Lovie Smith and The Search

Posted: January 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 51 Comments »

News broke last night that the Eagles had met with Brian Kelly and plan to talk to him again.  I did a lot of research on Kelly, but need time to write that out.  For now let’s focus on Lovie Smith, who the Eagles will interview today.

I don’t think I need to get into Lovie’s background too much.  He was a LBs coach in college for a decade.  He then coached DBs for a few years before breaking into the NFL as the LBs coach for Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy with the Bucs in 1996.

In 2001 Mike Martz hired Lovie to be the DC for the Rams.  In 2000, the Rams had finished 23rd in yards and 31st in points.  Martz knew they needed help.  Lovie delivered immediate results.  The Rams were 3rd in yards and 7th in points in his first season.  They went to the Super Bowl.  The defense fell to the middle of the pack in the next couple of years.  The defense did lead the NFL in takeaways in 2003 (9th in 2001).

Lovie got the HC job with the Bears in 2004.  He inherited a team some good pieces in place, but also Kordell Stewart and Chris Chandler as the primary QBs.  The defense was mediocre and 28th in takeaways.

In 2004 the defense remained mediocre, but jumped up to 16th in takeaways.  In 7 of the 8 years since then, the Bears have been no worse than 8th.  They did have one “bad” season where the team fell all the way down to 12th.  The horror, the horror.

The defense has been up and down in terms of yards and points, but the takeaways have always been there.  That is something Lovie teaches and preaches.  The defensive struggles happened when DC Ron Rivera left the team to go to San Diego.  Lovie replaced him with Bob Babich and the results were poor to mediocre.  In 2010 Lovie hired Rod Marinelli and the defense went back to posting good numbers.

If you take away the Babich years, Lovie’s record looks very good:

2004 – 5-11
2005 – 11-5
2006 – 13-3
2010 – 11-5
2011 – 8-8
2012 – 10-6

The Babich years (2007-09) were 7-9, 9-7, and 7-9. Babich remains on Lovie’s staff now and is a good positional assistant, but he wasn’t a good DC.

The big issue with Lovie is obviously offense. The Bears were 23rd or worse in yards all but one year. The good season, they finished 15th. They did finish 2nd in scoring in 2006, but that was heavily affected by defensive and STs TDs. The Bears were Top 20 in scoring 6 times under Lovie. That’s not good, but it’s better than the offensive yards. The reason for the improved scoring is still defense and STs.

There are 3 primary issues with the offensive problems:

1 – poor OL
2 – erratic QB play
3 – lack of dynamic skill players

You might wonder about coaching, since Lovie had 4 OCs in his time with the Bears. I think the problems with the players caused him to make coaching changes and try different things. It is sort of a chicken or the egg issue.

The OL that went to the Super Bowl was made up of veteran players. 4 of the 5 were acquired by the Bears. Only C Olin Kreutz was drafted. I think a lot of blame must be placed on GM Jerry Angelo. The Bears only spent 2 Top 100 picks on OL in Lovie’s tenure. They drafted OT Chris Williams and OT Gabe Carimi in the 1st round. Beyond that, they loaded up in the late rounds.

Williams was a player I loved coming out of Vandy. The Eagles liked him quite a bit. Word came out prior to the draft that he had major medical red flags (back) and a lot of teams, including the Eagles, didn’t have him on their draft board. Williams was a total bust with the Bears and cut back in November. Carimi is a young guy the team has at RT and hopes will become a top player.

The 2012 Bears had a 7th rounder at LT, a free agent signee at LG, a veteran FA at C, a 7th rounder at RG, and Carimi at RT. Those free agents weren’t splash signings. We’re talking about Chilo Rachal and Roberto Garza. It is almost shocking to see how little the Bears care about the OL.

My guess is that Angelo controlled the draft. I always got the vibe that he was a very territorial GM. I’ll get the players, you coach ‘em up. Clearly the Eagles need to talk to Lovie about something like this in detail to find out his take on the situation.

The erratic QB play is heavily affected by poor blocking and some bad luck. Rex Grossman got hurt in both 2004 and 2005. He had shown flashes of good ability as a young QB, but couldn’t stay healthy. Rookie Kyle Orton went 10-5 as the starter in 2005 and showed promise. Grossman was healthy enough to play late in 2005 and then started the playoff game, which he lost.

