NFC Coach of the Year? It's Lovie hands-down

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NFC Coach of the Year? It's Lovie hands-down

Friday, Dec. 24, 2010
9:32 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Lovie Smith is simply the hands-down NFC coach of the year. Period.

Its more than just the win-loss record. Its more than exceeding expectations. Its more than just what his players say about him or their endorsements of him for the honor.

Its how the Bears have gotten to the won-lost mark. And it really isnt a tough call.

The worthy others

First, with due respect to Smiths challengers, only two NFC field bosses rate inclusion on the debate.

One is Mike Smith in Atlanta, where the Falcons have won eight straight and lost only twice all year, both times on the road and against division leaders Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Smith finishes third here because the Falcons were gifted with a schedule that included the NFC Worst and because Matt Ryan makes any coach look very, very good.

Runner-up to Smith is Mike McCarthy, who has had the Green Bay Packers in the hunt for the NFC North title all year despite an injury list that would have crippled lesser-coached teams. And McCarthy took an Aaron Rodgers-less team up to New England and had the Patriots in trouble with Matt Flynn. Consider that a statement for McCarthy simply by itself.

But Smith has accomplished more and under arguably shakier circumstances. He already was NFL coach of the year for what he did in 2005 with a rookie Kyle Orton. What he has done in 2010 is even more impressive.

Management was everything

Smith didnt merely coach the Bears. He managed them.

Smith managed a coaching staff that includes three former NFL head coaches. One of them (Rod Marinelli) is his schematic soulmate but the other two (Mikes Martz and Tice) are divas, which isnt necessarily a bad thing or even especially unusual in coaches. But it can make managing people off-the-charts difficult.

And it was for Smith, who let Martz have his head in the early going of the 2010 season and then jerked the reins, hard.

Smith has defined consistency, sometimes maddeningly to some outsiders. He has always held players accountable and subject to near-immediate movement on the depth chart in every season. His demeanor has been the same throughout his tenure.

Interestingly, players see both a different Smith and at the same time the same one.

Hes the same, Brian Urlacher said. Hes the same all the time. Thats what we love about him, we like playing for him. He hasnt changed. He told us how good we were, the first day of whenever we do our junk in the spring. And he was right...

The thing you got to love about Lovie, as a player, hes the same all the time. He lets you know where you stand. I know the media doesnt like it very much, because he doesnt give you all the information. But as players, we like that. He doesnt sell us out, doesnt tell any information that needs to be out there. Keeps it in-house, for the most part. Sometimes, some guys got their little friends in the media that they talk to. But, for the most part, he keeps everything in house and we appreciate that. He keeps it in our family.

As far as Lance Briggs is concerned, the biggest change for Lovie is to not change and stay true to his beliefs and his coaching. When we think during training camp well have an extra practice or one less practice hes consistent. Hes very consistent. Thats the type of play he demands from his men --- consistent play. The biggest change is that theres no change.

But there was change

The combined assessments of his players are telling and reveal what kind of manager Smith has been in a year that has gone far better than most outside of his locker room and offices thought it might.

Jay Cutler spoke to one side of Smith, one that in fact involved Cutler quite directly.

Ive seen a different side of Lovie this year, you know, Cutler said. Last year, my first year here, I didnt really know him that well. This year, verymore assertive.

Cutler is right, though only in the respect that he really didnt know Smith well last year. Cutler is wrong about Smiths assertiveness.

Smith hasnt undergone a personality makeover. He suffered no shortage of assertiveness in the past when it came to things like staff (Ron Rivera, Terry Shea, Ron Turner) and players.

But the situation with Mike Martz, Cutler and the offense needed a dramatic in-season course correction or this year may have gone completely off the rails and taken Smith and likely others with it. GM Jerry Angelo may have played a firm hand as well in effecting the change in offensive direction but if Smith and Angelo were not in the same paragraph (this went beyond just being on the same page), forget 2010.

He knows what hes doing, Cutler said of Smith. Hes leading us. He set the goals at the beginning of the year, and he hasnt let us forget them.

Fine stuff

Last Mondays Bears-Vikings game is turning expensive for defensive backs assigned to blitz quarterbacks.

