(WSCR) – Mike Martz had doubts about returning to coach before he joined the Bears for this season. Martz was just happy to be with a team again, now he’s enjoying the rise to the top with the Bears.
By ANDREW SELIGMAN
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Mike Martz had his doubts, too.
Out of coaching and pushing 60, he was wondering if he’d get another chance when the Chicago Bears hired him last winter to be coach Lovie Smith’s offensive coordinator – a move that raised more than a few eyebrows.
Now, they’re headed back to the playoffs for the first time in four years after orchestrating a dramatic turnaround and capturing the NFC North.
It’s been a pretty big comeback for Martz, too, even though he insists he wasn’t necessarily looking to reinvent himself.
“I just was excited about coaching again,” he said. “I thought that maybe I might be done, was enjoying the TV thing a little bit. It was really good. It was a great opportunity to get back together with Lovie and (defensive coordinator) Rod (Marinelli), people you care about and respect, and be part of the Bears organization.”
Not everyone was so optimistic about Martz’s arrival.
Many wondered how he would get along with Jay Cutler, the quarterback he had criticized as an NFL Network analyst last season, and whether Cutler would get flattened because of a weak line and a system that called for deep drops. There were questions about whether Martz’s pass-happy schemes would mesh with Smith’s get-off-the-bus-running mentality. Some saw the potential for a debacle, and even the Bears seemed to hedge a bit before turning to him.
Nearly a month passed before Martz was hired to replace Ron Turner, making him Smith’s third offensive coordinator in seven years, but his selection wasn’t a complete surprise.
After all, he hired Smith as the Rams’ defensive coordinator in 2001 when he was the head coach and has a history of getting the most out of quarterbacks.
The most notable, of course, was Kurt Warner, who went from stocking grocery store shelves to a starring role in the “Greatest Show on Turf” in St. Louis.
Martz was the coordinator under Dick Vermeil when the Rams won the championship and the head coach when they got back to the Super Bowl, but his exit from St. Louis was messy.
He became known for a confidence that bordered on arrogance, and that reputation stayed with him through stints as offensive coordinator in Detroit and San Francisco.
“Flexible has probably never been a word that’s been associated with my name,” Martz said.
Maybe now, that’ll change because the Bears (10-4) made some big adjustments that might have saved their season. They had dropped three of four heading into their bye and looked more like a team headed toward another long offseason than the postseason, but here they are, getting ready for their first playoff appearance since the 2006 team’s Super Bowl run.
They’ve won six of seven heading into this week’s game against the New York Jets in part because of the changes on offense.
“He’s still doing what he does,” Cutler said. “It’s hard to change 20, 30 years of coaching and offensive philosophy in six games, but to his credit, he’s been very flexible. He understands in games, when things are going in a different direction that we need to make a change. We’re still putting everything we need to put in each week, but on game days is when he gets really flexible. If I come off the sideline and I see something, or if he sees something he’ll notify me. It’s been a good relationship so far.”
Tight end Greg Olsen said the offense is “by no means” a finished product, but it is in better shape.
Whether the 59-year-old Martz had a revelation during the bye or got a nudge from above, the Bears went away from having Cutler take deep drops. They committed more to the running game. They’re moving Cutler around, and he’s taking fewer big hits after getting flattened in the early going.
Martz’s stock may be rising again, too. He even acknowledged this week that he would like to get another shot as a head coach. If not, he’s perfectly happy where he is.
“I think we all mature,” Martz said. “I’ve probably matured later in life than a lot of guys. I’m not there yet. I think we all change and grow with different situations. As you get older, there are things that don’t upset you or you react to as quickly as maybe you did early in your career.”
NOTES: WR Earl Bennett sat out practice with an ankle injury while LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) went on a limited basis.
Updated December 23, 2010
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