: Coaching Staff

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A celebration of the best Bears coaches and coordinators since Mike Ditka was fired, and a question about Lovie Smith: Is it a bad sign if an NFL head coach is described as “a better man than a coach”?

Seattle Seahawks v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka coaching staff (click here for the series introduction)

Coaches and coordinators in contention

Head coach: Dave Wannstedt (1993-1998), Dick Jauron (1999-2003), Lovie Smith (2004-2012), Marc Trestman (2013-2014), John Fox (2015-2016)

Offensive coordinator: Ron Turner (1993-1996, 2005-2009), Matt Cavanaugh (1997-1998), Gary Crowton (1999-2000), John Shoop (2000-2003), Terry Shea (2004), Mike Martz (2010-2011), Mike Tice (2012), Aaron Kromer (2013-2014), Adam Gase (2015), Dowell Loggains (2016)

Defensive coordinator: Bob Slowik (1993-1998), Greg Blache (1999-2003), Ron Rivera (2004-2006), Bob Babich (2007-2009), Rod Marinelli (2010-2012), Mel Tucker (2013-2014), Vic Fangio (2015-2016)

I’ll never forget watching even first-year Bears struggle emotionally when they heard that their coach, Lovie Smith, had been fired.

The day was December 31, 2012, an odd Victory Monday at Halas Hall. The day before, the Bears beat the Lions 26-24 to finish the season 10-6, but were eliminated from the playoffs when Minnesota knocked off Green Bay later that day. The following day, the Bears fired Lovie. Players were despondent. Guys who played for Lovie for most or all of his time here were obviously crushed, but new guys were as well.

As Brian Urlacher sees it, that was the day the franchise took a turn from which it has not recovered.

“I like to say it’s the Lovie Curse,” Urlacher told CBS Sports Radio this week. “Because since he left, (the Bears have struggled). He got fired being 10-6. I think they fire him either way. Even if we go to the playoffs, I think they fire him. I don’t think the GM (Phil Emery) liked the way he coached the football team.”

The Bears dropped to 8-8 in 2013 under new coach Marc Trestman, and have been under .500 each season since.

Yet even if the post-Lovie era had been better, barring another Super Bowl appearance we here at Windy City Gridiron are pretty confident that we would name Lovie Smith the WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka head coach.

We all know his credentials, (81-63 record, 3rd in wins behind George Halas (318) and Mike Ditka (106), 3 postseasons, 3 division championships, 1 Super Bowl appearance, 3 top-5 defenses), so let’s look at the two primary reasons why Lovie succeeded:

  1. His defensive schemes
  2. His personal relationships with players

Those two traits were on display in 2012, as the Bears finished 5th in fewest yards allowed, 3rd in fewest points allowed, and 1st in takeaways and defensive touchdowns, while building deep relationships with even new Bears, not to mention the long time ones.

When I interviewed players about Lovie’s firing, I was struck by the number of guys who echoed a common theme about him: “He was a great coach but an even better man.”

It led me to wonder — should a head football coach be considered a better man than a coach?

I asked Patrick Mannelly earlier this year, who played for every post-Ditka Bears coach except for John Fox. He thought the comment was not a knock on Lovie as a coach but merely praise for how he built relationships:

MANNELLY: That’s a very interesting question. I think what we mean by that as players, and I feel the exact same way, is that the way he was as a man was so great that it’s almost impossible for his coaching ability to reach that. He’s a guy to me as well — I felt like he was — I’d say he was more like my granddad. He was a guy I revered and loved and loved playing for and just loved the way he was the same person every day, and the way he treated us like men. The way going into Halas Hall, every day, was awesome. I loved it. But to answer your question, I think because he was such a great man, it’s impossible for anybody’s coaching ability to attain that level.

SILVERSTEIN: Okay, alright. And I meant no judgment toward him either way. It was just something that’s always —

MANNELLY: No, that’s a great question man, because he’s a tremendous coach. He knows how to coach the defense. And you know the way I feel about him as a head coach, and the way we responded to him. I think offensively we struggled a little bit with some coordinators we had there and some continuity, but as far as the head coach — yeah, that’s a really good question. I like the way you put that. He’s such a great man that in his coaching ability, it would be hard to reach that. I don’t think anybody could.

