In the calm of his hands - lovie vs Ditka
In the calm of his hands
We may not like it, but Smith's anti-Ditka coaching style just what this team needs
By rick telenader
Nobody loves Lovie. The drumbeat is constant: Get rid of Lovie Smith! Get rid of Lovie Smith!
Why is that?
The Bears coach is in his seventh season. He has led the team to a 3-0 start, and his regular-season record is 48-35.
His teams have finished first in the NFC North Division twice and second once. He has taken the Bears to the playoffs three times and the Super Bowl once.
Only two coaches in Bears history have won more games than Lovie. The first is a fellow named George Halas, the guy who helped start the NFL, and who last coached in 1967. If you remember Papa Bear growling on the sidelines, you're -- how shall we put this? -- not young.
The other coach?
And there's the rub.
Ditka looms over all Bears coaches, after Halas, the way a grizzly bear hovers over a flock of pandas.
Even at 70, Ditka's in full battle mode. He's everywhere on radio and TV during football season. He has ads and endorsements galore. He hasn't led the Bears in almost two decades, but he's such a Chicago icon that citizens nearly swoon when they see him in person (trust me on this), and for the last few weeks all anyone has wanted to know is if he's going to run for mayor.
''No!'' he roars. ''I'm a Florida resident!'' (Like his Gold Coast apartment doesn't count. Or he couldn't get an Illinois driver's license in 15 minutes.)
Anyway, you can call it the ''Ditka Effect,'' the reason why passionate Chicago fans have so little love for Lovie.
Ditka, for God's sake, is still called ''Da Coach'' in our city. And his status as the only supreme deity worthy of worship by the beer-swilling, sausage-clogged, syntax-challenged Bears Super-Fans of ''Saturday Night Live'' fame continues unabated.
As the only Bears coach to win a Super Bowl, Ditka doesn't have to do anything but be ... Ditka.
His personality is over the top. His heart is the size of a townhouse. His passion is insane.
And yet the ''Ditka Effect'' is unfair to Smith.
If Lovie were like Ditka now, putting gum on a TV camera, coming to blows with his defensive coordinator during halftime of a huge game, saying an opposing player had ''the IQ of a grapefruit,'' getting a DUI during his best season ever, he would be Internet fodder beyond 40 Octomoms.
So much for 'characters'
You can't be a ''character'' anymore. Not with cell phones, political correctness and video cameras everywhere.
Can you imagine if Smith yelled at Rex Grossman the way Ditka once yelled at Bob Avellini or Jim Harbaugh?
Speaking of which, Lovie took the Bears to the Super Bowl with an average NFL quarterback, Grossman, who was more erratic than a bad toaster.
Yet Grossman had a good playoff and was overachieving until he met the real deal, name of Peyton Manning, in the Miami rain.
Critics say that was back in the 2006 season, a long time ago. Plus, going to the Super Bowl ain't like winning it. And this coach is a stone-faced statue on the sideline with the emotional exuberance of someone in a hospital-induced coma. All this in a fiery football city.
But even as Lovie irritated reporters Thursday after practice, saying almost nothing of substance about the demotion of former Pro Bowler Tommie Harris -- and, of course, saying that in a near monotone -- there was something about his behavior that could be linked to the undefeated start.
Call it consistency. Call it unflappabiltity. Call it fairness.
Ditka himself has said that he wished at times he had a little more consistency, an evenness of character. He knows the 1985 Bears -- at that moment, and perhaps forever, the greatest NFL team ever -- should have progressed and gone to more Super Bowls.
Long ride became a quick trip
''Me, I thought somebody had just invented this giant merry-go-round, and we were going to ride forever,'' Da Coach has said. ''Then it all sort of ended.''
Hall of Famer and Super Bowl XX defensive end Dan Hampton has been even more blunt. ''Shame on us,'' he said in reflection.
Football is an erratic, chaotic, stress-laden game. Calmness at the wheel can be a wondrous gift to the crew, if not to observers ashore.
''Lovie is the same whether things are going good or going bad,'' safety Chris Harris says. ''He's not vindictive, and it's not in his character to scream. He doesn't yell. He treats everybody like a man.''
Harris adds that he played for an emotional coach, John Fox, with the Carolina Panthers.
''There are different ways to coach,'' Harris says. ''To each his own.''
Indeed, the Bears are not upset with the way Smith deactivated Harris and once-starting receiver Devin Aromashodu. That's how it goes, the players say. Perform, or look out. It's the NFL.
''We talk to all our guys the same way,'' Lovie said after practice Thursday, sunglasses concealing his eyes, a blue Bears cap with the words ''WORLD CHAMPIONS'' on the peak.
Calm. Inscrutable. With an excitement meter that goes to 3.
But that's Lovie.
Maybe it's up to us to deal with it.