Smith future remains mystery

Nobody knows how this drama will play out

The Tribune's Brad Biggs and Fred Mitchell look ahead to Sunday's Bears-Packers showdown.

In less than three weeks, there will be answers to all the questions being debated around water coolers from Milwaukee to Merrillville.

Many words have been devoted to Lovie Smith's future and the power structure in Lake Forest since the Bears tumbled in Minneapolis, but I haven't found any of them credible.

Here's what I know to be the undeniable truth — no one in the words business knows who's going to pull the strings if the Bears miss the playoffs and are confronted with a tough decision on keeping their nine-year head coach with one year remaining on his contract.

Kudos to the Bears organization for keeping the lid shut tight on back room conversations.

Maybe someday the Bears will put an increased value on points scored.

I'm hopeful those who suggest with conviction that Phil Emery is in total command are correct. To this point, however, there is no tangible evidence there has been a departure from the way the Bears have operated for almost 30 years — that is, Virginia McCaskey must sign off on all structural decisions.

After Emery was chosen to succeed Gentleman Jerry Angelo, Ted Phillips fueled speculation over the GM wielding more power. If Smith whiffs against the Packers again Sunday and the Bears spend a fourth January out of the last five out of the playoffs, we'll know.

I couldn't imagine a new NFL big boss with complete control retaining an inherited coach on the heels of his team turning a 7-1 first half into a postseason miss.

It also is wise to back off the assumption the Bears wouldn't buck franchise tradition and hire a new chief who has head coaching experience. Regardless of the cost.

Three times in the last four years the Bears have made un-Bearlike moves — trading two No. 1 picks for a could-be franchise quarterback, spending big for defensive end Julius Peppers and rolling the dice on the talented-but-troubled Brandon Marshall.

It's reasonable to hold out hope those uncharacteristic moves are harbingers, even if it means paying a proven coach (offensive-minded, please) record money.

Meantime, you can keep digging for the "inside track" on what the Bears are thinking and how they're evolving if you want. Thing is, nobody with a byline or a microphone knows how this drama shakes out. We're in the guessing business as much as the guy on the bar stool next to you.

So what if the bruised feelings Marshall expressed Wednesday when he vocalized his disdain for the Packers were manufactured. I liked Marshall standing up and serving notice on the bigness of Sunday's game. Marshall is the only player on the roster who has performed consistently well enough to grab his teammates and say "jump on these coattails"

I don't know Jermichael Finley, but what about Finley's suggestion the sun is setting on Brian Urlacher's career makes the Packers tight end an "idiot"? Sounded accurate to me.

The Packers aren't the Vikings when it comes to the running game, but they have eased the burden on Aaron Rodgers by piecemealing a credible ground game. Matt Forte and the Bears ground attack, on the other hand, remains a rumor.

I'm wondering what Mike Tice has up his sleeve for fourth-and-1 if the Bears don't trust 39-year-old Olindo Mare to kick a field goal of 45 yards or longer. And, if it fails, if Smith again endorses it.

Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

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