Lovie Smith took the Bears to the franchise’s second ever Super Bowl, and to this day he remains revered by his former players. He is an easy selection at head coach.

The coordinator selections are a little harder.

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears
Ron Turner (with Lovie Smith)
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Offensive coordinator: My own choice at offensive coordinator is Ron Turner. During his first of two runs with the Bears, he led the team to its first top-10 offense since 1987 (9th in 1995), and then helped the team reach a Super Bowl in 2006. My second choice is Adam Gase, and my third is Gary Crowton, just for his lasting legacy of football innovation with the wide receiver screen. (Yes, I am serious.)

Defensive coordinator: My choice at defensive coordinator is Ron Rivera, who directed the best Bears defense since the 1980s — when he was a player. My second pick would be Rod Marinelli, who presided over defenses ranked 4th, 14th, and 3rd in points allowed, respectively, from 2010 to 2012. My third pick would be Greg “Bullet” Blache.

Special teams coordinator: My special teams coordinator is Dave Toub, who built the Bears special teams into one of NFL’s best units in the past three decades. My second choice is Keith Armstrong, followed by Mike Sweatman, each of whom Pat Mannelly lauded.

As always, I took the question of coaching to my WCG colleagues, asking them the following seven questions:

1. Who is the best Bears head coach of the PD era?

2. Who is the best Bears offensive coordinator of the PD era?

3. Would you take Marc Trestman at OC over your pick?

4. Who is the best Bears defensive coordinator of the PD era?

5. Who is the best Bears special teams coach of the PD era?

6. We all know the traits that made Lovie Smith a *successful* head coach. What was his most significant flaw?

7. Knowing what we know now, how would you have handled the team's head coaching position after the 2012 season?

Here are their responses:

SAM HOUSEHOLDER:

1. Lovie Smith, bar none. His worst was still at or about .500 and that’s more than can be said for just about everyone in team history save Halas and Ditka.

2. This is tough. I really started understanding and getting into football with Lovie Smith so I never really knew an offensive coordinator by name before Ron Turner. It has to be Adam Gase though, even just that one year was brilliant. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but Mike Martz would probably be my second pick.

3. This isn’t quite as tough as it might appear. While his offensive put up record numbers over two seasons, he's never lasted more than two or three seasons anywhere and there has to be a reason for that. For that reason alone I'd say no way.

4. This is Fangio vs. Rivera for me. I'm a big Rivera fan, as big as they come really and frankly his dismissal had a huge factor on the Bears after the Super Bowl run, in my opinion. That said, Fangio is my pick.

5. Definitely Toub on special teams.

6. To me, Lovie’s biggest flaw was not being able to find and identify an offensive coaching staff that could successfully be on the same page as him. He talked about being ground-and-pound and kept hiring guys like Martz and Terry Shea. I don't understand how he could get 53 men to believe in him so steadfastly, build such a stable, consistent defensive unit and then just get whoever to call offensive plays. That was his flaw.

7. It's tough — I thought at the time it was time for a change and it seemed like a natural time to do it. The defensive stars were aging so it could've worked to bring in a new coach, draft good talent, and have short rebuild and then go into your new era. So with all that in mind, I still let Lovie go but I hire Bruce Arians and draft Whitney Mercilus.

Oakland Raiders v Chicago Bears
Mike Martz (with Jay Cutler)
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

JOSH SUNDERBRUCH

1. Lovie Smith

2. Adam Gase (not a lot of competition)

3. Trestman as OC? Not a chance. Beyond the lack of respect for how he handled things, he was just another version of Martz — a limited bag of tricks without the ability to improvise. his bag of tricks was just a little less outdated.

4. Rivera. He got the results. Fangio is still working on it. Plus, I loved the aggression.

5. Toub (I mean, really...)

6. What made Lovie Smith a good coach was also his downfall. He was loyal, to a fault, to his own guys. Rivera wasn't his guy so he got kicked out. Martz was his guy, so he got the job despite being behind the times. Lovie had the vices of his virtues.

7. I would go Arians, or I would keep Lovie under the condition that he accepts the OC I bring in.

NFC Championship: New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears
Ron Rivera
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

ANDREW LINK

1. HC: Smith

2. OC: Gase

3. Trestman as OC? No.

4. DC: Rivera

5. ST: Toub

6. Cause of Lovie’s downfall? His giant-ass ego that led to firing Rivera and thinking that he could win with crap on offense.

