Tomorrow's NFL Game between the 1-1 Chicago Bears and the 0-1-1 Houston Texans is more than just your average Sunday afternoon contest. There are several little side stories to it that make the game very interesting.
The first and most apparent side story is the return of Texans Head Coach Lovie Smith to Chicago. Lovie was, of course, the Head Coach of the Bears from 2004 through the 2012 seasons, when the Bears had more success than at any time since the Mike Ditka led teams in the 1980s. Ditka led the Bears to a Super Bowl Championship in 1985, but Lovie got the Bears to the Playoffs multiple times, including a Super Bowl performance following the 2006 season. Strangely, Lovie was fired following the 2012 season after going 10-6 but not making the Playoffs. Seldom do we see coaches replaced after such a strong winning season.
Tomorrow's game will only be the second time Smith has coached at Soldier Field since his dismissal from the Bears. The previous game was in 2014, when Smith led the Tampa Bay Bucs against the Bears. In that game, the Bears prevailed by a score of 21-13.
Besides Lovie returning to Chicago, there are many other interesting side stories. Lovie's wife, Mary Ann, is from Chicago Land, having been brought up in Des Plaines and attending Forest View High School in Arlington Heights. Mary Ann still has family in the Chicago area and spends much time here every year.
The Texans Offensive Coordinator is Pep Hamilton, who is sure to be a future NFL Head Coach. Like Smith, Hamilton spent time with the Bears. Pep was the quarterback coach on Smith's Bears staff from 2007 through 2009. He then went to Stanford University as the offensive Coordinator and helped develop Andrew Luck. Hamilton also coached Luck at the Indianapolis Colts as Offensive Coordinator from 2013 through the 2015 NFL season.
Hamilton's time here under Smith is not his only tie to the Bears. Shortly after Matt Eberflus was hired as the Bears' Head Coach, Hamilton interviewed for the Offensive Coordinator position on Eberflus' staff. That job, of course, went to Luke Getsy. Shortly after Hamilton's interview here, he was named Offensive Coordinator in Houston under Lovie.
Eberflus made a name for himself as the Defensive Coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts the last four years. While with the Colts, Eberflus ran his version of the Tampa -2 Defense. Where did Eberflus learn this defense? From no other than Lovie Smith.
When Eberflus was the Defensive Coordinator at the University of Missouri in the early 2000s, he drove to St. Louis to meet with Smith, who at the time was the Defensive Coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. It was then that Eberflus learned the basics of the Tampa-2 scheme from Smith and incorporated that into his Missouri defensive scheme.
Later in Eberflus' career, he worked as the Linebackers Coach of the Dallas Cowboys under Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli who was, as you remember, the Defensive Line Coach and then Defensive Coordinator of the Bears under Lovie. It was Marinelli who helped refine Ebeflus' defensive philosophy.
The success that Eberflus had in Indy can be directly related to what he learned from Smith and Marinelli.
One high-level NFL front office executive who is very familiar with both Lovie Smith and Matt Eberflus put it to me this way." If Lovie Smith's defense is Tampa-2 101, then Flus' is Tampa-3 303 or 404. In other words, the Flus version of the Tampa-2 is much more sophisticated than Lovie's version.
What will help the Bears offense tomorrow is that the knowledge that Eberflus has of Smith's scheme will help the Bears offensive coaches attack the Texans' defense. Flus knows the weaknesses of the Texan's scheme very well, and that will be important to the Bears' offensive coaches in preparing a Game Plan. This should make for an interesting and exciting matchup.