Ten years ago, Lovie Smith completed his final season with the Chicago Bears, going 10-6 but failing to make the playoffs. While a disappointing end to a promising season, most felt it was enough to save his job. They were mistaken. New GM Phil Emery used the postseason miss as the pretext for firing the head coach. He would eventually replace Smith with former CFL champion Marc Trestman. It was a decision many, even at the time warned was a big mistake.
From 2004 to 2012, the Bears had five winning seasons under Smith. Since his departure in 2013, they’ve had one winning season since then. So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that George McCaskey and others in the organization would be interested in bringing back the standard Smith established. In speaking to Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian, Adam Jahns of The Athletic discovered that the organization instantly saw shades of him when they interviewed Matt Eberflus last month.
Eberflus’ HITS philosophy resonated with the Bears and Polian. The loafing grading system had returned, albeit under an acronym based on hustle, intensity, taking the ball away and playing smart.
“It’s exactly the same,” Polian remembered thinking. “I was very familiar with it.”
It was similar to what the Colts had under Dungy, and the Bears implemented under Smith. The Bears were drawn back to it.
“It’s all put in place to quantify a lot of things — quantify production, No. 1, but really quantify effort,” said Dungy, whose Colts defeated Smith’s Bears in Super Bowl XLI. “That’s the thing you’re looking for is to get that extra effort.”
People can question Smith about some of the mistakes he made in Chicago.
They could never question how hard he got his players to play. The Bears were a relentless team in those days. They swarmed on defense and pounded the ball on offense. Not enough people to this day give Smith the credit he deserves for getting that team to a Super Bowl in 2006 with Rex Grossman at quarterback, especially when Aaron Rodgers has failed to do the same for the past ten years.
One thing that became clear is how poorly coaches like Trestman, John Fox, and Matt Nagy were at setting a high standard for players. They weren’t good at holding people accountable, which led to constant mistakes and a lot of losing. That is going to change under Eberflus just like it did under Smith. Whether players like it or not, they will be graded on everything they do. If they’re not giving 100% on every play, they’ll hear about it.
Eberflus has a chance to succeed where Lovie Smith failed
For all the great things he did in Chicago, Smith’s greatest weakness was the offense. Part of that was getting saddled with mostly below-average quarterbacks. However, the coach can’t escape responsibility for the failures. He ran through four different offensive coordinators during his run. None of them left for promotions elsewhere. They were outright replaced. Smith’s impatience played a big role in why scoring points was always a challenge.
Eberflus made it clear by hiring Luke Getsy that his plan is different. There is no fancy scheme he is trying to employ. He wanted somebody that could get the most out of the players on the roster. Getsy shares a similar philosophy. Coaches like that tend to find success. Add in Justin Fields with his exceptional physical gifts, which could be something far different. Something Lovie Smith wishes he could’ve had.
One thing is clear.
The coming year will see several players on the current roster exposed as below the Bears’ new standard. Smith did the same thing. After 2004, several players ended up either cut or allowed to walk in free agency because they failed to give the necessary effort. Eberflus is about to do the same. Exactly as the McCaskeys hope.