Bears, 49ers build from same mold in many ways
"We're committed to running the ball. We try to fly around on defense, and special teams can bring the wood, too. It's kind of what we evolved into."
Does that sound like a popular local football team? You know, a team that "gets off the bus running." A team that puts heavy emphasis on the "third phase." A team whose defense stresses getting 11 men to the football in a hurry.
This particular team, though, isn't the Bears. It's the San Francisco 49ers, as described by 12-year veteran and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Justin Smith.
But that's exactly how a lot of Bears players would describe their own team, and in both cases it's a reflection of their respective head coaches.
Those are exactly the kind of teams that Bears coach Lovie Smith and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh set out to build.
Way back in the day, whether it was completely accurate or not, the 49ers were considered a "finesse" team, even after they began winning Super Bowls in the 1980s.
No one considers them a finesse team anymore, certainly not since Harbaugh arrived last season and instilled a smash-mouth mentality on both sides of the ball that led to a 13-3 regular season and a playoff run that ended in overtime of the NFC championship game.
Harbaugh took over at team that won just six games a year earlier and had not posted a winning record in the previous eight years before he was hired.
In four of those seasons, the 49ers had at least 10 losses. Harbaugh pulled off the metamorphosis without the benefit of an off-season because of the NFL's work stoppage.
And there's no doubt he was the driving force behind the 49ers' transformation.
"I think it's a whole philosophy inside the building," Justin Smith said. "(But) usually it always starts from your head coach on down, and that's the way we were kind of built."
Lovie Smith has had to do a major rebuilding job as well. In his ninth season with the Bears, he's 78-58; 73-47 since a 5-11 rookie season in 2004, a 60.8 winning percentage.
In the seven years before Smith arrived the Bears were 43-69, a 38.4 winning percentage that included five double-digit-loss seasons.
Players have described Smith as a players coach. According to players, that means he's a coach who has their backs and won't embarrass them publicly.
It's too early to tell what kind of head coach Harbaugh will be in the NFL, but it's obvious he's getting results.
The Niners are 6-2-1 this season and again considered one of the Super Bowl favorites. They're a blue-collar team no opponent wants to play, especially on their home field, which the Bears must do Monday night.
"I think it's a pretty good reflection of (Harbaugh)," said Bears linebacker and special-teams standout Blake Costanzo, who was a 49er last season.
"They had some really good players there in past years, but I don't think they were being used to their full potential. I guess because that's what coaching does.
"(Harbaugh) brought in a different attitude. That's just the mentality over there now. He's a great coach, and he's obviously changed the culture there to a winning culture, and it's exciting to play in that system."
Turning a losing program into a winning one is something Smith and Harbaugh have in common, and they've both done it using exceptional defense, a strong running game and toughness throughout.
But Harbaugh and Smith are dissimilar in a lot of ways.
The gyrations, whining, complaining, frantic yelling and nonstop energy Harbaugh displays on the sidelines are nothing like Smith's sideline demeanor.
The Bears' coach is nearly always a picture of tranquillity. His expression rarely changes. Players who have been Bears for years have never heard him swear.
Harbaugh wound up in the hospital Thursday with an irregular heartbeat, although he was back at the Niners' facility Friday preparing for the Bears.
Later that day, the Bears' coach was asked how difficult it would be for an NFL team to be without its leader, even for a day.
"I think we, as head coaches, would all like to think we're important as far as the team being able to function and go through (the week)," Smith said. "But, in the same sense, just like when good players get injured, everything has to keep going."
Regardless of Monday night's outcome, it's likely Smith and Harbaugh will keep things going.
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