(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

What’s Lovie Smith Doing on Sunday?

The longtime Bears coach is watching games like the rest of us these days—but with a smart, critical eye developed over a lifetime in the game. What he’d like most, of course, is to get back in it

By
Andrew Lawrence
· More from Andrew·

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie Ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. —Ralph Ellison, from “Invisible Man”

* * *

LAKE FOREST, ILL. — It would be rude to turn up on Lovie Smith’s doorstep without bringing something, even if that something is little more than a preconceived notion. Smith’s enduring image while coach of the Chicago Bears was that of an arms-folded, thousand-yard staring, robotic-speaking sphinx—John Amos without the Good Times. And even though it’s been 10 months since the Bears fired Smith and effectively killed off a character that never meshed with the Windy City’s cast of mythically outsized coaching personalities, surely some version of that sideline sphinx waited inside this stately brick house in this northern Chicago suburb on this unseasonably bright and warm October Sunday.

But another figure, as tall and bald and beefy as the coach of lore, rises from an overstuffed living room couch dressed in a black T-shirt and dark jeans. His arms are spread out in welcome. His eyes glisten with excitement. He laughs sheepishly. There is an English Premier League game on a big screen TV. This must be the wrong address.

“I’m sorry—I know this looks bad, but I swear I didn’t put this on,” says Smith, assigning blame for the footie faux pas to Matt, the middle of his three kids—all boys, all grown up. The youngest, Miles, in his final semester of college, was supposed to be here too, “but he’s a single guy,” Smith says. “A young, single guy that lives in Chicago. He’s trying to have a good time.” Smith apologizes again for not answering the door sooner, but he was blasting Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be” too loud to hear the doorbell.

Hold up—Lovie Smith … rocks out? “Oh, come on now,” he says, rolling his eyes. He darts into the kitchen, digs out a stereo remote and hits the play button.

Hugging and squeezing and kissing and pleasing

Together forever throughever whatever

Yeah yeah yeah yeah

You and me

The funk is casting its spell anew. Smith’s eyes are closed, his head bobbing. He’s in a groove now. He dashes through the garage—“Look at Matt leaving the garage door open,” he says, in that way fathers do—past his sky-blue ’67 Mustang and a Bears golf bag to the backyard to show off his garden, a row of gray box planters on the edge of a driveway basketball court and a putting green. One box has cantaloupe. Another has cucumbers. Most of this harvest will wind up paired with store-bought spinach and kale and crammed inside a NutriBullet for breakfast smoothies. As for those blackberries growing in clusters on the backyard fence, a bunch met their end inside a giant mason jar on the kitchen table labeled BLACKBERRY BRANDY. Smith considers his purple potion and smiles wryly. “You gotta find a way to use ’em all up,” he says.

There’s more produce in a giant bowl in the living room, an outgrowth of Smith’s farmland upbringing and a legacy of diabetes that chased his sister and mother to the grave and holds two other siblings in its grip. Make yourself at home. The early games are about to start. Matt flips from soccer (thank god) to the DirecTV game-mix channel. Chief among the eight tiles of NFL games, all playing simultaneously, is Saints-Bears.

A Sunday afternoon with Lovie Smith. (Drew Lawrence)
For the first time in more than three decades, Lovie Smith has the fan’s view of the game. (Andrew Lawrence/SI)

A Sunday veg-out session with a real, live NFL coach would qualify as a Make-A-Wish moment for most football fans. At best it’s a window into the logic that informs modern game plans; at worst it’s a reminder that a peripheral grasp on the game, no matter how tight, is no match for the knowledge that comes from a lifetime on the inside.

And yet it is impossible to fully enjoy this afternoon, knowing that Smith, 55, is simply too young and too good to be on this side of the TV. It’s not that the Bears weren’t within their right to terminate their relationship with him after nine years; they’re a business, not a charity. It’s that they fired him with a winning record, after a 10-6 season, one of a handful of such seasons since the expansion to 16 games that didn’t culminate in a playoff berth for the team in question. Even stranger, none of the seven other teams seeking to fill head coaching positions before the 2013 season moved to scoop up Smith, a former NFL coach of the year who won the NFC North division three times, led Chicago to two NFC championship games and came within a few Rex Grossman turnovers of stealing Super Bowl XLI.

