GLENDALE, Ariz. The real question lurking underneath the Bears 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals may not be whether or not it ultimately gets the Bears into the playoffs. It could have advanced that, if the Bears defeat the Detroit Lions next Sunday and the Green Bay Packers are kind enough to dispose of the Minnesota Vikings.
More important for the longer run is how the performance is weighed and assessed by decision-makers at Halas Hall visavis Lovie Smiths future.
Did the game in Arizona help or hurt Lovie Smiths chances of remaining Bears head coach for 2013?
Right now the answer isyes. More on that in a moment.
Understand the full process here, because it has not played out yet and wont until after next Sunday in Detroit. Scenarios have been considered, just like mock drafts, and the what-ifs weighed, but nothing is settled one way or the other.
Various individuals tell CSNChicago.com that Virginia McCaskey has been involved in decisions such as retaining Smith last year and will be a voice in the room again.
Of course she will. Shes on the board of directors and she is ownership. She is a non-meddling owner as well, so she is not going to dictate. Thats not her style.
But she will be among those who will rightly want a full and clear explanation of why Smith should be fired. If it is the conclusion of GM Phil Emery or anyone else that a change is needed, that case will have to be made and made convincingly. This is not one persons call.
In other words, some very important names on the Bears masthead will need to be conclusively sold that the head coach is the major problem and impediment to franchise success.
Smith is held in very high regard by Mrs. McCaskey and the organization overall for that matter. Hes brought credit to the organization, if not enough of it to satisfy some, and has represented Bear football admirably in their eyes.
Of course, some of the same could have been said about Jerry Angelo, too, and he was abruptly escorted from his job and the building after 11 years. Dick and Gail Jauron were thought of very highly by board members.
The Bears wont necessarily owe Smith 6 million if they choose to fire him. NFL coaching contracts typically call for the remaining amount to be mitigated by the salary of a subsequent job. If Smith leaves and is hired as an NFL head coach for, say, 5 million, the Bears owe the difference, the 1 million.
Which way trending?
Money wont be a significant element in the discussion, as it was a year ago when the amount at risk was 11 million. But other on-field aspects will be.
Organizations evaluate in large part based on where they project a situation leading. Smith could be 18 games over .500 for his Chicago career with a 10-6 finish, and firing someone with a 10-6 record is not the norm.
More important, however, is how Phil Emery and the board of directors perceive the Bears trend line. The Bears could not hold the Seattle game because the defense, Smiths forte, was put on roller skates for two touchdown drives totaling near 200 yards at the end of regulation and early overtime.
Emery got Smith the receiving firepower requested, with the trade for Brandon Marshall and drafting of Alshon Jeffery. Will Emery and the organization be satisfied with what Smith and his offensive staff have done with what they were given?
And the tipping point is whether or not the gap has been closed between the Bears and Green Bay Packers.
But the defense rose up against the inferior Arizona Cardinals and you are left to wonder how much weight the evaluation process will place on the defense holding that team to 248 yards.
Or the offense failing to top 300 yards for the fifth time in the last seven.
Or special teams giving up a touchdown and putting the offense in a hole with a botched punt return.
It will all be taken into account. If you dont like Lovie Smith, the sometimes-balky performance is one more reason to fire him.
If you think he should get at least the last year on his deal, the play of Julius Peppers and others says you wait until after the Detroit game to decide.
That has always been the Bears way, in any case.