Angelo on Lovie’s return: Judgment day’s coming

By Mike Mulligan
Updated: December 21, 2009

BALTIMORE — Bears coach Lovie Smith’s slide toward the inevitable gained momentum on Sunday with a 31-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens that began less than two hours after general manager Jerry Angelo effectively announced the coach was on the firing line.

Well, maybe Angelo didn’t quite go that far, but he walked up to the edge of it.

Dismissing an Internet report that Smith would be back as ”speculation” and promising a judgment day at the end of the season, Angelo said the last three games mattered in the final analysis.

And the Bears responded with a clunker so bad even Smith would have to add it to his list of losses that swelled to four by his math and nine on the year. Angelo was given every chance to back Smith and only seemed to back him into a corner.

”All I am saying, guys, is that at the end of the year, we sit and we evaluate everything,” Angelo told reporters. ”That is all I am saying. Where you run with that, how you talk about it, you’re going to say what you want, you’re going to spin it the way that you want to spin it. I’m just telling you right now that at the end of the year, we will evaluate everything.”

Sure, but if Angelo said point-blank that Smith is back — and he has two years left on his deal worth nearly $11 million — speculation on his job status would end.

”You got the point of my answer,” Angelo said.

There are some universal truths to consider here: A king will one day die; an Illinois governor will wind up in prison; coaches get fired. Angelo effectively told reporters not to jump to any conclusions about Smith’s future.

He said the Bears would make the decision that is best for the team moving forward. Maybe he just wanted to dispute a false report. But in doing so, he created a foundation to build off of for the firing of Smith.

And, most important, he was adamant that finances won’t play a role in the final decision.

”I’m not going to get into that,” Angelo said when asked about Smith’s contract. ”At the end of the year, we’ll talk. I know we’re not in the playoffs and obviously didn’t meet expectations. We did have some problems, and I want to make sure I focus on that first and foremost.

”I don’t look at money in those times. It’s not about money. It’s about doing what we need to do to be a good football team.”

The Bears are doomed to a losing season after Sunday’s loss dropped them to 5-9 with a Monday night home date against Minnesota and the season finale at Detroit remaining on the schedule.

They are just the fourth team in the Super Bowl era to fail to make the playoffs for three straight seasons after an appearance in the big game. It was after that Super Bowl run that Smith earned a big-money deal and ran off a couple of assistants, including defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

Less successful, less capable coaches were appointed in their stead, and the Bears are still in a free fall as a result. Why exchange the exceptional for the ordinary?

Angelo dismissed the idea that injuries, particularly the loss of Brian Urlacher, led to the problems on defense: ”Everybody has injuries,” he said. Angelo reiterated the Bears have a good nucleus of talent.

He said the presence of so many former Super Bowl-winning coaches available would not affect the evaluation process.

”No, it doesn’t,” Angelo said. ”Not at all. We’re going to do what we feel we need to do to win and become the kind of team that we know we can be. We’ll go through an extensive evaluation process like we have every year.”

“There probably will be more things to talk about this year in the offseason, yes, I’m not minimizing that, and we’ll do that and we’ll do that rightly.”

The general feeling around the organization has been that offensive coordinator Ron Turner and not Smith would pay the price for the team’s struggles this year. But Angelo rattled off concerns about the defense, too.

The once- unshakable bond between Smith and his players has shown signs of cracking, with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Devin Hester and Jay Cutler all saying things recently that raised eyebrows.

If Smith’s self-certainty is shaken, he didn’t show it in his postgame comments when reporters peppered him with questions about his job security. Still, bad omens are stacking up as fast as bad losses these days, and Smith has lost his air of permanence.