Safety Major Wright will have to pony up 15,000 for his rough treatment of Minnesota quarterback Joe Webb, an NFL official confirmed. And cornerback Antoine Winfield drew a 7,500 fine for his hit on Cutler Monday night that saw his helmet go up under Cutlers chin and cause a cut that required stitches to close. Winfield also was fined 10,000 for a uniform violation involving the height of his socks, according to a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Somehow something is amiss when the height of hit on a player remains less serious, financially speaking, than the height of socks.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

If the Lions beat the Bears in Detroit, it'd be a recent rarity. No, not the Bears losing, but in this long series that reaches 175 games Sunday. One team or the other has swept the season series 11 of the last 12 years (the lone exception being 2011). The 17-14 Bears win Oct. 2 ended a string of six consecutive losses to their division rivals. At that point, both clubs were 1-3. The Bears have remained at that pace since, while the Lions have taken off, winning seven of eight.

It was Brian Hoyer's steady hand that guided that win, while a Vic Fangio defense missing Eddie Goldman, Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan forced Matthew Stafford into easily his worst game of the season.

1. STAY COMMITTED

That first meeting was Jordan Howard's first start, and his first 100-yard game, and the rook ran it 23 times for the first of five 100-yard rushing efforts (113). And since the two Bears touchdowns were scored by a couple of players who won't suit up Sunday (Eddie Royal and Zach Miller, from a quarterback who also won't be suiting up), keep feeding the beast. He's 117 yards from reaching the 1,000-yard mark (after just a dozen carries the first three games), and another 100-yard effort would give him the most for a rookie in Bears franchise history.

2. A FASTER START FOR MATT

...meaning Barkley, not Stafford. The Bears want to avoid a faster start by Stafford and the home offense, which was held to just one first down and 14 total plays on their first four possessions back in October. As Barkley makes his first NFL road start in a dome, he and his offensive teammates need to get out of the gate quicker than they have the last two home games. Before they got things rolling on the final drive of the first half against the San Francisco 49ers, they had four possessions that totaled 14 plays, 27 net yards and two first downs. In Barkley's first start two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, they surrounded one 13-play touchdown drive in the opening half with five possessions, totaling 16 plays, 108 yards, three first downs, and an interception.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

3. HOO-RATIO

The Bears have lost the turnover battle in eight of their 12 games, and just twice have they won it. One of those instances was in Week 4. For a team that has just five interceptions all year, against a quarterback who's thrown just five picks, two came in the first meeting on the lakefront. And those picks were by (....wait for it....) Deiondre Hall (the rookie who'll play for the first time since that game), and Jacoby Glenn, who's now back on the practice squad. Now, yes, Stafford is a different beast in his den, and there's a completely different confidence level now for the NFC North leaders. But what if the defense can pull an encore? And can Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks pick up where they left off against another mobile quarterback? The Bears had just two sacks in the first meeting, registered by (....wait for it....) Mitch Unrein and Cornelius Washington.

** Finish up your snow removal by 11 a.m. Plop yourself in front of CSN, and watch ex-Bears Lance Briggs, Jim Miller and Alex Brown join Chris for Bears Pregame Live. Then as soon as the second quarter ends on CBS, log on here to CSNChicago.com as Jim and Chris break down the first 30 minutes and go over second half adjustments on Bears Halftime Live. Finally, as soon as the team's start sharing handshakes, flip back to CSN as the three ex-Bears and Chris provide 90 minutes of reaction, analysis, press conferences and locker room interviews from Detroit on Bears Postgame Live. **

Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN

Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN

The Bears and Detroit Lions square off Sunday at noon and CSN Chicago has you covered along the way.

Check out a schedule of Sunday's events:

— Meijer Bears Pregame Live with Chris Boden, Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller airs at 11 a.m. on CSN.

— Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Bears Halftime Live streaming live on CSNChicago.com and ChicagoBears.com.

— State Farm Bears Postgame Live airing immediately after the game on CSN.

Important Twitter follows:

— John "Moon" Mullin (@CSNMoonMullin), CSNChicago

— Bears Talk (@CSNBears), CSNChicago

— Kip Lewis (@CSNKipLewis), CSNChicago

— Chris Boden (@CSNBoden), CSNChicago