After 48 days, Bears coach Lovie Smith finally weighed in on his decision to promote last season's offensive line coach Mike Tice to offensive coordinator.
Just days after Mike Martz and the Bears decided to go their separate ways following an 8-8 2011 season, Tice was named the successor on Jan. 6. But it wasn't until Thursday at the Scouting Combine that Smith spoke publicly about the move.
"I wouldn't have made a change unless I thought that we needed to go in (a different) direction," Smith said. "Mike (Martz) and I have a long history together, but we did need to go in a different direction, and I thought we needed different leadership.
"When you finish the season, I always look at what I think we need to do to take another step. I thought this is what we needed to do, making the change at that position."
Smith didn't have to look far. No one else was brought in from the outside to interview for the job.
"I've had a chance to see Mike (Tice) in a lot of different roles with what he was able to do with the offensive line," Smith said. "Mike will be a good fit. Through the interview process with Mike, I like everything he did, and that's why I made the move as quickly as I did. Initially, there's always a plan to look at as many guys as possible with every position. But once I find the right guy, I normally shut it down from there, and that's what happened with Mike."
It's expected that the Bears will run the ball more frequently this season. And there will absolutely be fewer of the five- and seven-step drops that jeopardized the health of Bears quarterbacks and put way too much pressure on an offensive line that wasn't good enough to pass protect long enough for those plays to develop.
But Tice intends to retain much of the playbook and terminology that the Bears used the previous two seasons under Martz.
"We're just trying to score as many points as we possibly can," Smith said. "As far as which way we do it, we can debate that. I'm on record about my feelings about having a strong running game, though. And we have a great running back in Matt Forte.
"But you have to be able to throw the ball too, and of course we are going to try to strengthen that as much as we can. As far as philosophy, that's what it is, ball control, protect the football, ball security, all that. All of those things -- if you just look at my eight years here -- put them together. I think you can come up with a plan on what we're trying to do."
Smith didn't coin the phrase, "Get off the bus running," but he popularized the idea, although in the two years with Martz at the offensive controls, it was more lip service than philosophy. The hope is that the 2012 offense will be able to attack through the air and on the ground with equal efficiency.
But the idea that the offense will struggle through any kind of transition period under Tice is not a consideration according to Smith - especially after one postseason appearance in five years.
"Now how would that look for me to come here and say, 'Hey, be patient, we're going to have growing pains,'" Smith said. "I don't think anyone is looking to give us that, and we're not looking for that. We expect to be a good football team next year right away, and I think we have the core in place to do that."
--When Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips began his search in January for a general manager to succeed Jerry Angelo, the job came with the proviso that Lovie Smith would be retained as the head coach - but only for the 2012 season.
Thursday morning at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Smith said he doesn't feel any more pressure to win this season under new general manager Phil Emery than he ever has. It may be a "win-or-else" situation, but Smith says that's nothing new.
"Win or else?" Smith said. "Every year I've been a head football coach and pretty much (even) as a position coach, I felt like we had to win the next year or else. There's a standard that we're going to try to get accomplished. That hasn't changed at all.
"As far as more pressure, a new GM having to keep me, I don't think any of the (candidates) looked at it that way. Hopefully they looked at it as a great situation they were coming into, a team that two years ago was in the NFC Championship Game, a team that was 7-3 this past year before injuries happened."
Injuries or not, another 8-8, out-of-the-playoffs finish this season could cost Smith his job.
--The Bears were 7-3 last year when quarterback Jay Cutler was lost for the season with a fractured thumb. Three weeks later, at a time when he was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage, running back Matt Forte suffered a season-ending sprained knee.
After losing Cutler, the Bears lost five straight and limped home at 8-8.
"I think most of the teams that didn't go to the playoffs, we have an excuse for why we didn't make it there," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But that was a pretty good football team, and I thought we'd be able to handle that situation better. We played without two pretty good football players, and I just can't wait to get them back on the field and go through an entire season with them."
--Smith had not spoken publicly about the January firing of general manager Jerry Angelo, the man who hired him in 2004, until Thursday at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"We know in our profession what's at stake always, and changes can happen at any time," Smith said. "I'm here primarily because of what Jerry Angelo did for me, giving me an opportunity, leading the charge to give me the opportunity to be the head football coach here. I can't necessarily say (I'm) surprised (about the firing). I don't think any coach or GM in the league is surprised about anything that happens.
"Jerry did an awful lot for us, but you move on, and that's what we've done. Jerry will be fine. He's a lifetime friend, but you do move on."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I felt like the football team that we had for most of the year, to start off 7-3, says that we have some good players, that we're on the right track. But it's about finishing, and we didn't." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith.
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