Here is Brett Solesky from Midway Illustrated -the Bears website on bloguin- to give us the lowdown on Lovie Smith.
1) Tell me the pros and cons of Lovie Smith?
The Pros of Lovie Smith are that he's a player's coach in every sense of the cliche. Smith's players loved him as a coach and as a man. There was a ton of respect for Smith and not one player has ever left Chicago having an issue with the head coach. Smith was a good game-planner on defensive side of the ball. He's arguably one of the best defensive minds in the game and had a ton of success in Chicago on defense.
Cons: He's not a great game day coach or game manager. He wasn't great with the challenge flag calls and often times had problems with time outs in critical game situations. He didn't take command of the offense or fulfill his role as head coach. All too often he focused primarily on the defense and left the offense to struggle. His worst problem was being too strongly a defensive minded football coach in an offensive football world. If the Bears got up by 14 points, too often he would try to turn to a 4-minute offense and force the defense to win the game and not allow the offense to put the game away.
2) What made Lovie's defense work? Was it the players or was it his scheme?
The chicken before the egg question; you have to give credit to both the players and the scheme. For Lovie, he needed players to fit the scheme in order to have success and he knows what type of players fit within his scheme. The Bills have those types of players on defense along the defensive line. Kyle Williams is a great one gap nose tackle, Marcell Dareus could slim down considerably in the Tampa-2 scheme and become a real force. Mario Williams could be the Julius Peppers within the scheme.
Most fans and analysts far too often look at Smith's Cover-2 and think that's all the Bears played. Not true, the Bears played Cover-1, Cover-2, Cover-3 and sprinkled in various zone blitz looks with defensive backs who became adept at rushing the passer.
The Bears' defense played an aggressive one-gap scheme that led to a lot of tackles for a loss or stuffed runs. Since Smith took over in 2004, the Bears' defense has led the NFL in tackles for losses, which sets up third and long, allowing the Bears to play their Cover-2.
Certainly it helps to have players like Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, but Smith puts both players in position to succeed because of how aggressive his defense was with the front four. The Bears were always extremely disciplined and ran well to the football as a group. I would argue that the Bears have had the most disciplined defense in the NFL since 2004. The Bears have led the NFL in takeaways since 2004. They have had the most three and out drives and have led the league in third down conversion percentage on defense.
Smith does an excellent job of finding players that fit his scheme and a lot of the players in college on defense fit the 4-3 defense a lot better than they fit a Cover-0 Cover-1 blitz heavy scheme.
3) How would you describe his tenure in Chicago? Should he have been fired?
Smith was the third winningest coach in team history behind George Halas (second all-time in the NFL in wins) and Mike Ditka. His problem is he never found a great quarterback to score enough points and his offenses were pathetic. He went through four offensive coordinators and only once did his offenses ever rank higher than 20th in the league. When the Bears' offense rated 16th in the NFL under Rex Grossman the Bears made it to the Super Bowl.
There are a lot of coaches that struggle in the NFL until they find a great offensive mind or a great defensive mind to balance out their strengths. Mike McCarthy struggled with the Packers up until he found Dom Capers. Gary Kubiak struggled with the Texans until he found Wade Phillips. The Ravens struggled on offense until they found Joe Flacco and now have made the playoffs five straight years with him under center. Even the Saints managed a Super Bowl run when they found one of the better defensive minds in Gregg Williams.
Smith never had that guy on offense, and if he would have hired that guy, he likely would have won a Super Bowl and would not have missed the playoffs 5 out of the last 6 seasons.
Smith's defense was the reason the Bears were competitive each and every year, but his offense was the reason he was fired.
4) Why did Chicago's offense struggle so much? Was it Smith's fault?
The offense struggled due to lack of personnel and Smith never let the coordinators take the chains off. The Bears have not had a #1 receiver for about as long as they have lacked a franchise QB. Part of that was Smith's fault but a lot of it was Jerry Angelo's fault in failing to find better personnel on offense.
There have been great coaches in the NFL, but rarely do those great coaches win multiple Super Bowl titles without great quarterbacks. I may even argue that some guys are considered some of the all-time great coaches are only great because they've had great QBs. How great was Bill Belichick before he had Tom Brady? How great was Mike Holmgren without Brett Favre? Tony Dungy was fired in Tampa Bay before he started to dominate with Peyton Manning behind center.
In the NFL, you're only as good as your quarterback, but it certainly helps to have a guy like Lovie Smith that keeps your defense consistently good to great every single year.
5) How is he as a game day manager?
Had this discussion on my podcast not too long ago and he's a great Monday through Saturday coach and not a very good game day manager. As mentioned above, he struggles when the game is in motion and especially if the game gets away from him and the other team sets the tone with their pacing and style.
6) Personnel wise, the Bills have a very talented defensive line, but their LBs are terrible. How will this affect Smith's defense if he gets hired?
Brian Urlacher -who still wants to play a couple more years- and Nick Roach are both free agents. Smith likes to have players who know his defense and his style of play, and with both being loyal to him, they could follow him to his new job. Jay Glazer mentioned in a tweet he's never gotten the type of reaction from players about a coaches firing like he did after Lovie Smith was fired. Either way, Smith could likely bring in a lot of his defensive staff to Chicago to help develop some of the weaker links. Bob Babich is a good linebackers coach, Rod Marinelli a great defensive line coach and good defensive coordinator. John Hoke is a very good secondary coach. Lovie would add linebackers if necessary, but would probably find success with the talent the Bills have with their front four.
7) Should the Bills hire Smith? Why?
Smith would upgrade the defense in Buffalo, but would likely get slapped around by Tom Brady in New England. Brady is the perfect QB to beat Smith's defense because he's one of the most accurate and efficient QBs of all-time. He likely fares well against Miami because he knows Philbin from facing him when he was with the Packers. Lovie is the anti-Rex Ryan and probably wouldn't have problems beating the Jets. Finding an offensive coordinator/QB coach to get more out of Ryan Fitzpatrick might prove to be troublesome. I don't know if Smith will ever be NFL head coach material because he's a better lieutenant than he is a general and with the game being so slanted to the offense, you need a coach who maximizes a team's offensive output. Smith likely limits what the Bills do on offense, but can win in the AFC East against two of three teams with bad QB play.