Lovie Smith coached the Chicago Bears for 9 years from 2004-2012 and compiled a very good 81-63 record (.563 winning percentage), and took the Bears to the playoffs three times including two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. While three playoff appearances in 9 seasons is solid it’s not the greatest percentage of post-season appearances. Smith though had his team competitive just about every season, as they finished .500 or better in 6 of 9 years. Outside of Smith’s first season in Chicago where he went 5-11, the Bears never lost fewer than 7 games in his remaining 8 years.
Though 7-9 and 8-8 records might not get you to the playoffs (10-6 didn’t even get the Bears Smith’s last year), it proves that you are in the mix and are maybe just a player or two away from getting there. While it is just one game difference between 7-9 and 6-10, there is something about having double digit losses that is so upsetting. If Mike Shanahan had 7-9 records as opposed to this 5-11 and 6-10 records his first two seasons, his tenure in DC would feel a lot different. Lovie’s Smith’s teams always seemed to be a threat every year to at least contend for a playoff spot, which helps excite the fan base.
There is some concern people have at times with hiring the dreaded “retread” coaches, but plenty top coaches did quite well after they moved on. While Bears fans were of course disappointed with not hoisting any Lombardi trophies during Smith’s tenure, that is a very select club of coaches. As we’ve seen, there are plenty of coaches who end up doing better in their 2nd (or 3rd) job than their first one.
Bill Belicheck and Tom Coughlin didn’t have any SB wins with their first coaching gigs, but have won a combined 5 of the last 12 SB’s since moving on to their second job. Coaches like Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden also won the big game after joining their second team in those past 12 years. Even Mike Shanahan is an example of this as he found far more success in Denver than he did in his first job in Oakland. Some more current examples include Pete Carroll, John Fox, and Andy Reid, who are all having tremendous success this season. Smith shouldn’t be tarnished just because he’s coached before.
Another positive that Lovie Smith brings to the table is his defensive background. He was under Montee Kiffin (and Tony Dungy) in Tampa Bay as the linebacker coach, learning from two of the best defensive minds in the game. He was hired as the Rams defensive coordinator and finished top 10 in yards allowed, points allowed and takeaways his first season. After three seasons in St. Louis, he was hired as the Bears head coach.
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In 12 seasons as either a defensive coordinator or a head coach he has 5 seasons finishing in the top10 in both yards allowed and points. Where he really excels though is in the turnover department, as he finished in the top 10 in turnovers forced in 9 of his 12 seasons. In six of those seasons his teams were top 5 in turnovers forced. Smith is a guy who understands the value of a strong defense, and would make fixing this defense a priority. His ballhawking mentality would likely mesh well with much of what the Redskins have in place right now and he could be the guy to coach them up.
Well outside of getting paid like a top coach (something that caused some friction in Chicago), Smith could be intrigued by some of what the Redskins have to offer. In Chicago, Smith rarely had much in the way of offensive talent (especially early on), but in DC he’d have a strong offensive foundation with RGIII, Morris, Garcon, Trent Williams and Jordan Reed. Though Griffin will need the right QB coach and offensive coordinator to come in to get him to reach his potential, this is a level of talent that Smith really didn’t have to work with on the offensive side of the ball in Chicago. To have a high upside quarterback to go along with some top level guys at other positions, the Redskins offense could be a strong force in a year or two. That is a big selling point for Smith as he only had one year where his offense finished above 24th in total yards. Points were a little better for Lovie Smith, as the Bears were typically top 20 (only one top 10 finish), but those numbers are skewed as they include special teams and defensive TD’s, which there were quite a few of in Chicago over the years.
In addition to having the foundation for a strong offense, the Redskins can offer Smith a pair of young pass rushers (likely moving to a 4-3 under Smith), to build his defense around. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan could definitely benefit under the tutelage of a coach like Smith. They could be the foundation of this defensive revival in the next year or two. There isn’t much else to hang your hat on from a long term perspective, but Barry Cofield, Perry Riley and DeAngelo Hall (assuming Riley and Hall are back) can be effective starters. A young corner like David Amerson and safeties like Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo are all ball hawk guys, but have other issues holding them back. Smith could possibly be the type of coach that gets the most out of them.
Washington could be an attractive job for Smith given their willingness to spend money on the open market. Chicago would make some splashes, but they didn’t have the deep pockets that Dan Snyder isn’t afraid to show. Knowing that they can compete on key free agents has to be a plus. Another positive is the fact that the roster is so fluid right now, that it is the perfect time for a change over. If Lovie Smith wants to change the offensive scheme or defensive scheme most guys are free agents or more easily able to be cut than in some other situations. Now that doesn’t mean you can turn the team overnight into a winner, but that you aren’t stuck trying to play guys out of position or in a system that doesn’t fit their strengths.
It’s always tough to give a good prediction this early in the process, but Smith makes sense in a lot of areas. He’s a bigger name guy which will appeal to Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen. He’s also a guy who the fan base can quickly get behind, which will help after the mess that was made this season. As a defensive coach Smith is a guy who can help fill the Redskins more pressing need (though most probably are looking for an offensive guy to pair with Griffin). From Smith’s perspective the Redskins job definitely has some selling points (and likely quite a bit of money).
The big issue is will Smith decide to go to a different job. He’s from Texas, so the Houston job may appeal to him more. If the Tampa job opens up, perhaps his ties to the organization could be a factor. Also the Redskins lacking a first round pick could be a deciding factor when weighing his options. The good news is there probably aren’t going to be too many firings this year, so with just a few jobs Smith may not be able to be too picky.