Lovie’s credibility gap

By Rick Morrissey
Updated: September 7, 2010

CHICAGO — The coach pro tem says nothing is wrong with his pro team, which longtime observers of the man know is reason for complete panic.

The offensive coordinator and the quarterback continue to give each other shoulder massages. The offensive line’s play could involve loss of limb, if not cranium, for the quarterback.

The defense? Scary, and not in a good way. Other than that …

The real season starts Sunday inside Soldier Field, where thousands and thousands of Bears fans will cheer out of habit. They seem to know better this time around. They’ve had enough of this regime and, given the opportunity, probably would do unspeakable things to the team mascot.

If Lovie Smith had ever been publicly honest about his team — like, just once — maybe more people would believe him when he says everything will be fine. He’d have built up some equity by now. Fans would have disregarded the recently completed winless preseason because, really, what do four exhibition games mean?

But when a coach has spent the previous six years insisting everything is swell even when it’s not, people tend to withhold the benefit of the doubt. In fact, you’d need the Jaws of Life to extract the benefit of the doubt from many Bears fans.

Even the most rabid seem bummed out heading into the opener against Detroit. They know the team is not going anywhere, and they know that Mr. Blue Sky is playing them for fools again.

In 2007, Smith told them to trust him to put the Bears in the best position to win games. This came after he had sent Ron Rivera packing as defensive coordinator and replaced him with best pal Bob Babich.

Three seasons without a playoff appearance followed.

Is winning a negative?

Now those passionate Bears fans are facing a very real quandary.

Should they root for the team to do well, knowing a good season helps Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo keep their jobs? Or should they go against their nature and root for the team to lose, hoping to rid themselves of ineptness?

These are good people who tend to want to see bad things happen only to Bears’ opponents. But they have walked a path built on bull droppings, and many would vote for a new head coach before they’d vote for boots.

Last season, Chicago had to watch more of Smith’s catatonic sideline act. It was like watching a statue play chess. A 7-9 finish should have cinched his ouster but didn’t. The McCaskey family decided to give him one more chance. And so a city stares, glassy eyed, at the recurring show.

The whole situation is numbing. People want to love Jay Cutler, want to give him their hearts, but there’s something stopping them. Is it his carefree shrug of an attitude? His decision-making? Whatever it is, it’s a trust issue.

Cutler’s statements and body language imply that there are no worries. His preseason performance and his league-leading 26 interceptions last season imply otherwise.

Experts continue to refer to him as a ”franchise quarterback.” If, by that, they mean he’s a quarterback who plays for a franchise, then, yes, he’s certainly one of those. But one of the best at his position?

Not now. Not yet. Not even close.

Smith is acutely concerned with appearances. He scoffed at early suggestions there would be tension between Cutler and new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, both strong personalities. But I’m starting to wonder if some tension might be a good thing for this team. Maybe it would light a fire under Cutler.

People want results

So far, QB and OC are locked in a mutual admiration society. Martz sees things in Cutler that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Cutler likes Martz’s mind. Fine. Great. But whether their relationship stays warm or turns cold, it’s put-up time, fellas.

Nobody wants glimpses of success out of the quarterback anymore. No one wants hints of potential. The faithful want results in exchange for two No. 1 draft picks and Kyle Orton. Is it asking too much to have a dominating Cutler and a departing head coach at the end of 2010?

It probably is, given the state of the offensive line. Chris Williams is a fright at left tackle. Cutler’s physical well-being is at stake.

As for his mental well-being, he could be a shattered shell of his cocky self by Week 7.

This falls on Angelo, who hasn’t had a good preseason, in the way that the Hindenburg didn’t have a good 1937. He’s the one who drafted Williams in the first round two years ago. He’s the one who saw his two top picks from a year ago get cut. A safety who started 13 games last year for the Bears also got cut. If the current starting safeties were playing well, this wouldn’t be a whole lot. They’re not.

Uh-oh.

Bears fans have been blessed with an overabundance of raging enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm has met its match.