Will Lovie coach just as he did with Bears?

  • Former Bears coach Lovie Smith, right, is the new coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, left, reportedly will be his defensive coordinator.

    Former Bears coach Lovie Smith, right, is the new coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, left, reportedly will be his defensive coordinator. Associated Press

Updated 1/4/2014 8:34 PM

It is said that a coach never really learns the most important lessons necessary to win until that coach suffers the humiliation -- and agonizes over the pain -- of being fired.

It is also said that history is written by he who wins the battle.


Lovie Smith now has a chance to prove genuine both adages.

The former Bears coach is the new boss in Tampa, given five years to do what he could not in Chicago, and he won't lack for inspiration in wanting to prove to all who doubt him -- and those who fired him -- that he can win a Super Bowl.

There is no doubt, on the other hand, that players will once again love playing for him, and some who shed tears a year ago in Lake Forest will race to Florida to play for Smith a second time. He will overpay his favorites and might even try to talk Brian Urlacher out of retirement.

They will play hard for him and he will defend them at all costs -- perhaps even his own credibility.

That never mattered to Smith in Chicago because he was unaware that his arrogance was his undoing. In truth, with an ego gone unchecked -- the fault of ownership and management -- Smith believed he was truly a football genius.

There are few in the game who can make such a claim, but those few reach the playoffs every year, win postseason games and, ultimately, Super Bowls.

Smith won three playoff games in nine years here, one over an injury-ravaged Seattle team in 2006 and another over a 7-9 Seattle team in 2010.

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It wasn't nearly enough.

Prophetically, his hands-off policy regarding the offense cost the Bears a Super Bowl, when running the football against the Colts might have gotten him the very ring he so desires.

But Smith's two main functions were to delegate and defend, and those he left behind talked much about how Smith was entirely too uninvolved in running the football team.

Talking down to the fans, however, didn't come as naturally. That was a skill developed over time, and he became quite good at it.

Rex is our quarterback. Devin Hester is a No. 1 receiver. And all will be well after dumping Ron Rivera in a post-Super Bowl power play.

Trust him, Smith said, that he didn't need to pressure the quarterback, that the bend-but-don't break Tampa-2 will win out in the end.

Thing is, ego is necessary to being a good coach, to having confidence and breeding belief, and Smith is a good football coach. Getting players to want to play for him, and getting them to play hard for him, is no small task.


What remains to be seen is what Smith learned from his year off, while collecting $5 million from the Bears.

We will see if he still believes he invented the game, that no player, coach, fan or writer could possibly know what he knows about football.

We will see if he understands now that an NFL offense is something to embrace rather than ignore or abhor.

We will see if he believes defense is more than just waiting for turnovers and depending on a great return game, and that the thin line in this age of parity requires more aggression.

His first news conference Monday will suggest a lot about whether Smith has grown during his sabbatical.

He will have to be better at the things he didn't do well in Chicago, because it's not one division opponent he has to worry about anymore.

In the NFC South, New Orleans is still a power, Carolina -- with Rivera as head coach -- is becoming one, and Atlanta fell apart due to injuries only a year removed from playing in the NFC title game and falling 10 yards short of a Super Bowl appearance.

Smith has surrounded himself on staff with friends, which makes you wonder if there will be anyone around to speak truth to power. With the Bears, he was too often insulated from reality, and told too frequently that he had all the answers.

The humility with which he arrived in Chicago, a trait so appealing and refreshing in his early years, was a distant memory by the time the Bears fired him.

His unwillingness to speak honestly to players, and about them, became less a function of being a player's coach than it was a refusal to admit what was obvious to most fans and observers.

Lovie Smith is back in business because he is a good NFL coach. To become a great one, he will have to change some aspects of his personality and approach.

Either way, there's no denying it will be fascinating to watch.


•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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