Commentary

Wealth of experience backs Smith

With three ex-NFL head coaches on sideline, Bears coach's staff can relate to its boss

Updated: September 26, 2010, 6:19 PM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Propped with a foot against the wall outside a meeting room at Halas Hall, Lovie Smith subbed the always-careful-head-coach persona for a brief moment of humor sprinkled with blunt sincerity.

Smith understood the point of the question. Still, he wanted to relay his own point.

"There are four coaches here with head-coaching experience," Smith half-jokingly told ESPNChicago.com. "But there's only one head coach."

The point is well-taken.

[+] EnlargeMike Tice, Lovie Smith
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMike Tice, right, with Lovie Smith during minicamp, said he enjoys working with a big group like the offensive line again.

But don't think for a second that Smith isn't bordering on giddiness, internally, about the assortment of former NFL head coaches assembled at 1000 Football Drive, which includes 88 years of cumulative experience at the college and pro levels between offensive coordinator Mike Martz, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and offensive line coach Mike Tice.

All three have served as NFL head coaches within the past six years, and play vital roles in making adjustments on the fly, under extreme pressure -- similar to what happened in Dallas last week -- virtually seamlessly.

"They bring in so much experience -- not just those guys, but our entire staff -- they've pretty much seen it all, and can apply those things in those pressure situations," Smith said.

Realistically, though, things could have easily gone the other way, had Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo not been careful during the decision-making process. By nature, NFL head coaches are leaders, men with strong type-A personalities.

Too many of those in a meeting room could potentially stifle the process due to a too-many-chefs-in-the-kitchen type of situation. But that was the least of Smith's worries as the club slowly conducted the hiring processes of Tice and Martz while pondering Marinelli's promotion.

"Not at all," Smith said when asked if he harbored initial trepidation about bringing aboard too many strong personalities. "As a head coach you let them know what's expected, what their roles will be, and go from there. What I saw was years of knowledge and experience."

The collective knowledge between Martz, Marinelli and Tice wasn't necessarily born from smashing success. Marinelli, for instance, compiled a 10-38 record in three seasons as head coach of the Lions. Battling illness in his final season with St. Louis, Martz, who declined to be interviewed for this story, posted a 10-11 regular-season record in his final two years.

Lovie Smith They bring in so much experience -- not just those guys, but our entire staff -- they've pretty much seen it all, and can apply those things in those pressure situations.

-- Lovie Smith

Interestingly, during his stint with the Lions, Marinelli fired Martz as his offensive coordinator. But Martz made clear the situation was a non-issue when he joined the Bears' staff, which Marinelli had been a part of since 2009. Tice, meanwhile, dealt with a few controversial off-the-field issues during a 32-33 tenure from 2001 to 2005 as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

The individual ups and downs -- such as the shared experience of Martz and Smith each losing Super Bowls early in their head-coaching careers -- only serve to enhance the collective.

"The game of football gives you so many experiences," Marinelli said. "The more you experience, and things you've been through -- and you've probably messed them up before," he said with a laugh, "the more you learn. That's what football is about. You love the responsibility. And hopefully you've learned from all those different decisions, and the second time you apply it, you have maybe a little bit more confidence in that situation."

Tice chuckled about the inevitable humbling process associated with the transition from head coach to assistant. After leaving the Vikings, Tice joined the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he worked with tight ends and served from 2007 to 2009 as an assistant head coach.

Tice said he misses the pressure of playing an active role in every facet of the decision-making process. At the same time, he's most comfortable with the teaching aspect of football. In a sense, Tice has returned to his roots.

[+] EnlargeMike Martz
AP Photo/Jim PrischingMike Martz shares another experience with Lovie Smith -- what it feels like to lose a Super Bowl.

"I don't know that anyone can ever define Mike Tice as humble, you know," Tice said, laughing. "So that's a big problem right there. Of course, you know when you're not the guy making decisions, you're not even the coordinator -- you go from a guy running the show [to an assistant] -- you have to [go through a humbling process]. But that's why I'm excited to be back to coaching the line because I've got a lot of guys.

"I have a chance to touch the team and help it a little bit more than being an assistant head coach with tight ends, which was a great job and everything. I had a lot of influence as far as how we were molded offensively and things like that in Jacksonville. But when you're coaching a lot of guys, it's not as good as being the head guy. But it's pretty good to have that much involvement. It's like being the special-teams coach. You're coaching a lot of guys on the football team. You have a lot to do with winning."

Tice and Smith both pointed out the value of bouncing off one another their vast experience, whether it's dealing with issues off the field or making in-game adjustments. At some point Monday night, the Packers will likely present something unfamiliar.

Chances are, though, Smith or at least one of the other former head coaches has seen it.

"We share a lot of looks we've seen over time," Tice said. "That's a great learning tool for all of us, you know."

Experience as a head coach also provides a blueprint on how to conduct business as an assistant, Marinelli said. As a close friend of Smith's, Marinelli didn't need much direction to find out what the head coach expected of him.

"When I was a head coach, there were qualities I really looked for in a great assistant," Marinelli said. "So I want to emulate for a head coach those things I was looking for."

That approach appears to be working so far.

Smith, Tice and Marinelli said they don't anticipate egos ever getting in the way.

"This is about the Bears," Smith said.

Added Tice: "Whenever we have something where we're not on the same page, we talk it through. At the end of the day, that's the way the Bears are gonna do it. It works out great."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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