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Bears Coach Lovie Smith Wants Better Deal

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AP
All Lovie Smith wants is a fair deal to coach the Chicago Bears. He thinks he'll get one, but how long it takes is an entirely different question. In Smith's first public comments since his agent, Frank Bauer, said the two sides were at a stalemate in negotiations, Smith said he expected to get a more lucrative deal after his contract runs out next season.

"Of course I don't like being the lowest-paid coach in the league," he said Friday at the annual NFL scouting combine. "I'd like to be in a different position. I look at it like I won't be in that position long."

Smith, the 2005 NFL coach of the year, led the Bears to a 15-4 record and their first NFC championship in more than two decades last season before they lost 29-17 to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. He has one year remaining on his current deal, which paid him $1.35 million in 2006.

He is scheduled to make $1.45 million next year.

Smith said he wants to coach the Bears for the rest of his career and that team president Ted Phillips has told him Chicago wants to keep him.

For that reason, Smith remains optimistic they eventually will reach an agreement.

"Sometimes, with a contract, it takes time," Smith said. "But I'm confident we'll get it done."

Phillips issued a statement earlier this week saying the team wants to keep the negotiations private and declined to comment other than to say the Bears hoped to keep Smith.

Smith's contract isn't the only coaching issue.

Since the Super Bowl three weeks ago, Smith's staff has also undergone a dramatic makeover.

Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who was interviewed for several head coaching vacancies, left to become the linebackers coach at San Diego. Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson left to accept the same position in Dallas and the Bears have announced defensive line coach Don Johnson and assistant offensive line coach Harold Goodwin would not return.

Smith had already promoted Bob Babich from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator and announced Friday the hiring of Hardy Nickerson, who played for Smith at Tampa Bay, as the Bears' new linebacker coach. He also said Brick Haley of Mississippi State had been hired as the team's new defensive line coach.

"I really appreciate the contributions Ron, Wade, Don and Harold have made and all the things they've done for this program," Smith said. "But we're going in a different direction. Hardy is a guy I've known for a number of years, and I always wanted him on our staff here. Change is always a part of the process."

But as much as Smith joked about the team's needs in the draft, continued to back Rex Grossman as his starter and tried to dispel any notion of controversy about the negotiations, the discussion kept returning to Smith's future in Chicago.

Smith said he would not set a deadline for reaching an extension, only that he hoped the two sides could reach a deal soon.

"When you get down to reality, the reality is I have one year on my contract and I don't have a contract after that," Smith said. "I'd like to get it done. I don't see why it won't be. I think we'll be able to get something done."