Bears Extend Lovie through 2013
In the mood for Lovie
By TOM MUSICK - firstname.lastname@example.org
The coach from Big Sandy, Texas, could be gearing up to cash another big check.
The Bears’ top priority heading into an uncertain offseason will be to extend the contract of coach Lovie Smith, whose current deal is set to expire after the 2011 season.
That might prompt debate among those who have ripped Smith for his in-game decisions and his low-key demeanor, but there is no debate at Halas Hall about Smith’s value.
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo made that clear after Smith’s team went 11-5 in the regular season and advanced to the NFC Championship Game before losing, 21-14, to the Green Bay Packers. It was Smith’s second conference title game in the past five years.
“We very much want to extend Lovie [for] the job he has done and his staff,” said Angelo, whose contract as general manager expires after the 2013 season. “Our intent is to extend Lovie. … That will be part of the business at hand in these next several weeks.”
But how many years – and how many millions – will it require to extend Smith?
Four years ago, Smith was at the peak of his profession. He had won his second division title and led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI on the strength of his “Tampa 2” defense.
The Indianapolis Colts beat the Bears in the Super Bowl, but Smith’s job was secure. Less than a month after the Super Bowl, the Bears signed Smith to a four-year extension for about $5 million a season, which made him one of the league’s highest-paid coaches.
A three-year playoff drought put Smith’s job in jeopardy.
A well-timed resurgence led Smith back toward the jackpot.
The Bears’ coach notoriously is tight-lipped in the news media, and the odds of him discussing a contract extension are about as good as the odds of him becoming a backup dancer. Yet the Bears offer one of the elite coaching jobs in the NFL, and it’s clear Smith wants to stay.
“I love being the head football coach of the Chicago Bears every day I’ve been here,” Smith said after the NFC title game.
“And [I] hope to be there for many years to come.”
It’s tough to say how many years that might include.
One option is for the Bears to extend Smith’s contract through 2013, which would put him on the same track as Angelo. But Smith might seek at least to match his previous extension of four years, which would keep him under contract through 2015 or longer.
Regardless, Smith won’t come cheap.
A recent report by Forbes named New England’s Bill Belichick as the NFL’s highest-paid coach with a salary of more than $7 million a year. The Washington Redskins signed Mike Shanahan last season to a five-year deal worth $7 million a year, while the Seattle Seahawks lured Pete Carroll away from USC with a five-year deal worth about $6.6 million a season.
Lower-profile coaches such as Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio (five years, $25 million) and Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt (four years, $24 million) also made the Forbes report.
Smith, 52, has averaged nine wins a season since the Bears hired him in 2004. That puts him ahead of Carroll, Del Rio and Whisenhunt, and he could seek to be paid accordingly.
That would be fine by Smith’s players, who praised him for the Bears’ quick turnaround.
“I give him a huge amount of credit,” said Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who echoed his teammates’ sentiments. “I don’t think anyone gave us a chance but the people in this building. We believed in ourselves. He believed in us more than anybody.”
Bears bits: The Bears named Mike Phair as their new defensive line coach Thursday. Phair, who spent last season as a defensive assistant with the Seahawks, replaced former defensive line coach Eric Washington, who took the same job with the Carolina Panthers.