Shortly after his dismissal, Smith interviewed with the Bills, Chargers and Eagles about their head coaching vacancies but was passed over. He wasn’t the right fit, they more or less told him. Just a few days ago he was reported to have interviewed for the vacant USC job, but he insists there’s no truth to that. He has no interest in going back to school. “I’m a Pro coach,” he says by way of a Tuesday morning text message—the capital P, his. Rather than take a step down and try to catch on with another pro staff as a defensive coordinator (the side of the ball where Smith built a reputation as a Cover 2 guru), or become a TV pundit, or lose himself down a mental rabbit hole trying to deconstruct the reasoning behind the cryptic job rejections he received, the coach disappeared. He took his 81 wins and the $5 million balance owed to him on a Bears contract that runs through the end of this season and went home. Getting here was a trip.

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52 comments
Benkotter
Benkotter

funny, didn't hear race mentioned ONCE int his article...seems like the commenters on here have a nervous conscious...just saying...

Sammyz
Sammyz

Lovie, please please please come back to the Bears.................................................................as a Defensive Coordinator. 

RayHuggyBearYoung
RayHuggyBearYoung

Lovie Smith is not a coach right now not because of skin color but because you know what you are getting, a good coach.  A sometimes get you to the playoffs coach.  You can't sell that lack of excitement to your city. 

JeremyJanishewski
JeremyJanishewski

Looking at the situation a few weeks in, might have been good to keep Lovie, let him run the defense, and bring Trestman in as O-coordinator and QB whisperer. There is no way age, even with injuries as a factor, that age took that much of a toll in one season. You can say that injuries have been bad now, but let's be honest, the Bears D looked awful out of the gates. Now my beloved Bears are in serious rebuilding mode. They will have to almost completely rebuild the D, and depending on Cutlers injury, looking for a new QB. I like Cutler, but he has still shown himself to be unreliable(Detroit game, early against skins,etc). I see a LOT of trades coming soon if the BEars are smart. If Cutler is out and the season is lost, many familiar names will be gone in camp next season.

Boeing
Boeing

His winning percentage against teams at or abover .500 was around .333.  Should I repeat that...333.his so-called great defense would get shredded by good offenses. his defensive scheme is not good at stopping the read-option. He  He could not develop talent. He could not evaluate talent. Look at his draft history.. There are reasons  he is sitting at home and it has nothing to do with race.

Bear Down1
Bear Down1

Mike Shanahon sat out a year after he was fired from Denver.  He's white and won 2 Super Bowls.  Why is it racism when it happens to Lovie.  He'll get hired next year.  Relax.  Jeez.  The media loves to cry racism just to do it.  Cuz it's fun to claim racism.

Joe R2
Joe R2

As a Bears fan I was torn when he was fired.  He is/was a good coach, but sometimes good isn't good enough.  He made the wrong decisions when hiring offensive coordinators and that was why he was shown the door.  He'll make a good coach again once he's hired.  He just better hope he has better luck on the offensive side of the ball or else he'll end up with the same results.  I wish him good luck...

Shane H
Shane H

Its disappointing that this article turned into something that had to do with race. The first three and a half pages were very good until it got to that. 


Lovie Smith is a good football coach who will get another coaching job at some point. But him not having a job has absolutely nothing to do with him being black.


When are people going to give this up. Race is not an issue anymore when it comes to being a football coach. Just a matter of when media will leave it alone.

thomasoverley
thomasoverley

good article till they made it all about race the last page, or media obsession race race and race.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

Puff-piece with mandatory race-card.

Chicago was his first head coaching job.  He doesn't want to be a coordinator, so now he has to sit out a season.  

There are a lot of guys who have to return to being coordinators, or get out of the league, or wait.  Lovie is not unique.  But it must be racism.  The Bears' routine late-season collapses have nothing to do with it.  Gotta be racism.  Hasta be.  Lovie's such a great guy, after all. 

lionoah
lionoah

I think Smith has a really good perspective on the whole thing. He understands that there are more white people, that the owners are white but that they only want the best. If you are qualified, you will eventually get the job you are looking for. The way it works for everyone.

