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NFC Coach of the Year? It's Lovie hands-down

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NFC Coach of the Year? It's Lovie hands-down

Friday, Dec. 24, 2010
9:32 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Lovie Smith is simply the hands-down NFC coach of the year. Period.

Its more than just the win-loss record. Its more than exceeding expectations. Its more than just what his players say about him or their endorsements of him for the honor.

Its how the Bears have gotten to the won-lost mark. And it really isnt a tough call.

The worthy others

First, with due respect to Smiths challengers, only two NFC field bosses rate inclusion on the debate.

One is Mike Smith in Atlanta, where the Falcons have won eight straight and lost only twice all year, both times on the road and against division leaders Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Smith finishes third here because the Falcons were gifted with a schedule that included the NFC Worst and because Matt Ryan makes any coach look very, very good.

Runner-up to Smith is Mike McCarthy, who has had the Green Bay Packers in the hunt for the NFC North title all year despite an injury list that would have crippled lesser-coached teams. And McCarthy took an Aaron Rodgers-less team up to New England and had the Patriots in trouble with Matt Flynn. Consider that a statement for McCarthy simply by itself.

But Smith has accomplished more and under arguably shakier circumstances. He already was NFL coach of the year for what he did in 2005 with a rookie Kyle Orton. What he has done in 2010 is even more impressive.

Management was everything

Smith didnt merely coach the Bears. He managed them.

Smith managed a coaching staff that includes three former NFL head coaches. One of them (Rod Marinelli) is his schematic soulmate but the other two (Mikes Martz and Tice) are divas, which isnt necessarily a bad thing or even especially unusual in coaches. But it can make managing people off-the-charts difficult.

And it was for Smith, who let Martz have his head in the early going of the 2010 season and then jerked the reins, hard.

Smith has defined consistency, sometimes maddeningly to some outsiders. He has always held players accountable and subject to near-immediate movement on the depth chart in every season. His demeanor has been the same throughout his tenure.

Interestingly, players see both a different Smith and at the same time the same one.

Hes the same, Brian Urlacher said. Hes the same all the time. Thats what we love about him, we like playing for him. He hasnt changed. He told us how good we were, the first day of whenever we do our junk in the spring. And he was right...

The thing you got to love about Lovie, as a player, hes the same all the time. He lets you know where you stand. I know the media doesnt like it very much, because he doesnt give you all the information. But as players, we like that. He doesnt sell us out, doesnt tell any information that needs to be out there. Keeps it in-house, for the most part. Sometimes, some guys got their little friends in the media that they talk to. But, for the most part, he keeps everything in house and we appreciate that. He keeps it in our family.

As far as Lance Briggs is concerned, the biggest change for Lovie is to not change and stay true to his beliefs and his coaching. When we think during training camp well have an extra practice or one less practice hes consistent. Hes very consistent. Thats the type of play he demands from his men --- consistent play. The biggest change is that theres no change.

But there was change

The combined assessments of his players are telling and reveal what kind of manager Smith has been in a year that has gone far better than most outside of his locker room and offices thought it might.

Jay Cutler spoke to one side of Smith, one that in fact involved Cutler quite directly.

Ive seen a different side of Lovie this year, you know, Cutler said. Last year, my first year here, I didnt really know him that well. This year, verymore assertive.

Cutler is right, though only in the respect that he really didnt know Smith well last year. Cutler is wrong about Smiths assertiveness.

Smith hasnt undergone a personality makeover. He suffered no shortage of assertiveness in the past when it came to things like staff (Ron Rivera, Terry Shea, Ron Turner) and players.

But the situation with Mike Martz, Cutler and the offense needed a dramatic in-season course correction or this year may have gone completely off the rails and taken Smith and likely others with it. GM Jerry Angelo may have played a firm hand as well in effecting the change in offensive direction but if Smith and Angelo were not in the same paragraph (this went beyond just being on the same page), forget 2010.

He knows what hes doing, Cutler said of Smith. Hes leading us. He set the goals at the beginning of the year, and he hasnt let us forget them.

Fine stuff

Last Mondays Bears-Vikings game is turning expensive for defensive backs assigned to blitz quarterbacks.

Safety Major Wright will have to pony up 15,000 for his rough treatment of Minnesota quarterback Joe Webb, an NFL official confirmed. And cornerback Antoine Winfield drew a 7,500 fine for his hit on Cutler Monday night that saw his helmet go up under Cutlers chin and cause a cut that required stitches to close. Winfield also was fined 10,000 for a uniform violation involving the height of his socks, according to a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Somehow something is amiss when the height of hit on a player remains less serious, financially speaking, than the height of socks.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

How Bears’ new coaching structure will help decide quarterback competition

How Bears’ new coaching structure will help decide quarterback competition

Let’s make one thing clear: When it comes down to making the final decision between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, Bears head coach Matt Nagy will have the loudest and final voice.

