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Columnist
Bears' Smith still has plenty to prove
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 6/10/2009 12:00 AM

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The Sporting News pushed some buttons around here with its rankings of NFL button pushers.

Lovie Smith is listed 20th among the league's 32 head coaches, a rousing vote of disrespect from the panel of former scouts.

Most disparaging is placing Smith six spots behind Mike Singletary and two behind Dick Jauron.

The overall list is unimpressive. More quality coaches are sitting out - Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, Jon Gruden, even Bill Parcells - than are on the sideline.

Funny, but many fans and media members who grouse about Smith's coaching during the season feel compelled to defend his lowly status during the off-season.

It's sort of like, "Hey, leave Lovie alone, he's a mediocre coach, sure, but he's our mediocre coach."

Personally I'm not a big fan of the Bears' coach. He does little to inspire confidence in him. Now the question is whether my reservations are based on his style or his substance.

To be honest, Smith talks a little too slowly for my taste. This is a fast-talking town, a Mike Ditka-Ozzie Guillen-Lou Piniella loudmouth town.

Should that matter? No, not as long as Smith's performance wins Super Bowls.

Supporters point to Smith's regular-season record. The Bears are 40-24 under him the past four years, second only to the Giants' 41-23 under Tom Coughlin (who The Sporting News ranks No. 2).

However, sometimes a coach creates the numbers and sometimes the numbers create the coach.

You can, as they say, throw out the record book anyway. These rankings project what coaches will do rather than reflect what they have done.

Some prophets believe Smith is among the NFL's most endangered coaches, along with the Cowboys' Wade Phillips and the Bills' Jauron

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo would disagree. He still believes Smith is the right man for the right job at the right time.

Ironically, Smith will have to win big this year essentially because Angelo gave him an allegedly franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler.

The sentiment should be, "Smith has a quarterback, so the Bears are on their way." Instead it is, "Smith has a quarterback, but can he figure out how to use him?"

Most interesting is that most observers would feel comfortable entrusting a roster upgrade to most coaches who had a 40-24 record the previous four seasons.

Yet doubts must abound about Lovie Smith if he's the 20th-best NFL coach in one survey and among the most vulnerable in another.

A Bears' tenure of relative success hasn't convinced everybody about Smith despite his solid won-lost record.

Apparently there isn't much confidence nationally in Smith's game planning, in-game adjustments and ability to motivate.

Around here there are questions about his choice of assistants, from staying with Ron Turner to dispatching Ron Rivera for Bob Babich to now taking a hands-on approach to that dang Cover-2 defense to which he's devoted.

Whatever it is, after five seasons doubts remain.

Lovie Smith still has to prove to some inside Chicago - and many outside - that he can push the new and supposedly improved buttons Jerry Angelo has provided him.

mimrem@dailyherald.com