Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips could have used his press conference Wednesday morning at Halas Hall as the perfect time to announce the well-deserved and long-overdue contract extension for underpaid coach Lovie Smith.
But he didn't.
"We won't talk again until after the Super Bowl," Phillips said, "after we're champions."
Phillips said he would first finalize an extension for general manager Jerry Angelo before tackling Smith's extension. He had no doubt the deal would get done, though.
"I've talked to Frank Bauer (Smith's agent)," Phillips said. "I've known Lovie's agent for a long time, and I have no doubt we'll get a deal done."
Last season, Smith turned a 5-11 team into an 11-5 playoff participant and was named coach of the year. This season he's led the Bears to the Super Bowl, yet he remains the lowest-paid head coach in the NFL. Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers recently signed a three-year extension that will pay him $8.1 million, an average of $2.7 million, exactly twice what the Bears are paying Smith, who has one year left on the deal he signed just over three years ago.
How underpaid is Smith relative to other NFL coaches?
The median salary of NFL head coaches in 2006, according to Forbes magazine was $2.9 million, more than double what the reigning coach of the year made. Redskins assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams made $2.6 million this season. The cheap-as-dirt Raiders just paid Art Shell $2 million not to be their head coach next season so they could hire a 31-year-old college assistant, Southern Cal offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. According to Forbes, the average salary of an NFL coach was $2.5 million a year before Smith was hired.
When Bill Cowher walked away from a reported $6 million-a-year extension offer from the Steelers at the end of the regular season, they hired Mike Tomlin from the Vikings for $2.5 million per year, even though he's been a defensive coordinator for just one season. Smith was a defensive coordinator for three years before the Bears hired him.
Phillips said several weeks ago that he expected to have Smith signed to an extension before the Super Bowl, which is 11 days away. The Bears could have saved themselves millions by working something out at the end of the 13-3 regular season or even after the divisional-round playoff victory over the Seahawks. But with each victory, Smith's price goes up. And Bill Parcells' resignation Monday as the Cowboys' coach can only help Smith's bargaining position.
Smith grew up two hours from Dallas in Big Sandy, Tex., where he was a huge Cowboys fan. More importantly, the Cowboys' big-bucks owner, Jerry Jones, is said to be a big fan of Smith. Jones previous told confidants that Smith would be at the top of his wish list if the Big Tuna were to leave. Parcells decided he was too tired to take the $4.5 million he would have been paid to coach next season. Imagine how much Jones would pay for someone with Smith's energy and track record. His team is 23-5 in its last 28 games.
That isn't even a consideration according to Phillips, who said the Bears wouldn't consider letting Smith out of his contract a year early.
"Lovie Smith is our coach," Phillips said. "Reading all that frankly rankles me, and if there's any truth to those rumors, we'll deal with that at a league level. He's our coach, he's under contract to us, and whether it's Dallas or any other club that comes sniffing around, that's not right, and we're not going to let it happen."
"That feeling I will never forget," he said. "I have a scar, and that's a scar that will never go away of a loss in that Super Bowl. I don't want that feeling again, but it was a great experience."
This time around will be different for a lot of reasons. For openers, that year there was only one week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.
"It went by so quick," Smith said. "I remember the game, but a lot of the other good things that happened during the week, I don't remember. This time, we've had a chance to really soak it in a little bit, and we're going to enjoy every moment and every step we take along the way."
QUOTE TO NOTE: The price of a multi-year extension for coach Lovie Smith would have been much smaller a year ago when it first became a topic, which team president and CEO Ted Phillips acknowledged but doesn't seem to regret: "Obviously, when you get to the Super Bowl, you pay for success, and we'll pay for success," he said.
Lions wide receiver Roy Williams, who topped the National Conference with a career-best 1,310 yards, was the NFC's first alternate in voting by fans, NFL players and coaches and he got the call to Honolulu when Torry Holt of St. Louis withdrew because of knee surgery.
"It's unfortunate that he can't go but I think if anybody can take his place, I think I can," Williams said.
Williams posted modest receiving numbers in his first two seasons with the Lions in the West Coast offense under Steve Mariucci — 54 catches for 817 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season 2004, 45 catches for 687 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
In his first season with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, however, Williams — despite more drops than the Lions coaches liked — produced 82 receptions for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns.
Williams is the only player off the 3-13 Lions to be selected for the Pro Bowl.
Cullen, who was in his first season with the Lions, pleaded no contest to one count of disorderly person/obscene conduct charges and pleaded guilty to impaired driving. The charges stemmed from two incidents that occurred last summer — driving naked through the drive-up lane of a fast food restaurant and, in a separate incident, driving while intoxicated.
Sentencing was set for Feb. 13 and Cullen faces up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine plus court costs for the disorderly charges, as well as 93 days in jail and a $300 fine plus court costs for the impaired driving charge.
Kennedy, a starting safety the past two seasons, faced up to 93 days in jail after being arrested in the early morning of Oct. 6 while driving home from a nightclub. A blood test registered a .16% blood-alcohol level, twice the Michigan limit of .08 percent.
Kennedy was able to avoid jail time but was sentenced to 18 months probation, was given a $500 fine plus court costs and was ordered by the presiding judge to enter an Alcoholics Anonymous program. He will also have to perform five days of community service.
