Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lovie Smith: Chico Not The Man

Little did Ron "Chico" Rivera know just how much Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were pulling for him to get the job in Arizona, Miami, San Diego ... and so on. Or any old job in Dallas, lateral move or not. Lovie and Jerry just wanted the guy gone so it would end on a more positive note than this.

As it is, Rivera goes to San Diego as linebackers coach, where he will be behind Ted Cottrell on the defensive mastermind list and working hands-on with Shawne Merriman to keep him off the juice.

Lovie Smith's old friend dating back to their Tulsa days, Bob Babich, will be promoted from Bears linebacker coach to defensive coordinator.

Having been trained by the McCaskeys, the Bears fan's knee-jerk reaction was "They're going cheap. Rivera takes them to the Super Bowl, now they don't want to pay him." Though this wasn't what happened, it's always good to remind the McCaskeys that they're suspect and probably always will be. You're suspect!

What did happen is that Lovie Smith decided that he'd rather have a loyal first-timer orchestrating the defense than the incumbent, a head-coaching candidate for 8 other teams in the last 2 years.

Taking a step backward, on Saturday in the Tribune, John Mullin wrote about Ron Rivera's contract situation.

"If the Chargers job does not go to Rivera, few expect him to have difficulty reaching agreement on a new deal with the Bears. Rivera, in fact, represents an element of leverage and insurance in the event negotiations fail to produce a deal for coach Lovie Smith."

Well that's pretty interesting. Re-signing Rivera this offseason would provide the Bears "leverage and insurance" when it came to negotiations for Lovie's new contract. One has to wonder if Lovie saw it that way. Regardless, a couple days later, that bit of leverage has been removed from the picture and Lovie's man has been appointed.

The Bears only make the Super Bowl every 20-odd years, so no one's sure what the rules are -- and how wildly the rules vary when you lose a Super Bowl versus winning one -- but this edition of the Bears has preached continuity. It must have been a difficult conversation to tell Ron Rivera that, even though all of the players from the Super Bowl defense are coming back for a 3rd year in a row, we know we can do better than you.

There was also a knee-jerk reaction that the Bears screwed Rivera by not announcing his release a few weeks ago. If anything, being turned away by his current team would have hurt his chances with other teams who were interviewing him for the big promotion. As I said at the top, Smith and Angelo were hoping he'd score a head coaching job, which would provide a natural ending and even put a feather in their mentoring caps. Maybe it would even start that Lovie Smith Coaching Tree.

Rivera and Smith have both made statements that this was a football decision, there was no personality clash, and that seems legitimate. Rivera was nearly as miscast as fellow coordinator hiree Terry Shea. When he was hired, Lovie Smith wanted current Lions coach Rod Marinelli to run his Cover Two, but Tampa wouldn't allow it. Rivera was somewhere down the list of choices.

There has been a lot of gray area the last few years. They were obviously running Lovie Smith's defense, which Rivera didn't have experience with, so how much was Rivera just filling a seat?

Rivera and Smith both commented that they were going different directions. Rivera obviously wanted to go in a direction closer to his Philadelphia roots under blitzmaster Jim Johnson.

If I had to guess, I'd imagine that blitzing only three times in the Super Bowl, fairly typical of the plan throughout the past few seasons, was more Smith's design than Rivera's.

Maybe Rivera was licking his chops watching Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs run, questioning the value of a scheme where these 2 Pro Bowlers combine for 1 sack all season. Maybe following the season-ending injuries to Tommie Harris and Mike Brown, Rivera had some ideas to adjust a scheme that depends most heavily on Safety and Defensive Tackle.

Lovie's bottom line for us is: "You should trust me as a head football coach to put us in the best position to win football games. It's as simple as that."

What will need to be trusted is the "different directions" explanation. Oh, to be a fly on the wall to hear each of their directions.

I would hope that Lovie's direction entails more than playing the Cover Two straight-up while Covering Two ears and shouting "la la la la" so as not to listen to any other ideas on the subject.

As with any scheme, the Cover Two will need to evolve and adjust as offenses do. Any scheme should be flexible enough, or coordinated smartly enough, that it takes advantage of current personnel strengths.

Surely Rivera had his own wrinkles and ideas to suggest and I'll trust that Lovie is always willing to listen, evaluate, and experiment based on his coordinators' advice. If Lovie thought Rivera's ideas for improving the Bears' Cover Two sucked, that's fine, then Rivera needed to go before Lovie can talk about his next contract.

I don't know, maybe I need to be humored a little more. Maybe I need to hear Lovie say he was frustrated by Rivera's work in the Super Bowl, that he thinks they could have stopped the Colts from converting every 3rd down. Something to tell me why the new boss will be better than the old boss.

Or maybe I'd like to see the Bears at least pretend to be like other teams and interview some other options, have some qualified candidates run their ideas past Lovie, before you simply reach down and promote the head coach's inexperienced yes-man to take over one of the very best defenses.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's not "as simple as that" for me. With all due respect, Lovie hasn't earned that blind trust from me. I'm sure his buddy Bob from Tulsa is a good football man and all, I'm not so sure that his uncontested appointment is in the best interest of the Chicago Bears as much as it is in Lovie Smith's.

Circle it on your calendar: Bears at Chargers. Until the schedule comes out, just circle every Sunday (and Monday) between September & December. That'll be the day we see Bob Babich's plan to shut down LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, as linebackers coach Ron Rivera and his trick eye look on from the home sideline.

3 comments:

freen said...

I saw an encouraging headline in the Sun-Times this morning...

"Babich aiming to end Urlacher's sack drought"

Bearss.

dhort said...

"It [0 sacks in 27 games for #54]was a concern of ours," Babich said. "And Brian, the previous years, has had sacks. As we evaluate the season, we're going to try to figure out whether it was scheme, technique -- whatever it was, we need to get all linebackers involved in sacks."

I guess it should be encouraging that they see the same obvious thing I mentioned yesterday, but there's something dishonest about this.

Rivera certainly didn't cook up the plan to not have LBs go near the QB. And that almost has to be the plan if #54 and #55 combine for only 1. If they're hinting Rivera wasn't scheming it right for that to have happened, do something about it after 10 games or 12, not 27.

azibuck said...

Damn, all your coaches have trick eyes.