Lovie Smith is one of the best head coaches in the NFL. His track record is ridiculous, fielding dominant defense after dominant defense, going 81-63 with the Chicago Bears in one of the consistently most difficult divisions in football and notching a 3-3 playoff record and of course, making it to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as his quarterback.
And yet, he doesn't get all that much respect. The Sporting News ranked the NFL's current head coaches, and they had Lovie Smith as a middling 14th. They note that "only NFL insiders seem to respect his coaching chops", which sounds like it's meant to be a slight, although I'm not sure how, exactly.
John Harbaugh, Mike McCarthy, Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Tom Coughlin, Mike Tomlin and Pete Carroll are the only current NFL head coaches to have won a Super Bowl. In addition, Andy Reid, John Fox, Jim Caldwell, Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher and Ken Whisenhunt made it to a Super Bowl, matching Lovie Smith's accomplishment.
By the most generous count imaginable, where Lovie Smith ranks behind every coach to have also reached a Super Bowl, he would be at minimum the 14th-best coach in the NFL. Somehow, though, SN thinks he's a worse coach than Chuck Pagano and Mike Smith -- the only coaches ranked ahead of him who haven't made it to a Super Bowl.
It seems to me that Lovie Smith is consistently disrespected as a head coach, despite a ridiculous track record of success -- especially as a defensive coach. Sure, he's struggled to put together a quality offense -- but so do most coaches who don't have a quarterback who can carry the team. That's less an indictment of their coaching and more an indictment of the personnel department and offensive coordinators. Not that Lovie Smith is entirely innocent in that situation, but it's not a mark of death, either.
The other knock on Lovie is his in-game decision-making, especially his use of tight ends. I've said this before, but while that may be the most visible part of a head coach's influence, it's also the least important. And besides that, it's not entirely accurate, either. Lovie Smith was one of the more aggressive NFL head coaches, for instance. Perception, in this case, isn't necessarily reality.
There are many very good head coaches in the NFL. Lovie Smith is one of them, but he's consistently underestimated. We'll see how they feel about the man in charge after the 2014 season.