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Bears Fri Dec 14 2012
With the Bears record at 8-5 following a 7-1 start to the season (a fall that you were all consistently warned about), the latest rage on Facebook, Twitter, and in the newspapers is to axe Lovie Smith.
If I were Phil Emery, I wouldn't fire Lovie. With one year left on his contract, let him play it out next year. If you want a new offensive coordinator, go right ahead. The problem is it would be Cutler's fourth coordinator in five years with the Bears. And who would want the gig with Lovie's job status in question?
The Bears were in the same situation before the 2010 season, and ended up being the team without a chair when the music stopped. Hello, Mike Martz. Though the Bears were in the NFC Championship 10 months later, it's not a sound strategy to repeat. An offensive coordinator wouldn't be an automatic fix either. The key to a successful offense is good blocking for a good quarterback. The Bears are four linemen short of that. It's also good to remember that Lovie got the Bears to the Super Bowl with by far the worst quarterback (Rex Grossman) to make it since Chris Chandler with the '98 Falcons.
Firing Lovie also means dipping into the cesspool that is the NFL coaching search. It's rarely smooth, and slower moving teams often lose out on the top guys. The Bears typically don't hire anyone quickly, which could be a problem if 10 other teams fire their head coach.
The list of qualified candidates is typically quite long, but many of them aren't interested (mostly from the top two groups below. To give you a glimpse, here are 15 guys separated into three categories that would make just about any NFL head coaching list.
Bill Cowher - 149-90-1 career record, one Super Bowl, and a cushy job that requires him to work two days a week on the set of The NFL Today. He's repeatedly beaten down rumors of his return to coaching, opting instead to spend time with his family in North Carolina. It would take at least $10 million a year to get him on the phone.
Mike Holmgren - Another guy with Lombardi hardware, but hasn't been successful in his previous two jobs (Seattle, Cleveland), and demands personnel control, which is something Emery won't give him. Little chance this would ever happen, but the ring gets him mentioned.
Jon Gruden - He might be the most loathed announcer on the planet right now, but he's one helluva offensive mind. He's got a Super Bowl ring (with Brad Johnson as his QB), and you wouldn't have to worry about his usual quarterback fetish (he once had six on his summer roster) because of Jay Cutler's presence. It would take loads of money to get him out of that Monday Night Football seat, though.
Andy Reid - Surely being fired by the Eagles, and it's almost a guarantee he'll get a job somewhere else. He's made it to the Super Bowl once, the NFC Championship five times, and has a sneaky Super Bowl ring as the QB coach for the Packers in the late 90s. Brilliant offensive mind, but his pass/run ratio and clock management are questioned far more than you want out of your head coach.
Brian Billick - Super Bowl ring with the Ravens in 2000 (Trent Dilfer at QB), he was the designer of some of the highest flying offenses in NFL history with the Vikings in the late 90s (Randall Cunningham/Daunte Culpepper, Chris Carter, Randy Moss). He calls games for FOX now, but does weekly radio hits on 670 The Score in Chicago and is very familiar with the division.
Nick Saban - The best there is in college football right now, and it's not even close. He had an unsuccessful NFL cameo a few years ago in Miami, but his starting quarterbacks during that time were Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Fat Culpepper, and Cleo Lemon. He deserves a proper QB if he gets another shot in the pros.
Chip Kelly - Fantastic college coach, but would he be able to translate his spread offense to the NFL? Nobody has done that successfully without the perfect personnel, and the Bears simply don't have it. Someone would have to offer him the moon, because Oregon is a pretty cushy spot with Nike's cash register close by.
Kirk Ferentz - He's been long rumored for a move to the NFL, and the time might be right for it. He hasn't competed in the Big 10 for years, and conference expansion won't help that. My problem is that his list of recent NFL graduates lacks any sort of big names.
Pat Fitzgerald - He's had carrots dangled in front of him before, but never taken the bait on bigger college jobs. I doubt he'd leave for the Bears gig, but his name has to be mentioned because he's simply one of the best coaches in the country.
Kevin Sumlin - Coached record setting University of Houston, and moved on this year to coach Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manzeil at Texas A&M. Another guy that would have to adjust his spread system to fit in the NFL (and especially the Bears if he took the gig), but if you have the editor of Pro Football Weekly in your corner, somebody is going to call.
Kyle Shanahan - Current offensive coordinator for his dad (Mike) in Washington, he's the primary designer of the offense that has RGIII and Alfred Morris on their way to a one-two finish in the rookie of the year voting. He also coordinated a pretty successful offense in Houston before that. He'll be one of the first dominoes to fall following Black Monday - and might just be the dream scenario.
Jay Gruden - Jon's little brother is currently the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, and he has the most diverse background of anyone on the list. He's a six time Arena Bowl champion with the Orlando Predators (as both a quarterback and coach), and got a Super Bowl ring on brother Jon's staff in Tampa Bay. Brimming with talent, he now just needs an opportunity.
Vic Fangio - Coordinators for uber-successful units tend to get head coaching jobs, and Fangio has the best defense in the NFL with San Francisco. The big question is can he do anything with a team far less talented than the one he has out west? I guarantee we'll find out next year.
Rick Dennison - Current offensive coordinator for the Texans, but was also Cutler's boss in Denver. He'll almost certainly get a head coaching job, and if the Bears fire Lovie, he'll be on the short list, no doubt. If the NFL outlaws blocks below the knees, however, I'd be very wary of Dennison because he runs the zone blocking scheme, which is predicated on the back side of the offensive line chopping defenders down.
Dave Toub - Surprised to see him here? You shouldn't be. It wouldn't be the first time the Bears have hired a special teams coordinator to take over as head coach (Mike Ditka), and he's viewed around the league as a head coach in waiting. The names of the guys on his unit change almost yearly, yet three of his units rank among the top six in DVOA over the last 20 years. Thanks, Devin.
This isn't by any means a full list, but it covers the big names. Emery could go all wildcard on us, and go with someone the mainstream hasn't even thought about. Just be careful what you wish for, because if the Bears do fire Lovie, the names above will go fast and furious. And the Bears have never been quick in picking a head coach before.