Jamal
Jamal

Was the article about what is Lovie doing or a cryptic way for the media to plead for more black coaches. Ironically in that Steelers-Vikes game, it doesn't mention how the 2 teams were 0-6 at the time. Considering that Smith interviewed for 3 jobs last year and wasn't hired for any of them, maybe the issue is with Lovie and his coaching philosophies and not racism. Ironic that he had a position on his staff for which he exclusively hired non-whites preventing a white man from getting a coaching break, but that's okay since racism is okay if blacks do it. If Lovie makes an effort to realize why he ultimately got fired and accept responsibility, then he'll get another job.

jhymas25
jhymas25

Smith seems like a good person and was a fine coach. The problem he has is with quarterback development and play. Cutler had regressed since coming over from Denver, before that it was Grossman, Orton, etc. If you look at the 8 new hires pretty much all of them needed to improve the QB situation. Some did that through trades (Cardinals, Chiefs) and you could argue Smith would have been a fit at one of these spots. But with Smith's QB track record, owners did not trust him in developing a young QB, which is what most the other teams with open HC positions needed. The exception being the Eagles who had Vick at QB. That job does not seem like a good fit for Smith, and I don't think anybody was surprised they gave Kelly a shot. 

I think, and hope, he gets another chance as HC, but he may need to come back in as a DC first. I don't know for sure but Andy Reid seems the exception rather than the rule. Head coaches rarely seem to get fired and instantly get another pro head coaching position. Seems like most have to take a demotion to a coordinator then work their way back up. 

Anyways, there is a huge overreaction to one season's hiring practice. The number of minority head coaches is naturally going to go up and down year to year with the massive turnover in the NFL. The Rooney Rule and other efforts have been instituted quite recently and are working (as evidenced by the high of 11 HCs in 2011). As these coaches are qualified, the NFL will see a correction in the number of minority HCs in the coming years without any further rules. Although I agree with instituting the Rooney Rule at entry level coaching positions; no use pushing people to the front if they aren't qualified. 

DaveG
DaveG

Smith was fired from the Bears. Whether that was a wise or dumb decision is not important. Owners have always hired and fired white & black coaches for some pretty stupid and pretty good reasons, depending.  It's just football. Firing create openings and Smith inadvertently or not has benefited from those departures throughout his coaching life.  Smith replaced Dick Jauron and that firing gave Smith his shot.  Chicago even fired Ditka who gave them their only Superbowl and had a .631 winning record (Smith's is .563).  Being a good NFL coach means nothing.  As the cliche goes they are hired to be fired. 

No what the problem really is is that after a black coach is fired there's always the question of whether that was some form of racism.  (See Notre Dame) No one is asking Miami if they were racist for firing Cam Cameron or Tony Sparano.  And since no organization wants to be regarded as racist (except for perhaps the Washington Redskins, who don't seem to care) the simplest way to avoid even having the subject brought up is to never hire a black coach in the first place. Lovie gets it. He talks about loving his time in Chicago and doesn't even hint at racism, because right or wrong it can only hurt him in his effort to get to the next place. But others do, and I would ask them all to just shut up and not put one more idea in some half brain dead billionaires little mind.    When someone like Lovey Smith is just fired and it's rationalized on the basis that he didn't win the big one and that's all that's discussed,  then lining up that second H/C job will come a lot more easily.

jooo83
jooo83

I stop reading when the author referred to Smith as 'smart.'

Chosen one
Chosen one

Lets see if the Bears new GM and head coach get the Bears back to the playoffs and into the SB . My money says it won't happen. Let me tell you sports fans something.

I wake up everyday and walk inside this big shopping mall near me from 8:00am to 9:30am the mall opens at 10:00am. Every store I walk pass I see the managers unlocking their stores preparing for business around 9:am and their all Caucasians, except for some of the food court vendors some orientals, and arching eyebrow shops which are Indians from India. Not one Colored,,Negro, Black, or African American opening up a retail business in the mall. It's ok for them to shop there but not manage there. Just like in the NFL it's ok to play in the league but not ok to be a coach in the league. Lovie you are and always will be a class act and your players loved you.    

lcaseyk
lcaseyk

While I have sympathy for Lovie Smith, ultimately what doomed him in Chicago was his inability to be a complete head coach, which means having a functional offense as well.  While some might argue that the offensive players were never as talented as those on defense, and the offensive line's failings in number of sacks allowed might bear testament to that, the problem that most Bears fans saw was Lovie's inability to choose an appropriate offensive coordinator.  While Turner and Martz were both decent OCs, and Turner arguably had weak quarterback talent, once Cutler came in, that argument was gone, yet Lovie brought in Martz of the seven step drop with a line that was as leaky as a sieve.  We won't mention last year at all.  

