By Dan Bernstein–

Lovie Smith usually does not stand in the way of his assistants leaving to take bigger jobs elsewhere. Most NFL head coaches find that it’s good business to build a reputation as someone supportive of career advancement.

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But yesterday, when the Tennessee Titans faxed the Bears an official request to interview offensive line coach Mike Tice for their offensive coordinator position, it was denied swiftly.

Why keep Tice – a former head coach himself — from becoming an OC?

On the surface, it seems simple. Tice was believed to have done a decent job in his first season, instrumental in the construction and maintenance of a line that improved from awful to not-as-awful. Training camp experimentation dragged into the regular season, with Lance Louis and Johan Asiata supplanted at guard by Chris Williams’ move inside from tackle. Frank Omiyale flipped from right tackle to left. Rookie project J’Marcus Webb stabilized at right tackle under Tice’s tutelage.

With that area emphasized for improvement this offseason (or what’s left of it after the inevitable work-stoppage), it was important to retain consistency and avoid the difficulty of filling the position now.

There’s more to it, however.

The truth is that some at Halas Hall are still terrified that Mike Martz is a loon. Tice’s more traditional, conservative football sensibilities are seen as an important counterbalance to Martz’s desire to fling the ball all over the place.

There was real tension between the two, with disagreements occurring in the hallways and during games.

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Martz was roundly praised for changing his ways after Smith and Jerry Angelo did some off-week ‘splaining to him that his play-calling was endangering the season. He agreed to run the ball more, letting defense and special teams carry greater weight in determining outcomes. Fewer deep drops meant fewer opportunities for pass-rushers to tee off on Jay Cutler.

Even the pass plays were retrofitted. Cutler was never seen as ideal for the Martz system, so the offense added more see-it-throw-it patterns and rollouts to match his skills.

The Bears finished 21st in the NFL in points scored and 30th in yards. Hardly reason for a parade, or, as some speculated prematurely, the rekindling of interest around the league in Martz as a head coach.

When you have to praise your coordinator for agreeing to pretend to be somebody else, there’s an issue. New-found flexibility is great, but he’s not a different guy, and the Bears know it.

Problems in both Detroit and San Francisco surfaced in year two of Martz’s time in each city. Any accommodation for personnel or circumstance last year was a temporary pause in the installation of his vision.

There is no doubt what Martz really wants to do, and plenty of doubt as to whether or not it can succeed here, with this quarterback, these receivers and this offensive line. Remember, he was hired only out of desperation in the first place.

The struggle for balance and sanity will be ongoing, and Tice is viewed as an important influence in the offensive meeting room and on the sideline.

Smith and Angelo were not going to let that go so easily.

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Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM.
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