On the NFL
11:01 PM CDT, September 4, 2012
Going into his ninth season with the Bears, lean and healthy Lovie Smith sure appears to have staying power.
If he wins this season — which he should — Smith is likely to last at least as long as Mike Ditka as head coach of the Bears.
Smith is positioned to earn a contract extension after this season that would virtually guarantee he will remain coach of the Bears through the 2014 season. That would give him 11 seasons in Chicago, tying him with the legendary Ditka as the second-longest tenured coach of the Bears behind Papa Bear himself, the incomparable George Halas.
When Ditka was going into his ninth season in 1990, he was two years removed from a heart attack and aging like a president.
He was 51 then, three years younger than Smith is today. But his body was feeling the effects of a 12-year playing career, and a lifestyle that wasn't always healthy.
He was stressed out and at war with too many people, including some he worked with. Ditka was tolerated by ownership because he won consistently, but his once-dominating team was falling apart piece by piece.
As soon as he had a single season when the train came off the tracks in 1992, Ditka was done in Chicago, except for selling pork chops.
Compare that to Smith.
If Ditka was starting to burn out in his ninth season, Smith has reignited his fire.
Smith has continued to work well with people around him, both newcomers and holdovers. There are no external signs that he has been on the job too long. In fact, he has the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader.
He doesn't drink alcohol, coffee or pop but seems impervious to the stress and fatigue that eats up NFL coaches.
Smith rolls with it, and being a flat-liner has its benefits. He could live longer than he otherwise might have, both as coach of the Bears and as a human being, as a result.
If he is not reversing the aging process, Smith is at least making it stand still.
Physically, Smith looks different this September. And he should, having dropped 29 pounds from this point last year, getting down to 207 and dropping his body fat significantly.
"I'm on a health kick like I've never been on in my life," Smith said. "I'm as healthy as I've been probably since I was a kid. I'm in a lot better shape than I was in five years ago."
Smith changed his diet, eliminating processed foods, bread, red meat and most dairy products.
He also has changed his workout regimen after having rotator cuff surgery in January. He couldn't lift weights after surgery, so he decided to go in a different direction, eschewing heavy weights for push-ups, sit-ups and light dumbbell work. Smith also works on an elliptical trainer.
"I've changed my lifestyle where I think I can do this the rest of my life," he said.
Smith lost his mother, Mae Smith, in February of 2011. His family has a history of healthy issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure. So he was motivated to help himself.
"You want to live forever," he said. "I have a lot of years ahead of me. So I said I'm going to help God as much as I can by being healthy. I might die tomorrow from a heart attack or whatever, but I've done everything I can."
Ah, mortality. Smith is at a point in his life and his career when it is natural for men to ponder such things.
The way Smith is similar to Ditka at this point in their Bears tenures is both found themselves working for men who did not hire them.
Ditka was hired by George Halas; fired by his grandson Michael McCaskey.
Smith was hired by McCaskey and Jerry Angelo; now brother George McCaskey and Phil Emery are in charge.
Eventually, this may be a problem for Smith as it was for Ditka.
But if he gets the team he believes is his best to perform close to expectations, it's not going to be a problem for at least the next three seasons.
Smith sure appears to be buying himself time.
I am no expert in palmistry, but I think I know a long life line when I see one.
The coach of the Bears? He has one.
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