Lovie was undeniably great for the defense, but wore blinders when it came to offense and that doomed him in Chicago.  If he wants to become a head coach again, he is going to have to have a better plan for the offense and it needs to be based on making the most of the talent he's given rather than bring in another OC who tries force his scheme on the wrong talent pool or one without the experience to be an OC.

John299
John299

"He would hate to think it’s because he’s black."  Give me a break.  Far too often liberals today will blame a rainy day on racism. So the lack of Black coaches is due to racism but you don't even blink at the decline of white players in the lockeroom? Liberal guilt never fails to amuse.

 



Reedster
Reedster

Who cares what Lovie is doing on Sunday, as long as he is no longer dragging the Bear organization down

Gene C
Gene C

Another out-of-town-stupid story. The reason Lovie Smith isn't coaching the Bears or any other team is he doesn't understand how to be head coach of an offense. It's that simple. And in the NFL, it's all about  offense now. He'll make a fine defensive coordinator some day.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

Good Article.  Just illustrates the double standards that blacks face not only in the NFL but ALL workplaces.  Andy reid goes 4-12, gets hired in the blink of an eye for his second opportunity.  Lovie Smith goes 10-6 his final season for the bears, gets fired and can't get a sniff of a head coaching position.  Where's his second opportunity?  He made one Superbowl just like Reid did.  All the talk of him taking a coordinator job is a joke too.  No one said that to Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, John Fox.  So why should Smith have done it?  Professionally it is a step backwards and he was getting paid $5M to sit on his couch why inthe world would he take a position that probably wouldn't pay him more that $1 or $2Million?  Time will tell if he gets another shot

Ciscos
Ciscos

The fact a head coach, with a winning record, is at home sitting on a couch instead of being nabbed for one of several vacant head coaching jobs this past off season, is laughable.  This is not a knock against any of those that were hired... well maybe one... but Lovie Smith should be coaching in the NFL, as a head coach, this season.

Bearsfan
Bearsfan

@JeremyJanishewski You are way off base. Yes age and injuries took this much of a toll on the defense. Why do you think the Bears fell apart late in the last few seasons. Injuries to key players, age, and no depth/developmental players to step up.  They have injuries and aging veterans becoming less effective.  You couple that with no depth/development and you end up with what they have right now.  It was a necessary crap shoot to try to get one more year out of this D.  Unfortunately it is not going to happen.  They are not in "rebuilding" mode...they are in "building" mode.  Just stand by.  Wait until this coming off season, when Emery and Trestman can put the effort and resources into the defense that they put into the offense last year.  My only hope is that Mel Tucker is the right guy to build it from the ground up.


Bearsfan
Bearsfan

@Boeing You are 100% accurate.  His talent identification and development skills are weak on both sides of the ball.  had to inherit or buy talent.  His overall win/loss record is deceiving.

Sammyz
Sammyz

@Boeing Lovie, please please please come back to the Bears.................................................................as a Defensive Coordinator. 

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@lionoah "If you are qualified, you will eventually get the job you are looking for. The way it works for everyone."


Not really, but ncie in theory

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@Jamal  

There are lots of white former head coaches who have gone back to being a coordinator, or even a position coach.  Some are even jobless.  It's no big deal -- the price of staying in the league.  If a white guy gets HC interviews but no offers, everyone wonders what he did wrong.

If a black guy gets HC interviews but no offers, or has to take a demotion to keep coaching, too many people assume it's racism.  

Black guys aren't any more or less special than white guys.  It's an acceptable insult to white people to say so, loudly, though.

Bearsfan
Bearsfan

@jhymas25 The problem was not just with the QB Position-it is much deeper than that

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@jhymas25 He shouldn't have to take a coordinator job when he has the same if not better qualifications as some of his peers who happen to have HC jobs

Shane H
Shane H

@Chosen one what you just said is bull crap. I am from Toronto and work at one of the biggest malls in Canada. There is equality everywhere from store owners to businesses owners in the corporate suites above. In the CFL, there are a lot of coaches that have come and gone that were black and same goes with the NFL.