Whichever quarterback earns Nagy’s trust in executing the plays he plans on calling against the Lions in Week 1 will earn the starting job in Detroit on Sept. 13.

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But over the next four weeks at Halas Hall, it will be a collaborative effort among a restructured coaching staff to execute a fair and thorough competition. Besides Nagy, there are three other significant coaching voices with day-to-day influence in the biggest decision of the season. Here’s a look at each one of their roles:

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor

This isn’t the first time Lazor has helped facilitate a competition involving Nick Foles. In 2013, Lazor was the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, where Foles competed against Michael Vick and rookie Matt Barkley. Vick won the job out of training camp, but it was Foles who went to the Pro Bowl that year.

“When the decision was made that Michael Vick would start, there was no blinking for Nick. He just kept going, kept going,” Lazor said. “He got in the fourth game of the year, I believe at Denver, threw a touchdown pass. But then when Michael got hurt in the fifth game and Nick went in, he just took off and kept getting better and better and better. So I guess that would be the biggest thing as a coach that it didn’t affect his desire to continue to improve.”

That scenario is relevant because it’s one of the many circumstances that could unfold this fall. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and cancelation of offseason practices, Foles is naturally behind Trubisky at the start of the competition because Trubisky is familiar will his teammates and worked out with many of them over the summer in the Chicago suburbs. It's also worth pointing out that Trubisky has feasted on the Bears’ Week 1 opponent – the Lions – throwing 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions with a 106.3 passer rating in five starts against Detroit.

So it’s entirely possible that Foles comes off the bench to start games for the Bears this season, and Lazor’s experience from 2013 could come in handy if the competition spills into the regular season. In fact, the two are already reminiscing.

“Yesterday, he reminded me of something that I had said back in 2013 and it was really a cool experience for me,” Lazor said Thursday. “He probably doesn’t even know it. He brought up a coaching point … He told me how it affected him and I guess as a teacher and as a coach, what greater compliment can you get than for one of the guys who played for you to tell you that something you said that many years ago, he still remembers it today.”

Lazor is in his first season with the Bears and will have an entire offense to oversee (while also taking on some responsibilities that Nagy is shedding) but he will certainly have a voice in the daily evaluation of both quarterbacks.

Passing game coordinator Dave Ragone

While Lazor arrives on the coaching staff with previous experience with Foles, it’s Ragone who has intimate knowledge of Trubisky. He was involved in the original scouting of Trubisky coming out of college and was his quarterbacks coach for his first three seasons. They remain very close.

But Ragone is in a new role now, one that until Thursday, hadn’t been very well defined to the public.

“It’s one where being able to work hand-in-hand with Coach Lazor from the logistics of putting things together, to working with Coach Nagy, as well things that he had to do that were on his plate in the past and have now been passed forward to Coach Lazor, and obviously with my help as well, to get those things rolling,” Ragone said. “To me, being in this league as a coach now for a little bit of time here, having a chance to move into a coordinator role was something I thought was a great opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of.”

But in that role, with a broader scope of the offense to oversee, Ragone won’t be as hands on with the quarterbacks as he was in the past.

“For me, watching how this plays out is more about the offense in general than just the quarterback spot,” he said. “I know that’s where the spotlight will be on, but the reality is getting the other 10 guys to be in sync with whatever quarterback is gonna be behind center is obviously all of our goal going forward.”

In other words, Ragone still has an opinion and will be evaluating the competition, but the day-to-day, hands-on execution of the competition will not fall on desk like it would in the past. In fact, he hasn’t even spoken to Trubisky much about the details of the competition yet.

“I obviously know Mitchell inside and out. At least I think I do. It's my job to oversee other things and be where I'm needed to be for Coach Lazor and Coach Nagy,” Ragone said. “The conversations with Mitchell are more so how's my family, how are my kids? It's been those type of conversations. To me, it's not my role to get into those conversations with him right now.”

Still, Ragone’s relationship with Trubisky and his library of the quarterback’s performances over the last three seasons will be helpful in the evaluation.

Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo

When it comes to the day-to-day execution of the competition, Nagy will rely heavily on DeFilippo, who enters his first season as the Bears’ quarterbacks coach. After two years of mixed results as an offensive coordinator (with the Vikings/Kirk Cousins in 2018 and Jaguars/Foles/Gardner Minshew in 2019), DeFilippo returns to a comfortable role in which he’s enjoyed success. The last time he was a quarterbacks coach, he helped Foles become a Super Bowl MVP with the Eagles in 2017. He was such a hot commodity at the time that he interviewed for the Bears head coaching gig that Nagy received.

