Lovie Smith went into the 2012 season in need of a rebound from the franchise disappointment of 2011 that saw a 7-3 start crumble into an 8-8 year. What he and the Bears got was an even more catastrophic collapse, from 7-1 and the No. 2 spot in a playoff lineup to out of the playoffs at 10-6.The result was the end to a nine-year run that included only one trip to a Super Bowl, another to an NFC Championship game and one other to the playoffs and only one year with fewer than seven wins.
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But evaluations by organizations are based less on the past than on perceptions of where the future is leading. Several reasons lay at the root of the Bears decision to close the Lovie Smith epoch and go in the proverbial another direction:Simple need for change of directionGeorge McCaskey succeeded brother Michael as chairman of the board prior to the 2011 season. The transition was seamless, orderly and in the natural organizational order. Michael had held the job since the death of his father Ed and he was ready to cede the office while remaining on the board of directors.The course of the 2011 season was such that Jerry Angelo was fired after the collapse from 7-3 to 8-8. Ted Phillips remained as president but the organization was clearly not satisfied with what had occurred on the field. Key in the decision was the conclusion that the Bears were losing ground rather than gaining on the Green Bay Packers and (at the time) Detroit Lions.The season-turning injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte factored into Smith keeping his job, and the blame was assigned to Angelo for failing to sufficiently shore up the roster.
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Fast forward to 2012 and another two inept performances against Green Bay and one against the Minnesota Vikings, the new upstarts in the NFC.
Failures on offenseSince Mike Ditka left after 1992, the Bears have had three consecutive coaches from defensive backgrounds: Dave Wannstedt, defensive coordinator in Dallas; Dick Jauron, Jacksonville defensive coordinator, and Smith, coordinator of the St. Louis defense.Smith has been by far the most successful. But even for him the result has been just one losing trip to a Super Bowl, one other to a loss (to Green Bay) in the 2010 NFC Championship game, and a first-round loss in the 2005 divisional round.The biggest single reason was Smiths problems finding an offensive coordinator, or at least recently one who could co-exist with Cutler. The offense never ranked higher than 15th in yardage in Smiths tenure.More to the immediate situation, the offense got worse despite the efforts of Phil Emery to supply the wide-receiver firepower that Jay Cutler supposedly needed. Emery mortgaged a piece of the future by giving up two third-round picks for Brandon Marshall and used a second-rounder in 2012 for Alshon Jeffery.Yet the offense degenerated into the Cutler-Marshall show and closed out of town.The revolving college of coordinators on offense accelerated with the 1009 arrival of Cutler -- Ron Turner out after 2009, Mike Martz after 2011, Mike Tice one-and-done in 2012. The franchises commitment to Cutler remains to be seen this offseason but in a league that tilts toward facilitating offense, the Smith Bears have failed.Big-game failuresSmith achieved a 3-3 record in the postseason. Since the 2006 trip to the Super Bowl he was 1-1, both in the 2010 playoffs.That is a better mark than Mike Ditka in his post-Super Bowl XX time. Ditka was 2-5 with three first-game eliminations and was fired in after a 5-11 meltdown in 1992.But Smiths time is marred by a handful of bad defeats with the playoffs at stake.
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The Bears fell to the Houston Texans (7-8 at the time) in the final game of 2008 when a win would have had them in the playoffs. And while the Minnesota Vikings might still have beaten the Green Bay Packers to squeeze past the Bears into the 2012 playoffs, Smiths team failed to beat a doormat in the Detroit Lions (4-11) when it mattered.The Detroit game mattered because the Bears defense, Smiths signature unit, failed to halt two long touchdown drives to lose the Seattle game. That was followed by losses at Minnesota and to Green Bay at home when either would have allowed the Bears to keep control of their own playoff future.