By Dan Bernstein--
The "Fire Lovie" guys may have their candidate.
Even after a surprising division title in a must-win year, and even after GM Jerry Angelo indicated his desire to extend Lovie Smith's contract, the Bears' head coach remains largely distrusted by fans who have grown tired of him.
It is clear that there were as many of his detractors lying dormant as there were those of Jay Cutler. That crowd has begun to stir, reawakened and emboldened by the team's poor performance in the NFC championship.
A Tribune poll yesterday asked if Smith deserves an extension. 69% of respondents answered "no."
So we're not talking about just the billboard-raising halfwits, here. The shaky loss to the Packers was all it took for a snap-back to previously-held positions – a return to the comfortable surroundings of the tribal camp.
Lucky year, Cutler's a quitter, Lovie sucks. The world of the self-hating Bears fans restored, at least as they choose to perceive it.
The only thing needed was an alternative to Smith, and it has arrived in the form of Jeff Fisher. He and the Titans parted ways yesterday, and the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL is now available. A Bear for five years and a member of the 1985 champs (he was on IR), Fisher's resume includes the requisite bona fides: connection to Chicago, apprenticeship under Buddy Ryan, oft-expressive personality, and coaching 'stache.
If Fisher is content to spend a season observing, waiting for the next round of firings as he's surreptitiously courted by owners and GMs, the groundswell here will build.
It may be impetus, even, for Angelo to extend Smith. Angelo's decision to slide the news of that intention into the Cutler frenzy was made for a reason, but the effect was not the one intended. Though he thought it would siphon away some of the negative attention from his quarterback, it actually provided cover from the Smith-doubters who only now are realizing "Wait…what?"
Unlike most situations we're used to that devolve into polarized shouting matches and cherry-picked facts, the question of Smith's future actually includes a refuge for smart people. Smith has another year left on his deal, and he could simply be allowed to complete his contract. He wins, he's extended, and the yes/no, binary judgment on Smith is delayed a year, essentially.
Whether Fisher would even represent an upgrade is debatable. He has the same Super Bowl loss to his credit, and a 5-6 playoff record in the six postseason appearances in his 16 full years on the job. His career mark with the Oilers/Titans was 142-120. Smith has a better winning percentage, both in regular-season and playoffs.
But that's beside the point. All Fisher has to be is acceptable enough, and Not Lovie.
Amazingly, we are already close to being back to where we were at this point last year. The last six months have been a whirlwind of football drama: the frightening, winless preseason, the surprising start, the horror of the Giants game, two bad home losses, the post-bye-week reinvention, opponents offering third-string QBs for sacrifice, two good home wins, the dismantling of Seattle, the Packer debacle, and, finally, the attack on Jay Cutler's character by the NFL Twitter-piranhas, who stripped the flesh off his bones in a blink.
All that. Has anything really changed?
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