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.
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.