7. What to do in 2012? Hire Arians. Although I would've fired Lovie prior to 2012

I was never and will never be a Lovie fan. That defense would've been better with a more flexible system, he hired a terrible staff outside of a few guys, and his gameday management rivals Fox for utter stupidity.

Washington Redskins v Chicago Bears
Adam Gase
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

LESTER WILTFONG

1. HC: Lovie

2. OC: Gase

3. Trestman as OC? Not after having seen his failure in year two. He lost trust in Cutler and that showed in his play calling. He packed it in instead of fighting through the adversity.

4. DC: Marinelli slightly ahead of Rivera.

5. ST: There is only one right answer to this question. Dave Toub.

6. Lovie’s major flaw? Failure to assemble an offensive staff. He went through way too many OCs.

7. What should we have done in 2012? At the time I thought they should have kept Lovie, but I understood the move. With the benefit of hindsight, they never should have consulted Marinelli or insisted he remain as defensive coordinator. They should have just hired the best candidate, and at that time it was Bruce Arians.

Cleveland Browns v Chicago Bears
Rod Marinelli

PATTI CURL

1. HC: Lovie

2. OC: I'm going to drop this one and run. Dowell Loggains.

3. Trestman as OC? No. Unless I you can promise opposing coaches can't watch tape.

4. DC: Riverboat Vic.

5. ST: Toub

6. Lovie’s flaw? Hubris

7. What to do in 2012? Arians all the way. I'd trade Fox, Trubisky, and the Sears Tower for him right now.

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears
Marc Trestman
Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images

NEXT WEDNESDAY: the whole enchilada! The 53-man roster

All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

AND NOW...

YOU BE THE JUDGE

Poll

Who is the best Bears coach of the post-Ditka era?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Dave Wannstedt, 1993-1998
    (2 votes)
  • 23%
    Dick Jauron, 1999-2003
    (50 votes)
  • 54%
    Lovie Smith, 2004-2012
    (114 votes)
  • 0%
    Marc Trestman, 2013-2014
    (1 vote)
  • 20%
    John Fox, 2015-present
    (43 votes)
210 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who is the best Bears offensive coordinator of the post-Ditka era?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Ron Turner (1993-1996, 2005-2009)
    (28 votes)
  • 0%
    Matt Cavanaugh (1997-1998)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Gary Crowton (1999-2000)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    John Shoop (2000-2003)
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Terry Shea (2004)
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Mike Martz (2010-2011)
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Mike Tice (2012)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Aaron Kromer (2013-2014)
    (0 votes)
  • 69%
    Adam Gase (2015)
    (141 votes)
  • 14%
    Dowell Loggains (2016-present)
    (29 votes)
203 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who is the best Bears defensive coordinator in the post-Ditka era?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Bob Slowik (1993-1998)
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Greg Blache (1999-2003)
    (3 votes)
  • 39%
    Ron Rivera (2004-2006)
    (81 votes)
  • 0%
    Bob Babich (2007-2009)
    (0 votes)
  • 42%
    Rod Marinelli (2010-2012)
    (87 votes)
  • 0%
    Mel Tucker (2013-2014)
    (1 vote)
  • 15%
    Vic Fangio (2015-2016)
    (32 votes)
204 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Would you take Marc Trestman at offensive coordinator over whomever you selected?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Yes
    (9 votes)
  • 95%
    No
    (193 votes)
202 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What was Lovie Smith’s most significant flaw as a head coach?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Failure to oversee and execute decisions about the offense
    (82 votes)
  • 15%
    Too much loyalty to his own guys
    (30 votes)
  • 32%
    Poor in-game management
    (65 votes)
  • 9%
    Over reliance on the Cover-2
    (18 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (5 votes)
200 votes total Vote Now

Poll

It is Dec. 31, 2012, and you are in charge of the Bears. What do you do about the coaching position?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Retain Lovie Smith and his entire staff
    (5 votes)
  • 24%
    Retain Lovie Smith as head coach but force him to hire a new offensive coordinator
    (49 votes)
  • 0%
    Fire Lovie Smith and replace him with Marc Trestman
    (2 votes)
  • 72%
    Fire Lovie Smith and replace him with a different head coach
    (147 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
203 votes total Vote Now