Although Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery has put to bed the talks about them and coach Lovie Smith discussing an extension for the head coach, the rumors continue to swirl on just when an extension will be done. It would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago, in 2009 when the Bears were coming off three straight seasons of missing the playoffs, that we would be sitting here talking about a possible extension for a coach who recently saw former general manager Jerry Angelo fired during this past offseason.
Smith and the Bears followed those three seasons up with an 11-5 season and NFC North division crown, as well as an 8-8 season which was so much more promising before the injuries to the two biggest playmakers on offense. So as the Bears sit at 4-1 heading into the bye this season, it’s only natural that talks of extending the coach have resurfaced.
It’s hard to not look back and think what might have been. The search for head coach after the 2003 season came down to not just Smith. The Bears were also high on New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The Bears were searching for a defensive minded coach, and Crennel was having tremendous success with his defense in New England, much as Smith was with his in St. Louis.
The Bears ultimately decided to go with Smith, hoping he could turn the 22nd defense in the league around, especially considering the Bears were banking their offensive future on Florida quarterback and first round draft pick Rex Grossman. The Bears would go on to struggle their first season, especially considering Grossman would be lost to a knee injury, and the Bears would finish 5-11. There was a silver lining though, as the defense would jump up to 13th in the league, a big hike considering it was just the first season of newly installed plays.
After finishing 11-5 in 2005 and making the playoffs, the Bears made some moves in the offseason. One included trading away their first round pick, as well as drafting five players on defense. There was unrest amongst fans, who weren’t happy with the direction the Bears had gone. Smith and the Bears would go on to a 13-3 record, eventually making it to the Super Bowl before being beaten by the Indianapolis Colts. By this time, the Bears had the fifth best defense in the league.
Smith currently stands with a 75-58 regular season record, good for a .564 winning percentage. The Bears have finished in first place three times under Smith, and are headed in the right direction so far this season to compete for another division championship. Since Smith has taken over, only twice have the Bears not finished in the top ten in defensive takeaways, including his first year. Both years they finished under .500.
Crennel on the other hand got his shot in 2005 with the Cleveland Browns. There, he had just one winning season, compiling an overall record of 24-40. He would then get another shot with the Kansas City Chiefs, where his record currently stands at 3-5, including 1-4 this season as expectations are very high, giving him a career record of 27-45.
So while Emery has quieted the rumors of a Smith extension, the Bears may be hard pressed to find a better coach on the market than they currently have. With the offensive pieces being put into place properly, this may be Smith’s best time to shine. While Emery may be reluctant to keep Smith because he feels the need to get his own guy in place, he may have no choice if the Bears lock up another division crown, or yet, go deep into the playoffs.
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