For Lovie Smith, accountability looms


For Lovie Smith, accountability looms

The light at the end of the tunnel may indeed be an oncoming freight for Lovie Smith.

The Bears are playing Smith into job jeopardy, with obvious complicity of Smith and his staff. Coaches do matter; how much is another discussion.

None of this may matter if the Bears beat the Green Bay Packers, make the playoffs, win the last three games, pick your scenario. And even a 9-7 finish out of the playoffs may not be fatal.

But the problem bearing down on Smith is that he simply has no wiggle room if the 2012 season continues its death spiral. Less than zero wiggle room, actually.

Heres why:

Throughout this offseason, GM Phil Emery has emphasized that the coaching and personnel staffs have worked in a close relationship. That means that Smith carries significant accountability for the talent level as well as the performances of that talent.

Jerry Angelo was fired chiefly for failing to develop a talent base competitive with the Green Bay Packers. Ironically, Smith will be held to some of the same standard now. Not that he would expect any, but he has no excuses open to him.

Smith and his staff always have borne a share of responsibility for the roster stocking. The past year has ramped that up, however.

It was Smith who strongly endorsed JMarcus Webb last offseason. It was Smith who declared that Kellen Davis was an answer at tight end. When the Bears completely passed on investing a draft choice on the offensive line, it was not Emery shoving the existing group (plus Chilo Rachal) down the coaching staffs throat.

The team needed an elite wide receiver? A top-shelf No. 2 quarterback and running back? They were all supplied. Now whats the problem?

The contract catch

Smith has one year remaining on his contract at about 5.5 million. The fact that the organization would have owed the better portion of two years at that price if it had fired Smith along with Angelo worked in Smiths short-term favor; no business likes eating 11 million (minus whatever Smiths new employer would have paid him).

But the Bears dont have to do anything contract-wise with Smith after this season, regardless of outcome.

The Carolina Panthers gave John Fox a five-year extension in 2006, in the 5 million range. As fortunes in Carolina faded, the Panthers simply let Fox coach out the 2010 season, the last under his contract, and then just moved on to Ron Rivera.

Fox went to Denver and had the Broncos in the playoffs last year with Tim Tebow as his rescue quarterback.

No coach or player likes being a lame duck, and they arent, if they rebound and win. Smith comes back in 2013 and winsnew paper happens.

Business-wise, why would the Bears be pressured into anything?

Sunk by offense

No two seasons are identical but the current one has begun to carry ominous echoes of 2011. That one was 7-3 and the Bears collapsed with injuries at quarterback and running back.

Now there has been a collapse from 7-1 to 8-5 and that is largely with the quarterback and running back healthy, just not playing very well. The offense had very little to do with the Bears reaching 7-1 this year.

The problem for Smith is that he simply cannot make a change at the top of the offense. He went one year with Terry Shea, five with Ron Turner, two with Mike Martz and now one with Mike Tice. Youre only allowed so many tries.

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

Morning Update: Cubs open World Series tonight; Hawks lose in shootout

Here are some of the biggest stories from the day in Chicago sports:

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Local product and former fan Jason Kipnis has 'zero conflict' extending Cubs' World Series title drought

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Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

Why Cubs wouldn't pay the price for Andrew Miller and got Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

CLEVELAND — As the New York Yankees marketed Andrew Miller this summer and prepared for their first sell-off in a generation, their demands started at either Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez — and the Cubs still would have been forced to throw in more talent to get the All-Star reliever.

This could be the fascinating what-if for this World Series. The Cleveland Indians paid the price, giving up a four-player package headlined by outfielder Clint Frazier (the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft) and left-hander Justus Sheffield (the No. 31 pick in the 2014 draft) to get what turned out to be the American League Championship Series MVP.

The Cubs didn’t make Schwarber untouchable because they thought he would be ready in time for the World Series, but he’s preparing to be their Game 1 designated hitter on Tuesday night at Progressive Field after a remarkable recovery from major surgery on his left knee.

“It was impossible to avoid some of the names — particularly the Cubs — (with) the year they were having,” Miller said. “Whether I wanted to avoid it or not I heard it. Guys in the clubhouse, our media was certainly bringing it to us.”

Even in other possible deals for pitching, the Cubs never came close to selling low on Baez, who broke out as the National League Championship Series co-MVP for his offensive production and defensive wizardry. 

Instead of getting Miller’s late-game dominance for three pennant races — and giving up five potential 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with Schwarber — the Cubs closed a different blockbuster deal with the Yankees for a left-handed power arm.

The Cubs wanted Aroldis Chapman’s 100-mph fastball to get the last out of the World Series and would rationalize his 30-game suspension to begin this season under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. Already holding an age-22 All-Star shortstop in Addison Russell, the Cubs surrendered elite prospect Gleyber Torres.

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“Gleyber’s a good baseball player,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That kid’s going to be really good. So you have to give up something to get something. But also our guys felt if we got Aroldis this year, we’d have a chance to be sitting here and answering this question. And they were right.

“It’s an entirely different thing when you get a guy out there throwing 100 miles an hour. You feel pretty good about it, regardless of who is hitting. So he’s really a big part of why we’re doing this right now.”

Chapman has saved five playoff games — and become that reassuring ninth-inning presence at Wrigley Field — but he clearly responds better to a scripted role.

Miller has been untouchable during the postseason, throwing 11 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out 21 of the 41 batters he’s faced, giving Terry Francona even more freedom to manage a lights-out Cleveland bullpen.

“To be utilized like Miller,” Maddon said, “not everybody is cut from the same cloth mentally, either, or the ability to get loose and prepare. Andrew Miller — having done a variety of different things in the big leagues as a pitcher — is probably more suited to be able to be this guy that can get up in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth and warm up in a manner that gets him in the game both mentally and physically.

“Whereas Aroldis — if he wanted to do that — I think that would have had to be done from spring training. He’d have to differentiate his mindset. He’d have to have a different way to get ready. I do notice he throws a heavy baseball before he actually throws a regular baseball. That’s his routine.

“Whether you agree with it or not, that’s just the way it is. So with a guy like Aroldis — to ask him to attempt to dump his routine right now (and) do something else — I think you’re looking for failure right there.

“We stretched him to five outs the other night, which is a good thing, I thought. So now going forward he knows he can do that. But to just haphazardly throw him in the sixth, seventh or ninth, I think would be very difficult to do.”

Even in a World Series featuring historic droughts, Cy Young Award winners, MVP candidates and star managers, this October could come down to the bullpens shaped by deals with the Yankees.

“Both teams made aggressive trades,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Both teams are still standing. There’s something to that.”