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.

Bears defensive backs using off-field bonds to improve on-field ones

Bears defensive backs using off-field bonds to improve on-field ones

Every Thursday night, Bears defensive backs try to all get together at Tracy Porter’s house for dinner. But it’s not about the food.

"None of us can cook," said cornerback Bryce Callahan, laughing.

At the risk of channeling some inner Marc Trestman, it’s about the get-together itself, which always involves popping on some game film and doing extra study beyond the time at Halas Hall. And it’s also building something off the field that they believe they can take onto it.

One of the keys to excellence in any working group is the individuals connecting in ways that make the whole greater than just the sum of the parts. That’s the point ultimately, taking some personal connections onto the field and making the entire defensive backfield collectively better.

Relationships among players have never been recorded as intercepting or even deflecting an NFL pass.

"For me it starts off the field, getting to know one another, how that person is," said cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc, familiar with a similar internal chemistry from his time with the New England Patriots.

"You get that feeling for every individual, and you take that on the field. It creates a close bond, and we’ve got that bond. We try to look through each other’s eyes, communicate what you were thinking and he was thinking on this play or that, and that’s the biggest thing."

Offensive lines are generally thought of as the group most benefited by camaraderie and closeness. They typically have an O-line dinner most weeks, with checks for the meal not uncommonly reaching into four-figures.

"Those boys can EAT," LeBlanc marveled. "We stick to wings or ribs."

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

But the secondary consists of four individuals rotating coverages the way a line moves with different protections or assignments. Double-teams in the defensive backfield require the same cohesion and familiarity as ones on the other side of the football.

The Bears have started the same base four defensive backs in all three games — Porter and Jacoby Glenn at the corners, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey at the safeties — but the Bears are working in multiple rookies, and Callahan (hamstring) has been inactive along with Kyle Fuller, projected to be the starter at right corner but now on IR. Rookie safety Deon Bush was inactive the first two weeks, then played at Dallas. Rookie corner Deiondre’ Hall was pressed into action on defense for 18 plays at Houston and 28 against Philadelphia.

With the in-game mixes-and-matches necessitated by injuries, the familiarity among secondary members is looked at as nothing short of vital. Comments, right or wrong, from a friend can be taken better/more constructively than ones from a relative stranger.

"Just more of being ready to pick each other up, be ready," Amos said. "It just shows you how quick you can go from scout team to on the field, so everybody has to be talking together.

"The closer we are on and off the field, the better we are together."

LeBlanc agrees.

"We talk to each other like friends, in a unit, trying to dissect a play right after it happens, rewind and see how we can to it better.

"You can’t be out here trying to communicate and you don’t even really know the guy next to you."

Bears facing Lions with Jay Cutler likely out, Alshon Jeffery dealing with hamstring issue

Bears facing Lions with Jay Cutler likely out, Alshon Jeffery dealing with hamstring issue

The official injury designation is “doubtful” but Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is unofficially expected to be out of Sunday’s game with the Detroit Lions after not practicing on Thursday or Friday due to his injured right thumb.

“It is a pretty critical area on the quarterback, especially when it's your right thumb and you're a right handed quarterback,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “So you know we're going to get him healthy and that's our main objective and we'll see if he's any further along [Saturday].”

The designation — “questionable” — was brighter for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, except for the mild surprise that he was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday with a knee issue and then was limited on Friday because of a hamstring.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Jeffery missed six games last season, two separate instances, because of hamstring problems.

Besides Cutler, running backs Ka’Deem Carey (hamstring) and Jeremy Langford (ankle), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (thumb) also did not practice and are listed as doubtful. Carey, Cutler, Goldman and Trevathan all were inactive in Dallas, and Langford suffered his ankle sprain against the Cowboys.

Limited but listed as questionable: guard Josh Sitton (shoulder), outside linebacker Willie Young (knee); and defensive backs Sherrick McManis (hamstring), Tracy Porter (knee) and Harold Jones-Quartey (concussion, cleared).