By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) Lovie Smith is gone. And it has Iron Mike steaming mad.
“I think Lovie is a very good coach,” Mike Ditka ranted on WMVP-AM earlier this week after Smith was fired by the Bears following a 10-6 season. “Everybody is a little bit different in their manner. I think that’s a 10-win season. They started 7-1. This team, there’s a reason they lost some games in between.”
Ditka went on to call the Bears “stupid” for canning Lovie, pointing out that if the Packers had beaten the Vikings last Sunday, Smith would instead be preparing to coach the Bears in a playoff game this weekend.
“If Minnesota would have lost last night and the Bears were in the playoffs this wouldn’t have happened,” Ditka argued on Monday. “That’s a fact. So how stupid is it then? It really is stupid.”
But, from my vantage point, Lovie’s firing isn’t stupid at all. After all, following a 7-1 start, the Bears shouldn’t have needed Green Bay to win just so they could slip into the playoffs for what would have only been the second time in six years.
Beyond that, as I pointed out in a column a month ago, it wasn’t Smith’s overall record in Chicago – a solid 81-63 (.563) – that merited his firing. Rather, it was his overall record against teams with winning records.
With his Bears career now complete, we can now view Smith in totality. And in nine seasons, he compiled just a 20-40 record (.333) against opponents that finished their season with an above-.500 record. That’s compared to the 23-26 mark (.469) that Packers coach Mike McCarthy has posted against winning teams during his seven seasons in Green Bay. On the strength of those numbers, McCarthy is 74-38 (.661) overall.
This week, Ditka’s comments about Smith’s firing got me curious about how “Da Coach” fared against winning teams during his coaching career with the Bears. Additionally, I wondered how the coaches in between Ditka and Lovie – Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron – held against top competition during their time in Chicago.
What I discovered was surprising. And it leads me to wonder if Ditka may have been a bit more lucky than good as an NFL coach, while also questioning whether Wannstedt and Jauron weren’t quite as awful we found them to be. That’s not to say they were good, mind you. But when it comes to scheduling, both Wanny and Dick were dealt shockingly bad hands in Chicago.
But first up, Ditka. During his 11 seasons in Chicago, Iron Mike racked up an impressive 106-62 record (.631). He did so by going 27-41 (.397) against winning teams, 68-16 (.810) against losing teams and 11-5 (.688) against .500 teams.
Following a 5-11 season in 1992, Ditka was fired and replaced by Wannstedt. During his six seasons in Chicago, Wanny went 41-57 (.418) overall. That total included an 11-41 (.212) record vs. winning teams, a 22-13 record (.629) vs. losing teams and a 7-2 record (.778) record vs. .500 teams.
After going 4-12 in 1998, Wannstedt gave way to Jauron. In five seasons at the Bears helm, Jauron went 35-45 (.438) with a 13-31 record (.295) vs. winning teams, an 18-8 record (.692) vs. losing teams and a 4-6 (.400) record vs. .500 teams.
What jumped out at me most when compiling this research was the inordinate amount of winning teams that Wannstedt and Jauron faced during their Bears careers when compared to Ditka and Smith.
While in Chicago, 52 of Wannstedt’s 98 Bears games (53.1 percent) came against winning teams, while Jauron faced winning foes in 44 of his 80 Bears games (55 percent).
Smith, meanwhile, coached against winning teams in just 60 of his 144 Bears games (41.7 percent), while Ditka faced winning competition in only 68 of his 168 Bears games (40.5 percent). As a further point of comparison, up in Green Bay, McCarthy has faced winning teams in 49 of his 112 career games with the Packers (43.8 percent) – on par, for the most part, with Ditka and Smith.
Now, to be sure, both Wannstedt (.212 winning percentage) and Jauron (.295) were awful against the winning teams that they faced while in Chicago. But, at the same time, they also had to coach an inordinately high percentage of their games against them.
Neither coach benefited from the favorable schedules that both Smith and Ditka enjoyed during their tenures in Chicago. Surely, that played a role in helping Smith and Ditka pile up regular season records that were so much superior to Wannstedt’s and Jauron’s.
Considering all that, perhaps Lovie and Ditka weren’t quite as good as they’ve appeared, while Wannstedt and Jauron weren’t quite as bad. As with most things, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.
But what these numbers surely show us is that success in the NFL isn’t just about good coaching. It’s about good scheduling, too.
The next Bears coach should hope he gets lucky.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.