 So please stop the race card because I actually find it insulting.

jooo83
jooo83

@lcaseyk The guy showed himself to be completely inept on offense. Made the playoffs 3 times in 9 years and race card players act like he Tony Dungy or Vince Lombardi.

jooo83
jooo83

@John299 Most race card players are so blinded by their dislike and distrust of whites that they can't see their own hypocrisy.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@John299 Decline of White layers in the lockerroom? Huh?  How does a league that has bee 65+% black churn out little to no head coaches out of that same population?  They're good enough to play, but not become leaders of men/?  Something just doesn't compute!

Ciscos
Ciscos

@John299 ~ Of course John that river runs two ways and covers all different sports.  But the fact remains Lovie Smith is - and has been a very successful coach, with certainly more experience than several that were hired.

Ciscos
Ciscos

@Reedster ~ Dragging the bear organization down?? Are you serious with that post? How in the name of all things football did Lovie Smith do that????  I don't recall him being the GM...

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@Gene C BS.  so head coaches can't hire offensive coordinators now?  Bill belichick cut his teeth on being a defensive mastermind.  Same with some of the other coaches in the league (Coughlin/Fox/Fisher).  More double standards.

Ciscos
Ciscos

@Gene C~ If you want to hold Lovie Smith accountable then hold him accountable for not settling on a good offensive coordinator who could "manage Jay Cutler...." But please don't post he "doesn't understand how to be head coach of an offense."  That's a clear understanding that you don't understand what a head coach's job is... they manage the team... not a particular side of the ball.  You're not going to find any head coach, anywhere, that's a master of the offensive side and the defensive side... Man please...

jimcal229
jimcal229

@ProfessorGriff So the fact that Reids offenses were good year in and year out had nothing to do with his being hired. Also Reids skill set suited the organization and the talent meant nothing.   Smith has made himself in to HC pariah because the best offensive coaching talent wouldn't come to Chicago because Chicago was an offensive wasteland.  Smith's decision making damn near got Cutler killed. In the 9th year of his tenure the second consecutive year of last season collapses with no hope of bringing the team nearer to the current league model was his down fall.  Put the race card where the sun don't shine.  He will never Be HC in the NFL again. 

jooo83
jooo83

@ProfessorGriff It's comical to compare Andy Reid and Lovie Smith. I don't expect liberals and race card players to use actual facts and logic when making argument but really bad example. Reid made the playoffs 9 out of 14 years. Won the east 6 times. Went to 4 NFC championship games and 1 super bowl. Also, has a better winning percentage than Lovie. Lovie's record does not compare. Also, it has been a single year that Lovie isn't without a HC job.  At least give it a few years because you start whining about the race card.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@Ciscos  

So, buy a team and hire him.  Since you're so smart and clever, show everyone how it's done.

jooo83
jooo83

@Ciscos @Reedster To suggest Lovie didn't have a hand in drafting players and takes no responsibility for a consistent failure to develop the players drafted is just plain stupid. Not to mention he showed time and time again he can't manage an offense.

jooo83
jooo83

@ProfessorGriff @Gene C Using Belichick only proves Gene's point. Not the other way around. Belichick showed he can manage both sides of the ball. Lovie has not.

jooo83
jooo83

@Ciscos @Gene C No, you don't understand. If you can't manage both sides of the ball you probably belong as a coordinator. A coach may specialize in one area but he isn't clueless in the other. The best coaches have philosophies on both sides of the ball and know how to implement a staff and system to get it done. So the fact that he went through multiple offensive coordinators and offensive systems shows his ineptitude. He needs to go to a team with a strong offense in place beforehand to win consistency.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@jooo83 @ProfessorGriff It comes down to Super Bowls as far as I'm concerned and Smith has as may SB appearances and rings as Reid, Fisher and John Fox, yet those guys as mediocre as they were (Fisher and fox specifically), got jobs quickly, while Smith has to wait and wait.  You cant tell me there isnt a double standard!

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@jooo83 @ProfessorGriff @Gene C He had offensive coordinators, why couldnt Smith have the chance to hire an OC.  Charlie Weis and Mcdaniels were Belichick's OC's.  Belichick was an utter failure in Cleveland, yet got another chance and look what happened?  Hoe come Smith cant get that same chance?

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