Smith Wins Coach of the Year

Lake Forest – The Bears are starting to rack up awards like they did victories in the middle of the season. A day after Brian Urlacher took the Defensive Player of the Year award, Lovie Smith narrowly beat out Tony Dungy for Associated Press Coach of the Year.

In typical fashion, Smith deflected praise to those that helped him win the award.

"I feel like it's more an assistant coaches of the year award," Smith said. "You know they worked awful hard to get us in this position."

After a 1-3 start, Smith led the Bears to eight straight victories. Despite losing starting quarterback Rex Grossman in the preseason and having to turn to rookie Kyle Orton, the Bears won the NFC North with an 11-5 mark.

"Our starting quarterback went down in preseason, and we had a few injuries there, but he had to bring along the rookie quarterback who won 10 games for us," Brian Urlacher said of Smith. "It seems like he always made the right moves."

In many ways, the turning point of the season came after the loss to Cleveland. The Bears led 10-6 with less than five minutes in the game, but found a way to give up two late touchdowns and lose 20-10. The result prompted Smith to call his coaches together for a meeting and said the team would look back at the end season when the Bears made the playoffs.

Smith and the Bears proved to have the last laugh, as Chicago became the first team other than the Packers to win the NFC North.

"We were 1-3 and that's definitely not the way I had it pictured, finishing up the first quarter of our season," Smith said. "But I knew we had a good football team, our team knew that we had a good football team. A lot of times you can go one way or the other, you can complain and wonder why, or you can go and do something about and we did something about it."

Smith tallied 24.5 of 50 first place votes, which edged out Dungy's 20.5 votes after leading the Colts to 14-2 record, including a 13-0 start. Dungy proved to be a mentor early in Smith's career, hiring him as the linebackers coach when he was the headman at Tampa Bay.

"I would have voted for Tony for the award," Smith said. "Tony did a great job with his program this year, as a lot of other coaches did, too."

Other receiving votes were New England's Bill Belichick (2), Seattle's Mike Holmgren (1), Cincinnati's Lewis (1) and the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin (1).

Smith is the fourth different head coach of the Bears to win the award joining two-time winners George Halas (1963 & '65) and Mike Ditka ('85 & '88) as well as Dick Jauron, who took the honor in 2001.

"Each day I'm living a dream to even be talked about with those guys (is an honor), I'll just say that," Smith said.

Despite talk of a contract extension, Smith remains focused on the postseason and completing the last of his three goals.

"I have a contract right now, I'm happy with my contract," he said. "Really things like that that go along with (success), I'm just excited about that next opportunity we're going to get to play at Soldier Field and have a chance to achieve that third goal (of winning a Super Bowl)."

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