Attorney Joseph A. Lavigne noted that it was Kennedy's first offense and that he already had enrolled in an alcohol-supervision program.
That doesn't necessarily mean the Lions will make a big splash on the first day of free agency or even that they will use the No. 2 pick in the draft. Marinelli is looking for a certain kind of player — especially on the defensive side of the ball — and it doesn't always involve a big name. He wants players who are committed to the game, will work relentlessly and can fill a specific role in his defense.
Although the Lions have not drafted particularly well under Millen, he has done a good job of maximizing his draft choices via trades. Considering the team needs, don't be surprised if he trades down for additional picks again this year.
The most pressing needs include offensive linemen, a strong pass rusher, a running back (in case Kevin Jones' Lisfranc injury lingers into the 2007 season), a No. 3 receiver, a stud middle linebacker and yet more help in the defensive secondary.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope he doesn't leave us because we've got a good thing going. He's told me that before. Especially with a year under his offense, now we know what to expect." — Wide receiver Roy Williams on the possibility of offensive coordinator Mike Martz leaving the Lions to take a head coaching job.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Way back around the first week of December, changes on the coaching staff seemed to be all but a foregone conclusion.
The Packers had lost by double digits in three straight games, including two lopsided outcomes at home. Their record was 4-8. They labored with a defense that hadn't met a big play it could resist giving up.
Fans were calling for and the media was speculating on the dismissal of defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer.
Then, the defense cured itself; the Packers won their next four games to finish with a record of 8-8. When all was said and done, the only coaching move to come about was replacing Jeff Jagodzinski as offensive coordinator after he took the head-coaching job at Boston College.
Head coach Mike McCarthy filled the vacancy Jan. 15 by promoting offensive line coach Joe Philbin. In doing so, along with a few other job-title alterations brought on by Philbin's promotion, McCarthy insinuated that one ‘c' word (continuity) is imperative for his team's pursuit of another ‘c' word (championship).
"Consistency was something that, quite frankly, we did not have as a football team, particularly the first half of the season," McCarthy said. "This enables us to continue to build."
Keeping the staff mostly intact will mirror the makeup of the team in 2007. All 22 preferred starters could be back, though quarterback Brett Favre has yet to commit to another season and running back Ahman Green is without a contract.
Calling on Philbin for the coordinator post was a logical move by McCarthy. Although McCarthy calls the shots on offense, he didn't want to run the risk of disassembling the structure that is in place by hiring from outside the organization.
Just as Jagodzinski immersed himself in the nuances of the zone-blocking scheme while working alongside guru Alex Gibbs in Atlanta, Philbin was a sponge when Jagodzinski brought the system with him to Green Bay last season. Thus, the transition should be seamless for both the new coordinator and his well-versed charges in the running game, which will be Philbin's primary domain.
"We invested a lot of time in it, a lot of repetitions, a lot of practice time. We think it's good," Philbin said. "Yet, we want to get better at it and improve at it. We'll start kind of finding ways to do that."
Likewise, McCarthy was encouraged enough by the defense's turnaround late in the season that he slammed the door shut on the possibility of bringing in a fifth coordinator in as many years for its veteran players.
The embattled Sanders was given a vote of confidence, though the promotion of linebackers coach Winston Moss to assistant head coach suggested otherwise.
"Bob Sanders is the coordinator, will continue to be the coordinator," McCarthy emphasized, "but Winston Moss, he'll be my right-hand man."
Moss will continue coaching the linebackers and said Sanders would have the overriding say on the defense. Moss characterized the new role as a sounding board for McCarthy.
"He's shown a lot of trust and a lot of confidence, and I appreciate that," Moss said of McCarthy. "Whenever he needs to bounce something off of (someone) or get a second ear on, I'll be that person helping him out."
McKenzie, 43, reportedly is one of eight candidates to replace longtime GM Floyd Reese, who resigned Jan. 5.
Titans owner Bud Adams said in a radio interview Jan. 23 that he would like to have the post filled by early next week.
McKenzie has been in the Packers' front office for 13 years, the last 10 in his current role, following a seven-year playing career in the NFL as a linebacker.
He is a native of Knoxville, Tenn., and played collegiately at the University of Tennessee. McKenzie interviewed for the GM position with the Houston Texans last off-season.
McCarthy bestowed the title on linebackers coach Winston Moss on Jan. 15. Green Bay was one of just nine teams that didn't have an assistant head coach last season.
Five other assistant head coaches previously worked in Green Bay: Houston's Mike Sherman, Denver's Jim Bates, Miami's Charlie Baggett, New Orleans' Joe Vitt and Philadelphia's Marty Mornhinweg.
The field will be a hybrid of natural grass and synthetic fibers. Denver, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh also have the DD GrassMaster surface at their stadiums. The Packers have a similar surface at one of their practice fields, which is primarily used during training camp.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Right now, he's still the coordinator. I'm still the linebackers coach. He will break all ties. I will still coach the linebackers once again and help (head coach) Mike McCarthy with whatever he needs." — Winston Moss on how Bob Sanders will continue to coordinate the defense, even though Moss was given the added title of assistant head coach Jan. 15.