Now, DeFilippo will play a huge role in helping Nagy pick his starting quarterback.

“I’ve got an idea of what I’m going to do to take it one step further than a normal practice that I’ve graded when we have an established starter,” DeFilippo said. “We’re going to take it to the next level a little bit in terms of accuracy, in terms of timing, decision making. We’re going to not just grade whether the ball was completed or not. We’re going to try to divulge into, OK, who’s the more accurate guy, who threw it on time, maybe who was the more mobile guy, who got us the first down with his feet? Little things that you have to make sure of for both guys.”

Much like Nagy, DeFilippo operates with an energetic swagger and confidence that rarely wanes. You can see why the head coach hired him to oversee what they knew would be a competition before the Bears even traded for Foles. While Nagy will make the final decision, it’s obvious he is delegating more this season, and DeFilippo has earned the trust to execute the day-to-day operation of the competition. No one will be around the quarterbacks more than DeFilippo.

“The definition of the quarterback coach, to me, is eliminating as much gray area as you can so the quarterback can play fast,” DeFilippo said. “So if you ask me the definition of my job, that’s my job. So I like to bring a lot of passion, energy and swagger every day to the field. I think it does rub off on our players … I’m not afraid to get after a guy if he’s doing wrong. I’m not afraid to pat a guy on the back. I just think that when you’re the same guy every day, whether you’re going through a four-game losing streak, four-game winning streak, whatever, I think the players respect that every day if you’re the same guy with the energy, passion and swagger at your job. And that’s what I like out of our guys as well — they’re the same guy every day.”

There certainly are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. But there’s only so much space available in a socially distant quarterback room. At least now, the roles of the coaching staff are better defined.

And when Sept. 13 comes around, there’s no doubt it will be Nagy making the call.

 

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Bears, Chuck Pagano thrilled about 'great competitions' forming in secondary

Bears, Chuck Pagano thrilled about 'great competitions' forming in secondary

Right now, the Bears know they have a good amount of depth in their secondary. After that is when things get uncertain. 

Between now and September 13th, the Bears have to figure out who's going to start next to Eddie Jackson, who's going to start across from Kyle Fuller, and who's going to fill in when (or if, but, you know) that first soft-tissue injury pops up. Depth and quality are by no means synonymous, but there's a lot of optimism inside Halas Hall that 2020's group of DBs are a special unit. 

RELATED: Bears 53-man Roster Projection (And 16-player Practice Squad)

"We've got a safety situation where we've got great competition back there," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said during a call with media on Thursday afternoon. "We've got it at corner. For that matter, we always talk about, it's young guys' jobs to come in here and take old guys' jobs and it's old guys' jobs – veteran guys that have jobs – to hold those guys off. There's computation everywhere." 

Still – from the sounds of it, the situation at corner isn't as murky as it's been made to be. Though many expected 2020 second-round pick Jaylon Johnson to win the CB2 job as a rookie, the odds are stacked pretty heavily against him right now; not only is Johnson still limited coming off shoulder surgery, but Pagano admitted that getting up to speed this quickly, under these circumstances, is a tall task. With vets like Buster Skrine, Kevin Toliver, and Artie Burns, the Bears feel like they have at least a little bit of time to let Johnson find his rhythm. 

"They are starting behind the 8-ball, so to speak," he said. "Fortunately, we’re pretty deep at that spot ... so the good thing is it’s not like he has to come in and he has to be the No. 2 or No. 3 guy right now." 

Behind them is where the real competition is, apparently. Technically Deon Bush is the incumbent, but he's been a special teams guy for the majority of his time in Chicago. The team signed Taushaun Gipson back in April, and conventional wisdom pointed towards Gipson and his 23 career interceptions (Bush: 0) getting the nod. But as Phase 2 of the Bears' ramp-up gets underway, that job's as open as any on the roster. 

RELATED: How The Bears' New Coaching Structure Will Decide The QB Competition 

"When we talked to Tashaun about coming, we laid it all out there and we talked to Deon, and we we said, ‘Here’s how it’s going to roll,'" Pagano said. "They’re going to get an equal number of snaps with the 1's and they’re going to have to come in here and compete day after day after day. It’s going to be a little bit different, obviously, with no preseason but we’re going to create the competition and create the situations to where we can do an honest eval on those guys and give them both an opportunity to win that job."