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