Rex led the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006, despite being a turnover machine. The next year he lost the QB job to Brian Griese during the season. Kyle Orton went 2-1 as a starter that year and got the job in 2008. He went 9-6 and life seemed headed in the right direction. Then the Bears dealt for Jay Cutler in 2009. Cutler is incredibly talented, but highly erratic. In 56 games with Lovie Smith, Cutler threw 63 INTs and 82 TDs.

I don’t think Lovie always made the right decisions with his QBs. He tried to be loyal go Grossman, but Rex kept getting hurt and throwing INTs.

If you have a mediocre OL and erratic QBs, you are going to struggle to move the ball unless you have big time playmakers. The Bears did not. Think of all the dynamic guys the Eagles have had over the last decade. You saw Westy and Shady. Leonard Weaver was a playmaking FB. All kinds of WRs delivered big plays. Even LJ Smith once delivered a 65-yard pass play.

The Bears have had talented skill players, but something was missing. Greg Olsen was a good TE, but his long play in Chicago was 52 yards. Devin Hester is an absolute freak in space, but he has regressed in Chicago. His long plays came early on. In the last 4 years his longest pass play is 48 yards and longest run is just 11 yards. How the heck is that even possible? Johnny Knox has explosive, DeSean-like speed. In 3 years, he has 12 TD catches and has been used as a runner only once. Again…how? Poor coaching, but also erratic QB play and a crappy OL.

One factor in Lovie’s defense is that the Bears have struggled on offense for a long time. Since 1990, Chicago has been Top 10 in yards and/or points just 3 times. There have been 4 head coaches in that span. There have been numerous GMs, scouts, coordinators, and QBs. Frankly, it is shocking an organization can be that inept on one side of the ball for that long. That’s a systematic flaw.

If I’m the Eagles, I’m going to ask Lovie a lot of question about which of the situations he was specifically responsible for and how he would do things differently in the future.  I also need to hear from him what his vision for the Eagles offense would be.  The answers need to be great.  Not good, but great.  If you can’t develop and sustain an offense, you’ve got no chance to win a Super Bowl.

I do like Lovie quite a bit because his teams play hard and always are among leaders in takeaways.  That’s all about effort and gang tackling.  You can say that the takeaways are due to Peanut Tillman and those guys, but Lovie had success in St. Louis and Tampa with takeaways.  He knows how to teach players.  Tillman played one year without Lovie.  He had 2 FFs.  There’s a good chance that Lovie helped turn him into a turnover machine.

One other potential flaw with Lovie is player development on defense.  I don’t know how much of this is on him and how much is the drafting.  The Bears best players were inherited (Peanut, Urlacher, Briggs) or signed (Julius Peppers, Tim Jennings).  There is some homegrown talent in place:  DT Henry Melton, DT Stephen Paea, S Major Wright.  Guys like Chris Conte, DJ Moore, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin look like they’ll be good players.  That’s hardly a bad track record, but it isn’t as good as you might expect.  They haven’t developed a good LB in years.  They’ve got 2 studs in place, but they can’t last forever.  Tommie Harris looked like an impact player for a few years, but fell apart for various reasons.

Lovie is a good leader, communicator, and motivator.  He’s known as a Tampa 2 coach, but really has broken away from that and is much more creative than he’s given credit for.  I think he could do some really good things with the Eagles defense.  I do have serious questions about what would happen with the offense.

I don’t think Lovie is likely to be hired, but this is more than just the Eagles blindly guessing.  The man has had too much success to be taken lightly.

* * * * *

A few of you are wondering about the Eagles coaching search as it meanders on, time-wise and candidate-wise.

Here’s the deal.  There is no “must have guy” now that Chip Kelly is gone.  And even Chip wasn’t exactly that due to his lack of NFL experience.

The Eagles are truly searching for a coach.  They’re talking to as many people as possible.  I know many of you love the idea of Gus Bradley.  He is very interesting.  When Monte Kiffin called him a “once in a lifetime coach”, I don’t think Monte meant head coach.  If Monte did mean that after spending 4 years around him as a LBs coach, then Monte’s opinion should be completely dismissed.  Bradley is an outstanding assistant.  He’s a mystery as a HC.

