Lovie Smith knows about Hall of Fame players. He coached them with Tampa Bay, where he was linebackers coach for Derrick Brooks and developed Brooks behind Warren Sapp. As St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator, he was close to the work of Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner.
And the thought of Brian Urlacher not being brought into the Hall of Fame on a first ballot left the former Bears coach sputtering.
“It would be an insult if Brian is not a first-ballot selection,” said Smith, on the recruiting trail as coach of Illinois and the third-winningest Bears coach at 81-63 over his nine years from 2004-12.
“To me, Brian is a no-brainer. Derrick was a no-brainer. Ray [Lewis] is a no-brainer. Derrick changed the way the outside-linebacker position was played. Brian changed the way the middle linebacker could be played. First ballot for Brian is a no-brainer.”
Brooks, Lewis and Urlacher were the linebackers voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
A nagging question this year is whether Lewis being on the ballot lessens Urlacher’s chances because of their playing the same position. That notion left Smith incredulous.
Indeed, while obviously more coincidental than intended, a Hall class without two players from the same position group has become the norm. Every class since 2011 has contained inductees from the same area:
Year Pos. Players inducted
2012 OL Dermonti Dawson, Willie Roaf
2013 OL Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden
2014 DL Claude Humphrey, Michael Strahan
2015 OL Will Shields, Mick Tinglehoff
2016 QB Brett Favre, Ken Stabler
2017 RB Terrell Davis, LaDanian Tomlinson
So “it makes no sense to think that two players from the same position can’t go in in the same year,” Smith said. “And in the case with Ray and Brian, the both had and did things that the other didn’t. Brian brought a dimension in pass defense that no middle linebacker ever did.”