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Lovie a match for Eagles? Dungy thinks so

geoff mosher csnphilly

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 03:22 PM

Mosher

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Lovie a match for Eagles? Dungy thinks so

January 10, 2013, 3:00 pm

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Whether or not Lovie Smith is the right man at the right time for the Eagles is a debate raging on social media, sports-talk radio stations and bar stools across the Delaware Valley.

For the most part, fans are divided between program builders and retreads as the person most qualified to replace 14-year head coach Andy Reid, who was fired last Monday by the Eagles after going 4-12.

Smith, who interviewed for the Eagles’ head coaching vacancy Thursday, coached the Bears to a Super Bowl and two trips to the NFC Championship. He was fired last Monday after a 10-6 season that followed an 8-8 season.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has promised the team’s legion of fans to “leave no stone unturned” in his wide-ranging search to find Reid’s replacement. Already, the search committee of Lurie, president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman has prowled the college landscape along with interviewing a smattering of NFL assistants.

The tepid reaction to the team’s announced plan to meet with Smith, the only unemployed former head coach that the Eagles have been willing to publicly admit that they’re talking to, raises questions about whether the 54-year-old mild-mannered former Bears coach is the answer.

But someone very familiar with Smith’s resume and personal history thinks the match is a no-brainer.

“I think good fits are people who win,” Super Bowl champion coach Tony Dungy said in an interview with CSNPhilly.com. “There aren’t that many good coaches out there, coaches that have the track records of going to the playoffs and going to the Super Bowl. That’s important.

“Getting people to play well and be in contention all the time. It’s not that easy. I know Lovie can do that. If you’re in it, you have a chance to win. Lovie is good. Wherever he lands, they will win.”

Dungy can speak from personal experience. He’s close friends and former coaching associates with Smith, whose NFL coaching career started in 1996 as an assistant in charge of linebackers on Dungy’s staff in Tampa Bay.

He and Smith are also cut from the same cloth -- staid, introverted coaches with strong religious convictions who have battled NFL stereotypes that conservative personalities can never appeal to fans from blue-collar cities.

“People want demonstrative stuff. Frankly, that was one of the problems in Chicago [with Smith],” Dungy said. “People wanted Mike Ditka, and when you’re not Mike Ditka, if you win, that’s great. But as soon as you don’t win, it’s, ‘We should have what we want.'

“I think that’s always going to be the case with Lovie. He’s never going to be a caricature of someone else, but it’s gotten good results. He’s been a head coach who went to the Super Bowl. If you just look at results, they’re pretty good.”

Only Ditka and the legendary George Halas have won more games for the Bears than Smith, who went 81-63 in his nine seasons in Chicago and compiled the franchise’s third-highest winning percentage (.563).

Smith had the eighth-most wins and ninth-highest winning percentage among active NFL coaches until the Bears, under new management, parted ways with Smith after Chicago lost out on a tiebreaker for the second NFC wild-card berth.

The firing saddled Smith with the dreaded “retread” label, which has become the NFL’s version of the Scarlet Letter. Fans here bristle at the mere mention of their franchise bringing in someone who didn’t win “The Big One” elsewhere -- even though no coach in NFL history has won a Super Bowl with two different franchises.

“Lovie is going to do what he does -- that’s produce good football teams, be fundamentally sound, have teams that are there all the time, in competition to win it,” Dungy said. “If that’s what the owner of the Eagles wants, he will do it for them.

“He wants to win the Super Bowl every year, too. He will get the guys playing his way and he will get them on board for how they’re going to do it. He did it pretty quickly in Chicago, did it quickly in St. Louis. I don’t think it would take very long at all.”

Dungy is the shining example of what Smith could be -- a winning coach with a proven formula who reached the pinnacle in his second destination after wearing out his welcome in his first location.

Dungy resurrected Tampa Bay into title contenders from 1996-2001 and made the postseason four times in six years before Bucs management soured on his conservative offense and ho-hum demeanor and fired him in after a 9-7 season and first-round playoff loss.

He was unemployed for all of eight days before the Colts hired him and then made the playoffs in each of Dungy’s six seasons there. They won the Super Bowl -- over Smith’s Bears, ironically -- to culminate the 2006 season.

Smith had the Bears back in the NFC Championship game by 2010 with an 11-5 record and finally with a franchise quarterback. But a knee injury to Jay Cutler in the third quarter against eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay kept the Bears from playing for another title.

Chicago brought in a new general manager before the 2011 season, which is usually the prelude to an impending coaching change.

“Well, it is amazing. You look at Chicago, they were in the Super Bowl [in 2006]. Two years ago they were in the NFC Championship game,” Dungy said. “Last year, they started 7-3 and Cutler got hurt, then they had some issues. This year, [they started] 7-1. I’ve been there, where expectations are high and you get new people in and they want their people in place.

“Your only hope as a [retread] coach is maybe I can sell them with results. That was my strategy. That was the way I tried to do it. Eventually, I think that’s what happened to me in Tampa Bay. They felt if we had more of something else, we could win more. All you can do is run your program the way you can. I tried to win and hope the results speak for themselves.”

If he’s hired by the Eagles, Smith would face the same questions about offensive coaching competence here that Dungy faced upon his arrival in Indianapolis. Smith’s top-ranked defenses carried the Bears, who somehow went to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback and lacked a legitimate franchise quarterback until Cutler arrived in 2009.

Even with Cutler, the Bears never ranked higher than 16 in total offense and were carried by their defense, which had three top-five rankings in the past six years.

Here, Smith would inherit an offense that has Pro Bowlers at wide receivers (DeSean Jackson), halfback (LeSean McCoy) and left tackle (Jason Peters) but with a question mark at quarterback in second-year pro Nick Foles, provoking concern about the offensive staff that Smith would assemble.

Smith went through four different offensive coordinators in his nine seasons with the Bears, including Mike Martz, an renowned mastermind who presided over the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense in St. Louis that won a Super Bowl in 1999 and went back three seasons later with Smith in charge of the defense.

Dungy walked into a more fortunate situation in Indianapolis, which had Peyton Manning emerging into an annual MVP contender by the time Dungy and his staff took over.

“People don’t understand that it’s hard. it’s very difficult to have a top-echelon unit on both sides of the ball in the salary-cap era,” Dungy said. “Look at New England. They’re playing great on offense right now. They’re not a top-tier defense even though Bill Belichick might be one of the best defensive coaches coaching.

“When we were in Tampa, we were a defensive team. Our money was on defense and we played that way. We were built that way. That’s just the way it rolls. We got to Indy and our money is on offense, even though I was a defensive coach. We didn’t have top-five defenses. It’s not hard to be an offensive team if you spend money on offense. Mike Martz put as up many numbers as you can put up in St. Louis. He didn’t have the same parts of the puzzle [in Chicago] he had in St. Louis, I don’t think.”

Dungy also had the fortune of coaching in the Heartland, where his outspoken devout Christian principles and laid-back nature are much more embraced and celebrated than they are in Philadelphia, where fans check religion and creed at the stadium entry on football Sundays.

“Lovie is just going to be a coach, Dungy said “If [ownership is] looking for an entertainer or somebody to pacify the fans, he’s not going to be that. If they’re looking for someone to deliver good football, sound football and win, he’ll be just fine.”

E-mail Geoff Mosher at gmosher@comcastsportsnet.com