Every year there are hot assistants.  These guys are labeled as sure-fire, can’t miss coaches.  Eric Mangini.  Josh McDaniels.  Rod Marinelli.  Steve Spagnuolo.  Marvin Lewis.  Mike Mularkey.  Gregg Williams.  And on and on.  Some fail totally.  Some fail partially.  Marvin Lewis is still trucking along in Cincy, but has a losing record for his career.  Mike Brown is either cheap or patient, I’ll let you decide.

I don’t see a candidate this year that I’m scared for the Eagles to pass on.  There is no one so compelling that you can’t believe he’s not already got the job.  I think the Eagles are wise to look around.  There are good candidates, but we aren’t seeing any great ones.  Keep looking until you find the right guy.

The search may look odd, but I do believe you’re better off expanding the scope of the search than obsessing over the Mike McCoys of the world.  Howard Eskin reported on Twitter yesterday that McCoy had a poor interview and the Eagles were no longer considering him.  I can’t confirm that, but it’s worth noting.

Don’t get worried until you hear the search is down to Juan Castillo, Marty Mornhinweg, and Jimmy Kempski.  At that point, prepare to become a Chiefs fan.

* * * * *

I’ll get up my Brian Kelly post later today.  I still have one in the works on Gus Bradley that will get posted in a day or two.  Lots of fun going back and reading about both guys since they have small school backgrounds.

* * * * *

Can’t remember if I linked to it, so here is the most recent H2H show.  We did talk Lovie, but no Brian Kelly.

_


  • Tom33

    Tommy – what do you think about Lovie as HC and someone familiar as OC (like Childress, Shurmur or even, God help me, Marty)? Is maintaining some consistency on the offensive side of the ball, especially with so many younger guys, especially at the skill positions, a good thing or are they really looking for a fresh start? I would think a guy with Lovie’s experience and track record would be less worried about keeping some of Andy’s guys around if he thought it would help him succeed. I wasn’t really a Lovie Smith fan, but the more I read and learn about him, the more I like the idea of a proven guy than an unknown. I really hope this fascination with college guys (Kelly/Kelly) with little/no NFL experience is just Lurie’s idea of an exhaustive search process and not really the direction they would want to go.

    • TommyLawlor

      The Eagles are genuinely interested in college guys. There is some logic to their thinking. I’ll get into that in the Kelly post.

      Key with Lovie is to hire a strong OC and make sure the organization is committed to a good offense. That means spending resources on the OL and skill players so that the QB can be a good player. The OC doesn’t have to be an old Reid guy. Hire someone with a strong track record. He’d essentially be the head coach of the offense.

      • morenthemiddle

        I don’t know if I would mind Marty sticking around if Lovie was head coach. Maybe he tells Marty to keep it balanced. There are games where he has called a good game and others where, well he hasn’t to be nice. He seems to be a good coach for QBs, but how much was Reid?

        • TommyLawlor

          Marty is out. Contract is up Feb 1st. No reason to fire him, but he’s out.

    • http://twitter.com/n3th3rman Christopher Miller

      Norv Turner please for OC

  • Ark87

    “There is no ‘must have guy’”
    The cause of much angst. Nobody sticks out apart from the rest. The hope is that someone distinguishes themselves in the interview (which we aren’t in on). So far I’m sure the Eagles have interviewed a ton of qualified individuals and are just making the rounds to be sure. The fan fantasy is that Lurie and Roseman meet the guy, they’re so blown away, ” Uhh, Nancy, cancel the all future appointments for the day, bring in my contract kit and book me tickets to the 2014 Superbowl, and make living arrangements for Mr. So and So will you? Thanks”

    Searching for the Eagles Messiah to take us to the promised land…apparently not going to be an obvious process….darn.

    • TommyLawlor

      How did you know about Nancy?

      • Ark87

        Wait…how do YOU know about Nancy……Nancy’s got some ‘splainin to do…

        • TommyLawlor

          Well played.

      • austinfan

        You mean Audrey Farber?

  • bdbd20

    Great discussion about Lovie.

    His defensive history is very intriguing. It would be interesting to see what he could do with a good OL and talented players at the skilled positions.

    It would be nice to actually have a defense that forces turnovers.

