Lovie Smith, Bears playing a high-stakes game
In nine years as the Bears' head coach, Lovie Smith has presided over 80 victories -- 83 including the playoffs. Only Mike "Da Coach" Ditka and George "Papa Bear" Halas have won more games.
Smith has guided the Bears to the playoffs three times, including Super Bowl XLI, but just one of those postseason appearances has occurred in the past five years.
That's why Smith's performance in the previous 149 games (including 66 losses with 3 in the postseason) might not matter as much as today's game against the Detroit Lions.
The perception is that a loss spells the end of the Lovie Smith era in Chicago. A win, coupled with a Minnesota Vikings loss to the Green Bay Packers, gets the Bears to 10-6 and back to the postseason party.
That presumably brings Smith back for the final year of his contract, maybe even with an extension. If the Bears win and don't get in, who knows?
"A lot's at stake this week," Smith said in a monumental understatement.
The question is: Does it make sense that one game supersedes the cumulative effect of the previous 149?
Smith's fate hangs on the outcome of one game?
Is that fair?
"It's the nature of the game as I see it," Smith said. "For us, it's about getting into the playoffs. If you get into the playoffs, a new season starts."
And maybe it starts a new Bears chapter for Smith, who is already tied for the fourth-longest tenure of any coach in the NFL with the same team. Otherwise, some other coach will begin his own era.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has been on Smith's Bears staff longer than anyone except linebackers coach Bob Babich, who was hired a week earlier.
Toub knows the hot seat that Smith is currently sitting on will be turned up to broil if the Bears aren't victorious today. But he said the head coach isn't letting anyone see him sweat.
"That's one thing about Lovie -- he's always going to be the same, and that's a great character trait in a head coach," Toub said. "He doesn't waiver. If it's bothering him, he doesn't let the players see it. He's not letting the coaches see it. He's been steady.
"We are very lucky, the Chicago Bears are very lucky to have Lovie Smith, and we better realize that. Everybody better realize that."
Smith hired Toub nine days after he became the Bears' head coach in January 2004. Toub's special teams units have finished in the top six in five of the last six seasons, according to the Dallas Morning News' ranking system.
Toub has earned a high level of control over the special teams, but he still appreciates the freedom he has under Smith to run the third phase his way.
"He lets coaches coach," Toub said. "He lets me do my job. He has total trust in everything that I do, and as a coach you can't ask for a better situation.
"Obviously I don't call everything without going through him, but he lets you design your schemes and doesn't second guess what we do. You can't get a better situation as a coach. Lovie's a great coach, and he needs to stay here."
What Smith really needs is a win today -- and help from the Packers.
"We're a good football team, and good football teams need to find a way to get in the playoffs and have an opportunity to advance," Smith said. "No more than that."
Smith's 2008 team was in a similar situation. After winning three in a row, the Bears traveled to Houston. A victory over the 7-8 Texans would have sent them to the postseason dance when other factors fell into place, but the Bears lost 31-24.
"We were in this position a few years back," Smith recalled. "We looked at all the different scenarios, and we forgot about the one that really mattered -- us winning the game. We feel like if we go and take care of business, we can live with the results from there."
If not, Smith and his staff might not survive.