Disparate Reactions on Bears Coaching Swaps

One man's savvy move is another's sign of desperation

Yesterday, Lovie Smith announced, in semi-confusing terms, that he would be taking "a larger hand in" calling plays for the Bears' defense. Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich, though retaining his title as coordinator, would be demoted to coaching the linebackers again, the job that won him the coordinator spot in the first place. And recent hire Rod Marinelli would be overseeing the defensive line.

Sounds good, right? These are the jobs all three men are most proficient at; Smith, for all his faults as a head coach, is an extremely good defensive coordinator, and his ability to build fast, roving Cover-2 squads has never failed him. Theoretically, this is a good thing, right?

That depends on who you ask. Local media seem unusually split on the move. Take, for instance, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, who sees all good things:

The Bears won't make a smarter change this off-season. [...] On Sunday afternoons, when it's third-and-7 and the Bears' defense needs to get off the field, Smith will be the one pushing the buttons. Not Babich. That's all that matters. In putting defensive play-calling back on the table for himself, Smith did what good leaders do. He played to his staff's strengths while removing any doubt or ambiguity as to whom should be held accountable if the defense fails.

Compare that to Mike Mulligan's Sun-Times column today, in which he seems almost personally offended that Smith would take on such responsibility:

With Smith having called for accountability, you have to respect his desperate response to his own disastrous decision to run off Ron Rivera two years ago and replace him as defensive coordinator with trusted protege and bestest buddy Bob Babich. Admitting unmitigated failure had to be difficult for a man as proud as Smith. But with his credibility on the line -- dare we forget Smith's immortal words on Rivera's departure: ''You should trust me as the head football coach to put us in the best position to win games'' -- his shameless self-demotion does nothing but put everybody in the building at risk.

Whoa. Jay Mariotti called, and he wants his rhetoric back.

In any case, we find Haugh's take far more reasonable. Rather than usher in another transition under another new defensive coordinator, Smith is leveraging his own skills in as efficient a manner as possible. It's not at all rare for head coaches to also serve as offensive coordinators. It's practically the norm. There's no reason to think, as Mulligan argues, that Smith couldn't handle the dual responsibility of being both head coach and calling the plays when the defense is on the field. Why hire a new defensive coordinator when one of the league's best is already here?

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