    • TommyLawlor

      As much as I lean offense, part of me definitely would love to see the Eagles hire a defensive guy who could put that personality on the team.

      • http://twitter.com/Khidr9 Khidr9

        I think I like the idea more for the psychological impact of the change it would bring than Lovie necessarily being a great choice. If we could find the OC version of JJ to pair him with – we could really have something. But, in a lot of ways he is sort of the anti-Andy, and since we cut ties because everyone needed a change, bringing in someone like Lovie satisfies the “culture change” mantra, while still giving us a super-experienced HC with a lot of potential.

        It’s unlikely he’s our guy, but it’s a neat thought.

        Who would be the potential OC candidates if we went with lovie, or even gus for that matter?

      • bdbd20

        Lovie-Norv or Lovie-Chilly would be nice.

  • austinfan

    To be fair to Marvin Lewis, anyone who wins in Cincinnati is a good coach, Brown is notorious not only for not paying players, but not even investing in his scouting department. So you start behind the 8 ball.

    It’s interesting that so many “hot” assistants fail, and so many successful coaches have mediocre resumes (gee, the QB coach from the Packers, the ST coach from the Eagles, etc.). One reason is simply self-selection bias, “hot” assistant coaches tend to be those from winning teams, they work for top HCs, so there’s always the question of how much they actually do on their own – the best assistants are those who go somewhere and do it on their own (or while Charmichael may want to leave New Orleans when his contract expires and OC elsewhere). Look at the poor record of Belichick’s assistants, but working for the master control freak, how much real coaching did they do?

    Lurie and Howie have a pretty good handle on the interview process, and the level of detail and knowledge they expect from candidates – it’s not the kind of job where you can take a couple years to learn the ropes, you have to hit the ground running because free agency and the draft are right around the corner – Howie wants you to articulate a clear vision of what you’re gonna do on both sides of the ball the day you’re hired. So I suspect those who go into the interview spouting generalities don’t get return phone calls.

    • TommyLawlor

      Great point about Marvin / the Bengals.

      I do trust Lurie/Howie to interview well.

      • 47_Ronin

        I’m really scratching my head…this is Roseman’s first time being in this position conducting HC interviews. What observable evidence is there to have trust in his (interview) abilities?

        IMO, this is a sink or swim situation. Either the Eagles triumvirate hire a good HC or not. We have to wait and see.

    • holeplug

      “So I suspect those who go into the interview spouting generalities don’t get return phone calls.”

      Wonder if this happened with Mike McCoy since he apparently didn’t interview well.

  • http://twitter.com/hotcakes_33 Glenn Jaffe

    What happens if they get to the point where they just enamored with the potential HC pool. Is it possible you find someone to be a placeholder for a year? I know that’s almost ludacris, but what if that’s where we are after the Super Bowl?

    • http://twitter.com/RIPworms RIP Worms

      Did you mis-spell “ludicrous” or are you advocating for hiring Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as interim Eagles head coach? ;)

      • http://twitter.com/hotcakes_33 Glenn Jaffe

        Damn auto correct. Now that I am back at my computer – it should have read they are just NOT enamored and ludicrous! At least Ludacris might fire up the D, right!

        • D3FB

          Are you kidding his main talking point to the DBs would be “MOVE BITCH GET OUT THE WAY” ie perfect for DRC

    • TommyLawlor

      I don’t know what to say about this. You don’t want to waste a year of football. Besides, there are no guarantees that the candidates will be great next year.

      If the Eagles don’t find someone they can’t live without, I’d advise them to roll the dice on someone with upside. That might be Bradley.

  • http://www.insidetheiggles.com/ CalSFro

    Kind of a random thought here, but I’m itching to talk about anything other than the coaching search right now.

    Anyways, with Devin McCourty playing pretty well at safety for the Pats these days, you guys think there’s any chance someone like Brandon Boykin could maybe do the same for us? I know it’s best if we don’t empty the cupboard at corner any further than we need to, but he seems like he has a pretty good skill-set for nickel corner/safety duties. Of course he’s not a real big guy so the question is if he could be physical enough on a regular enough basis for safety.

    • TommyLawlor

      Brandon could possibly do that, but it isn’t likely. He’s 5-9, 183. You prefer a Safety to be 5-10, 200 or bigger. Brandon can’t add weight. He’s rocked up already.

