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updated: 1/21/2011 12:57 PM

Keeping Lovie Smith pays off in big way for Bears

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  • Bears head coach Lovie Smith, in 2007 as the Bears fell apart in the second half of Super Bowl XLI.

      Bears head coach Lovie Smith, in 2007 as the Bears fell apart in the second half of Super Bowl XLI.
    Rick West

  • Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli

      Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli
    JOHN STARKS | Staff Photographer

  • Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz

      Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz
    Associated Press

  • Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, offensive coordinator Mike Martz, inset left, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, inset right, are all part of the success because of coach Lovie Smith.

      Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, offensive coordinator Mike Martz, inset left, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, inset right, are all part of the success because of coach Lovie Smith.
    Associated Press

 
 

Raise your hand if you think the Bears would be playing for the NFC championship Sunday had Lovie Smith been fired after last season's 7-9 finish, their third straight without a playoff game.

Yet how many fans wanted to get rid of Smith? How often did someone in the media call for his ouster?

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Sometimes the best moves are the ones that aren't made.

I don't think there's any chance the Bears would have even made the playoffs this season with a new coach, whoever he might have been.

Remember, Smith was instrumental in recruiting Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, practically camping out on his doorstep to be there to woo him at the dawn of the free-agency period.

If Peppers isn't the Bears' MVP this season, he's at least in the top two.

And don't forget it was Smith who promoted Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and hired Mike Martz as offensive coordinator and Mike Tice as offensive line coach. All three have done magnificent jobs.

Marinelli's squad, with major input from former defensive coordinator Smith, was No. 4 in points allowed, No. 2 in rushing yards allowed and No. 9 in total yards allowed.

That group permitted a total of 27 points in two games against the Green Bay Packers, who have matched or exceeded that total in 10 different games this season.

Martz inherited a group that had little success in 2009 and included an inexperienced group of wide receivers, an offensive line in transition and a quarterback with phenomenal talent but no track record as a winner.

Martz was able to install a new and complicated system on the fly and, after some relatively minor growing pains, create an improved product.

Tice may have done the most impressive job of all, mixing, matching and transforming a patchwork unit of inexperienced youngsters and past-their-prime veterans into a cohesive unit.

It's unlikely any of those three would have been part of a new coach's staff, and it's difficult to imagine three other assistants having the positive impact that Marinelli, Martz and Tice had this season.

Much of the success the Bears have enjoyed is the result of production from elite veteran players, who have bought into Smith's system and his style of leadership.

"He's always very calm," said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl this season. "I know you guys don't like that he's like that most of the time, but we love it.

"He's that way on the field with us; he's that way in the meetings with us. He lets you know where you stand, and he keeps us prepared. Lets us know at practice how we're going to do it.

"It's nice to know what to expect, and we're always prepared to play. We've got a great coaching staff."

Smith prides himself on being a calm, steady and consistent leader, and he has a team that reflects that.

"We're not a roller-coaster team," Smith said. "We're pretty levelheaded about what we need to do. We have great veteran leadership."

And this year the Bears are a great team -- at least their 12-5 record says so.

Maybe they defeated a less-than-powerhouse Seattle Seahawks team Sunday, but that's the same team that eliminated the defending-world-champion New Orleans Saints a week earlier.

Now they're 1 win from getting back to the Super Bowl, which they reached four years ago in Smith's third season. He deserves some credit.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a better leader, someone that the guys rally around better than Lovie," tight end Greg Olsen said.

"We've had some ups, we've had some downs. And with coach Smith's personality of being even-keeled, it's never as bad as it seems, it's never as good as it seems.

"Let's just keep on going down the path that he's planned out for us. It can't help but trickle down to the rest of us. He kind of sets the tone for this team, and it's not a coincidence that he's been so successful."

That's why these Bears have a chance to surpass what the 2006 team accomplished, even though they'll need to win two more games as underdogs to get it done.

"We know what it takes to get to the (final) game," said outside linebacker Lance Briggs, who made it six straight Pro Bowls this season.

"Lovie does. A lot of us veterans do. We know what it takes to get to the championship. The only thing we don't know is what it takes to win the championship."

But they've got a chance to find out, which is something 28 other NFL teams can't say.

• Follow Bob LeGere's Bears reports via Twitter@BobLeGere. Check out his blog, Bear Essentials, at dailyherald.com.

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