Bears general manager Phil Emery already has a history with coach Lovie Smith. As a scout for the Bears, Emery was on Jerry Angelo’s staff from 1998 to 2004. His final season — before heading to the Atlanta Falcons as a college scouting director — was Smith’s first as Bears coach.
“I got to know him and really gained an appreciation for him during that draft process,” Emery said of Smith. “He’s everything that he was then. He’s extremely earnest person. He loves people. He loves players, and they love him. He has a scheme, and a system and a plan. I mean, what’s not to like?
“He’s been a demonstrated winner. Great stability, great family, players love playing for him,” Emery said. “He’s the best recruiter in the NFL, when it comes to the unrestricted free agents, and college free agents. You have Lovie call them, and you know they’re going to be interested in becoming a Bear.”
Jason Campbell, in fact, told me as much. Campbell still had prospects of becoming a starter, but he didn’t want to wait and miss a chance to join Smith’s team.
Bears president Ted Phillips made clear to GM candidates that Smith would remain for at least the 2012 season. After that, Emery can choose who will be the head coach. Some NFL general managers prefer to have “Their Guy,” resistant to inheriting someone at that key position.
Does that matter to Emery?
“No, not at all. I’m more caught up in the person that Lovie is, and he’s a guy I want to be around,” Emery said. “That’s the key. I want to be around him, and, as I told him, ‘I want to do my part for you, so we can all be successful.’
“To me, it’s about helping him have the right players on the field, that are going to match his schemes and allow him to coach to his full efficiency, so we can win on the field.
“I feel very fortunate. I don’t know why anybody would look at that as a negative. As a first-time GM, having been through several coaching changes as a scout and as a coach, I know how disruptive that is. You can’t ever be afraid to make a change, if you know it’s going to be disruptive. However, I think I walked into a very good situation with Lovie Smith as our head coach. I mean, he’s a dean in the NFL for a reason. You don’t stay as long as you, at any one club if there aren’t a lot of high quality attributes as a person that allows you to still be competing and working toward victories.”
I asked Emery if there is something he’s looking for from Smith during this season, during this “test phase.”
“I don’t look at it as a test phase,” Emery said. “Lovie Smith is our head coach. We need to make progress toward our goal, which is winning championships. That’s how I’m going to be judged, that’s how everybody in the building is going to be judged. He understands he’s under that same umbrella. We’re all going to be judged on our progress toward championships, and consistency to be in the mix to win championships.”
Smith has a contract that runs through 2013. Smith insisted to me that his status doesn’t matter and that he feels the full support of the organization and ownership.
“Even if I was in the final year of my contract, what changes? If something changes, it would say, ‘You have to be in the last year of your contract to really do a good job and do your best job of coaching.’ No. You coach the same way,” Smith said. “Matt Forte just signed a big contract. We have a lot of guys with big, secure contracts. They’re not playing any different then how they were playing when they were trying to get that contract. That’s when you’re putting certain type guys on your roster, character guys, and it doesn’t affect anything.”
Asked about Smith’s contract expiring in 2013, Emery said, “My mind is not around that.
“It’s around the team and now. We’re all going to be judged by the same standards. That’s the standard I put myself on. At the end of that process, we’ll move forward, with where we’re at.