Smith gets what he wants from Bears
By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer
March 1, 2007
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -- Lovie Smith walked into the conference room and took a seat at the center of the dais, which seemed fitting, considering he was in the middle of a storm the past few weeks.
To his left was team president Ted Phillips. To his right, general manager Jerry Angelo. And in front of Smith was the security he craved.
Less than a month after reaching the Super Bowl, the Chicago Bears resolved a major issue Wednesday night when they agreed on an extension with Smith that runs through 2011. They also locked in Angelo through 2013.
Smith said Thursday he had no doubts the Chicago Bears would give him the contract extension he wanted, so he never envisioned himself coaching elsewhere -- despite numerous reports to the contrary, including one from his agent.
"As late as down at the combine (last week) I thought I made it clear that I thought it would get done, that I hoped it would get done," Smith said.
The lowest paid coach in the NFL last season at $1.35 million, Smith would have earned $1.45 million in the final season of a four-year contract. Instead, he'll earn $23.45 million over the next five years -- an average of about $4.7 million per season, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The process wasn't easy.
Smith and team president Phillips met Wednesday at Halas Hall and the deal was announced that night. It was a sharp turnaround, considering Smith's agent Frank Bauer said a week earlier the talks had stalled and that his client would likely leave when his contract expired after the 2007 season. And the negotiations did little to boost the image of a franchise that is perceived to be stingy.
"We did take a beating," Phillips said. "Maybe short term we took a little damage. I don't think long term we did because I know how we operate, internally. ... There's no leftover hard feelings, whatsoever."
Phillips said he made an offer to Smith before the playoffs that was rejected, and the sides agreed to wait until afterward. Phillips came back with "a substantially increased offer" two days after the Super Bowl.
"I never thought it was contentious," Phillips said. "It got a little stressful after Frank made his comments, but I chose not to respond publicly. Could it have gotten done quicker if the combine wasn't there? Maybe so."
Smith wasn't seeking additional say in personnel. And Phillips said they never haggled over the length of the contract. The issue was, simply, money.
The NFL Coach of the Year in 2005, Smith led the Bears to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC last season. Chicago then beat Seattle and New Orleans before losing to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl -- its first since the 1985 Bears won the championship.
Although Smith is staying, the coaching staff has a different look.
Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is gone. So are quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, defensive line coach Don Johnson and assistant offensive line coach Harold Goodwin.
Rivera, who interviewed for eight head coaching jobs the past two years, is now San Diego's linebackers coach after the Bears opted not to renew his contract. Wilson took a job with Dallas.
The Bears promoted Bob Babich from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, and they hired Hardy Nickerson as linebackers coach and Brick Haley as defensive line coach.
"We haven't achieved our goal yet, but we have a little bit more time to do it," Smith said. "I feel blessed to be the head football coach of the Chicago Bears. ... I have the best job in the National Football League."
Phillips said he always felt confident in Smith, even "as far back as a year ago" when the coach sought an extension after the Bears went 11-5 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2001. He just wanted more time to make sure this was the right "fit going forward."
Phillips said he felt a sense of urgency to complete a deal now, even though Smith had a year left on his contract.
"You'd probably have to go back to the early Ditka days to say that a (Bears) head coach's contract wasn't extended with a year left," Phillips said. "Was there a sense of urgency? Yeah, there was. ... I wanted to make sure Jerry and Lovie were taken care of. I think in the end, they both received fair market deals."
Phillips said Angelo's deal came together the past few weeks. "We had been talking off and on six or seven weeks," he said. "It was just a matter of getting the time together to just focus on that instead of the hundred other things that we do."
With Angelo and Smith setting the tone, the Bears rose to the top of the NFC.
Angelo has mixed veterans and young players since he was hired on June 12, 2001, while Smith emphasized speed on defense and installed the Cover 2.
"Lovie's a great coach," defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. "He exudes excellence to me. He's just a guy who's always cool, calm and collective, and I knew hard work had to pay off."