      This is a good Safety draft. Focus on them, possibly FAs. Leave Boykin in the slot.

      • Neil

        What do you think of moving brandon to outside corner? or even possibly playing him outside in base and slot in nickel?

        • D3FB

          It’s a possibility if the new defense is heavy on off man and zone. If we bring in someone like Gus Bradley, who plays a ton of press man with monster corners then no way.

      • austinfan

        Marsh is the guy they should be moving to safety if they think he can’t start at CB. Has the size and speed, and played pretty decently as a gunner on STs so he’s willing to tackle. Wonderlic was 24 I think, so he’s not some idiot who can’t figure out reads.

        A long shot, but he’s got the perfect skills for FS, and his CB experience translates well there.

  • Austin “Swoop” Powers

    But what does it all mean, Tommy?

    I’d prefer an offensive minded coach myself, but if I was going to go after a defensive guy I’d want an up and comer (“Groovy” Gus Bradley) rather than a retread HC like Lovie. Mike McCoy would be absolutely smashing baby, yeah!

  • http://www.facebook.com/xbcsmith Brett Smith

    Add Mike Mayock to the list of dudes with Phili ties screaming to get Jon Gruden the job in Phili.

    Just not a fan of a 2 year plan… I have gotten very used to being relevant for at least a decade.

    • TommyLawlor

      What did Mayock say?

      • Steag209

        It’s on Kapadia and McManus’s site

      • laeagle

        Tommy, what are your thoughts on Gruden? I was less than lukewarm on the idea at first, but am slowly warming to it:

        1. Everyone talks about what a mess he made of Tampa, but they forget how great a job he did in Oakland with Al Davis looming creepily in the background. He built a team that had at least 3 legit shots at the Super Bowl, including the one he left to Bill Calahan. In 1999, if Tony Siragusa doesn’t do a cheap shot belly flop onto Gannon to take him out of the game, maybe Oakland wins that Super Bowl. Then there was the year of the Tuck Rule. And of course the year after Chucky left. If you can build a consistent contender with Al Davis’s interfering hand reaching out from the grave to try and undermine you, that’s a pretty solid accomplishment.

        2. If you listen to Mayock, as well as a lot of the other info out there, it’s obvious that Gruden is still very much a student of the game. He’s been working to actively learn as much as he can from all of the new stuff introduced in the college game, inviting guys down to his Koresh compound in Florida. As you mentioned, he actually considered being Chip Kelly’s OC. If we’re looking for an innovator, Gruden’s pretty much at the top of the class.

        3. If you take away that first year in Tampa, and look at the rest of his years there, there’s an argument to be made that Gruden could fall into the category of guys who screwed up at one stop and learned enough to change the next time around. Belichek->Cleveland, Dungy->Tampa, how does Chucky not get the same benefit of the doubt, at his age, to have learned enough from his mistakes to be able to have a legit shot?

        4. Is there a coach out there who has more ties to people in the NFL and college than Gruden at this point? Who else could call up Monte Kiffin and have a legit shot of landing him? Who else out of the NFL ranks would know exactly what college coach to tap for positional coach or coordinator, since he invites so many to his compound every year?

        I’m just starting to think that the innovation of guys like Chip Kelly, plus the connections, plus the NFL experience and track record, plus the hunger and youth to be able to learn from mistakes, is starting to add up to a compelling argument for the elder Gruden. And you just know the press conferences would be the bomb.

        • TommyLawlor

          I’m more open to Gruden than when the process began. He’s not ideal, but there’s no doubting the man can coach.

          If he’s willing to work with Howie and be part of the Eagles, I might do it. If he wants full control and his ego really shows through in an interview, avoid him. That’s the Gruden you don’t want.

  • ACViking

    Re: McCoy’s bad interview

    T-Law:

    When you said that Eskin’s assertion was worth noting, did you mean because it may be *information* or *disinformation* . . . or both?

    • TommyLawlor

      Info. The buzz on McCoy is gone. Has to be for a reason.

      • bdbd20

        I wonder how many times he said “Payton” in the interview.

