In the Wake of the News
9:12 PM CDT, April 18, 2013
In the name of opportunity so prevalent around the NFL every spring, the Bears granted five players tryouts at their minicamp that concluded Thursday.
Likewise, ESPN gave Lovie Smith a shot to prove himself.
Nobody needs to throw a red challenge flag to review video from Smith's first media appearance since the Bears fired him. Smith provided indisputable evidence on "SportsCenter" and "NFL Live" that he belongs back on the sideline, not in the studio.
Tony Dungy, he isn't. Smith came off as genuine but stiff, more like a folksier Eric Mangini. He offered nothing terribly memorable or insightful and said more with what he didn't say, especially about Jay Cutler.
Coaching on Sundays isn't as easy as we often made it sound during Smith's tenure in Chicago and surely now he realizes the same is true about broadcasting. The slight nerves detected in Smith's voice took Bears fans with good memories back to the day Smith was hired in 2004 before antipathy replaced anxiety during his stints at the microphone.
In that way Smith became a cliche the moment the red light went on Thursday and he embraced the media he showed so little respect for in nine seasons with the Bears, the latest hypocritical coach or player who decries the working press until he becomes a part of it. Smith didn't get paid for his audition beyond travel expenses and, under the terms of his Bears contract, any money he makes in 2013 to analyze football will reduce the $5 million the team still owes him.
But if Smith didn't think offering his opinions on camera could benefit him professionally one day, he wouldn't have bothered going to Bristol, Conn.
Smith understands landing a television job next season could give him a chance to make a weekly impression on NFL executives looking for a head coach, which could be a positive or negative depending on how much he improves. It will take Smith more time to deprogram nine years of guardedness. Like many coaches who make the awkward transition, Smith spoke mostly in familiar generalities and avoided controversy, such as when he was asked if Cutler was misunderstood based on the criticism the Bears quarterback receives.
"It's hard to say whether he's misunderstood or not," Smith said. "I think, when you're in that position, you get criticized a lot. Everything you do is watched, and that has been the case with Jay. There have been some incidents where he would probably like them not to happen that way, but that's just a part of it. I know his teammates have his back and they are expecting big things from him this year."
Interpret that however you like, but I heard a coach offered a chance to defend or explain a maligned former player but declining. It was telling. Smith the defensive head coach would have answered an emphatic "No, Jay is not misunderstood.'' Smith the analyst provided a safe, politically correct explanation that never included the word leader.
Nobody would know better.
By the end of last season, a disconnect between Cutler and Smith was obvious to certain staff members and Cutler's disrespectful sideline antics with former offensive coordinator Mike Tice exacerbated it. In fairness, Smith also complimented Cutler's physical ability the way he always did when discussing why teams can't win a Super Bowl without answering the quarterback question.
On that, consider Smith an expert.
"You have to have that quarterback in place, and Chicago has that in Jay Cutler," Smith said. "(Can do) everything that you're looking for a special quarterback to do: great arm, mobile guy in the pocket."
In contrast to Smith's careful comments on Cutler, he oozed loyalty when the topic turned to Brian Urlacher. Smith shared dinner with his former linebacker recently in Arizona.
"You look at every organization, every football team, there's a face of the franchise and there can't be a better player to represent an organization than (the way) Brian Urlacher has,'' Smith said. "Coach on the field. Great guy. So it will be different not seeing No. 54 there. But with time, things change.''
Players move on, coaches get fired — which Smith finally addressed 108 days later instead of showing up for a classy goodbye to Chicago nearer his final day at Halas Hall.
"It was tough," Smith said. "But that is the NFL. You are disappointed. You mention 7-1, but it's hard to win in the NFL. For us to finish 3-5 and finish up with a 10-6, it's hard. But my nine years in Chicago were great. Met a lot of great people. My family loved it. It was just time for them to go in a different direction. I'm going to do the same."
Never dreamt Smith meant the studio.
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