Lack of Talent or Just Bad Coaching?....................
Flaw with Bears the roster, or Smith's ability to get most out of it?
Perhaps Phillips didn't go far enough in his shake-up
David Haugh's In the Wake of the News 11:07 p.m. CST, January 16, 2012
On the day after the Giants interviewed Tom Coughlin for their head-coaching position in December 2003, they discussed the job for four hours with Lovie Smith.
In a St. Louis hotel suite, Smith impressed former Giants Vice President Ernie Accorsi by handing him a meticulously detailed calendar for the coming year that accounted for every day. Smith displayed vision and spoke with passion.
Coughlin's experience established him as the clear front-runner, but Accorsi later told the New York Daily News that Smith's presentation, "made our decision a lot more complicated."
Back in Chicago, the Bears never seriously considered putting Coughlin on their short list of head-coaching candidates because circumstances made it hard to imagine him working for the general manager who fired Coughlin's close friend Dick Jauron.
The Giants hired Coughlin on Jan. 6, 2004 — but only after then-LSU coach Nick Saban withdrew. Nine days later, the Bears introduced Smith as head coach.
Coughlin has won a Super Bowl, gone 74-54 in the regular season and 6-3 in the postseason while making the playoffs five times. Smith has been Super Bowl runner-up, gone 71-57 in the regular season and 3-3 in the postseason while making the playoffs three times.
Despite spending more time on the hot seat, Coughlin never let injuries or inconsistency along the offensive line and staff turnover impede progress the way Smith has too often after the 2006 season.
They represent two of the steadiest head coaches in the NFC in the last decade, but the ring and playoff regularity make it easy to conclude the Giants made the right choice when comparing the best from the Class of 2004.
It was impossible not to reminisce about this intersection in coaching history Sunday night in the Lambeau Field press box, watching Coughlin's Giants do what Smith declared on Day 1 would be his top priority for the Bears: Beat the Packers. Again.
If Smith enjoyed as much success in Green Bay as Coughlin has, I doubt he would have spent his eighth anniversary of becoming an NFL head coach watching the playoffs at home. (By the way, Bears fans, anniversary No. 8 is bronze if you're shopping.)
A stunning 37-20 victory — the most significant moment in the NFL postseason, Tim Tebow highlights included — made Coughlin 2-0 in the playoffs at Lambeau and 3-3 against the Packers during his Giants tenure. Smith, in contrast, dropped below .500 against the Packers with four losses in the 2011 calendar year, making him 8-9 in rivalry games.
In beating the Packers when it matters most, and in other ways, the Giants under Coughlin have become what the Bears wanted to be under Smith. The Giants developed a franchise quarterback in Eli Manning they acquired in a draft day trade in 2004 and won a Super Bowl with him complementing a fierce, attacking defense and a strong ground game.
The Bears thought they were taking a page from the book of Eli with Rex Grossman after winning the NFC in 2006, but gave up on Grossman three games into the '07 season when it seemed Smith started throwing darts at a board to pick quarterbacks. Eventually offensive experimentation gave way to the Jay Cutler Era, which I wholeheartedly endorse but has produced one playoff appearance in three seasons.
Seeing the Giants dominate their second straight playoff game after going 9-7 made me wonder if any skittish people at Halas Hall second-guessed the firing of Jerry Angelo. Three of the four weekend playoff games served as an endorsement for the style of football the Bears embraced during the Angelo regime.
The Bears badly lack a No. 1 deep threat Angelo neglected, but the role defense and the running game played in postseason victories suggested the Bears, as constituted, might be closer to being a playoff team than many thought.
Look closely at the Giants' depth chart before you scoff. Which team has the better core of players when healthy?
Julius Peppers. Brian Urlacher. Lance Briggs. Cutler. Matt Forte. Devin Hester. Charles Tillman. Roberto Garza.
Justin Tuck. Osi Umenyiora. Jason Pierre-Paul. Eli Manning. Brandon Jacobs. Hakeem Nicks. Victor Cruz. Chris Snee.
The number of core players the Giants drafted stands out more than any disparity in talent. The Bears draft-day misses fall on Angelo, the same GM who acquired Cutler and signed Peppers, and he paid for those mistakes with his job.
But the surging success of the Giants suggests the flaw with the Bears might not be as much with Angelo's roster as in Smith's ability to get the most out of it. Did team President Ted Phillips go too far in forcing change two weeks ago, or not far enough?
If I am one of the men interviewing this week for the Bears' GM job, that question will frame every other one that comes up.
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