  • D-von

    Hey, Tommy this is a draft question and I just wanted your opinion on it. Do you think there will be many trade ups in the 1st round of this year’s draft? To me there is not that big of a gap between the first 10 picks and the last 22 picks in the 1st. Im pretty sure one or two teams will trade up but I think most will stand pat and let the draft come to them. I say this because a lot of Eagles fans believe we should trade back to pick up another 2nd. I doubt many teams will make that type of trade
    with us.

    • TommyLawlor

      Complicated question. The Top 5 doesn’t look great, but if you covet a certain LT or DT or whatever, you might want to move up. When there are great players, the asking price is high. With this group, might be less costly to move up 3 to 5 spots and get the guy you want.

      We’ll know more on March 1. Senior Bowl, Combine will be over. We’ll have a feel for things.

  • Jyolteon

    I don’t mean to hijack this thread, but it looks like Chip Kelly tried reaching out to Cleveland again, but he burned a lot of bridges in the NFL with the way he handled the CLE/PHI interviews. I know he’s got a huge ego, so he probably thinks he can get away with burning some bridges here and there…

    Again, don’t take this as gospel. Just some stuff I’ve heard from people I trust.

    • TommyLawlor

      Very interesting. Wonder if Chip has heard from the NCAA about penalties and he’s changed his mind. Or maybe he saw Bama and said screw it…I’m going away from Saban.

      • bdbd20

        I’m thinking he had some flashbacks to the game where the Auburn front 4 basically shut down his innovative running game.

        Throw in the probability that he’ll have to beat two SEC teams once the playoff system starts.

        He may not ever be as wanted as he is now. Time will tell.

    • jshort

      I’m getting a gut feeling there could be a Kelly in the eagles future.

  • ACViking

    Re: Doug Pedersen to KC?

    T-Law:

    Just read the rumor that Pedersen may be Reid’s OC.

    If true, that means — even in Reid’s view — he did have someone on his staff to replace Marty at the same time Reid fired Castillo. Frustrating.

    Also, what’s your take on why there’s not buzz on MM joining AR?

    It makes it seem like AR really didn’t trust MM, but he refused to cut him loose here.

    • TommyLawlor

      I think this is Marty’s choice. Only chance to get back to HC job is to be an OC away from Andy. With Andy, it will always be “Andy Reid’s offense”. If Marty can get OC/QB job somewhere, can build his rep back up. I think he’s got a good rep in coaching circles, but was trapped in Andy’s shadow.

  • izzylangfan

    Howie Roseman sits on top. His is the top advisor to Jeff Lurie who has gone so far as to publicly state that Roseman is the best judge of talent the team has had. He got rid of Heckert. He got rid of Banner. And alas he let Reid self destruct. He has replaced Banner as the closest advisor to Lurie and seeming the only advisor to Lurie with significant power in the organization. Now you are a coach with enough prestige to be a contender for a HC. How do you look on Roseman and his relationship to the owner. Who besides Lurie in the NFL thinks highly of Roseman. Am I the only Eagle fan who wonders how this guy got to where he is and whether he is actually a brilliant football guy or a dangerous player of company politics willing to do anything to get to the top. Shouldn’t we be worried that the group people at the top has been reduced to one guy of questionable football background.

    • austinfan

      He was Banner’s protege, I doubt he was able to push Joe out, given that Joe is Jeff’s childhood friend.
      He worked for AR, did his bidding, I think AR’s demise wasn’t Howie but a 4-12 record.
      AR supposedly got rid of Heckert, not Howie, by denying him the final say on personnel decisions. So Heckert left for greener pastures (that turned brown).

      Lurie publicly stated that Howie was the best judge of talent after reviewing hundreds of player evaluations by all the parties involved in putting together the Eagle draft boards the last few years. Since he has a billion dollars at stake, he probably has an interest in ensuring these decisions are made by the person proven to be most competent.

      “Paranoia strikes deep, into your heart it will creep, it starts when you’re always afraid . . .”

    • jshort

      No, we shouldn’t be worried, Howie should.

    • 47_Ronin

      You’re not alone, and it’s fine to have concerns over Roseman. But we as fans can’t do anything about the situation, so time will tell if Roseman is who Lurie claims him to be, or he’s a GM in over his head.

  • shah8

    I see statement that Zimmer comes with Hue Jackson for the OC. Me want.