Originally created 01/16/04

Smith: My Bears will beat Packers



LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Lovie Smith didn't waste any time trying to win over the Chicago Bears and their fans.

The new head coach promised a more aggressive, explosive offense. He promised to return the once-proud franchise to its glory days. And, most importantly, he promised to beat the Bears' hated rival, the Green Bay Packers.

"The No. 1 goal that we'll have, the No. 1 goal, is to beat Green Bay," Lovie said after he was introduced Thursday, prompting a long round of applause from Bears officials and staff in the room.

"I feel the pain of seven years that the Chicago fans have of losing to them. I've been on the winning side the last five times I've played them, so I think we know how to beat them."

Smith is going to need to do more than beat Green Bay, though. The Bears have a long, storied history as the original team in the NFL, and some of the greatest names in the game wore a Chicago uniform. Halas. Butkus. Grange. Luckman. Nagurski. Payton. Singletary. Ditka.

But the once-proud franchise has been downright dismal recently, with just one winning season in the last eight years and only two playoff appearances since 1992. Dick Jauron was fired Dec. 29 after posting losing records in four of his five seasons, including 7-9 in his final year.

"As the leader of our team, I will do everything possible to bring back the pride, tradition and excellence of the glory days of past great Bear teams," Smith said. "We want to win a world championship. Just like our '85 Bears, led by a great coach that I deeply admire, Mike Ditka."

Smith is the first black head coach in Bears history. He's also the fifth in the league, joining Dennis Green, hired two weeks ago by Arizona. The others are Herman Edwards of the New York Jets, Marvin Lewis of Cincinnati and Tony Dungy of Indianapolis, one of Smith's mentors.

"I take pride in that," Smith said. "Me being in this position right here will just open the eyes of a lot of young African-American men to see what you can accomplish if you have a goal. Really it should be about what you have inside, not the color."

Smith, defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams the past three seasons, emerged as the front-runner after LSU coach Nick Saban turned the Bears down last weekend. Saban wanted more control in personnel issues, something general manager Jerry Angelo wasn't willing to give up.

But despite the perception the Bears settled for their second choice just as they did when they hired Jauron, Angelo insisted Smith was the coach he really wanted. So much so, he said he would have waited if the Rams hadn't lost to Carolina in the playoffs last weekend.

"I felt very comfortable and very confident that Lovie is the leader we need," Angelo said, "and the person that's going to take us to the next level."

Smith has already shown he can make a difference immediately. St. Louis had one of the league's worst defenses when he arrived, allowing 471 points in 2000. A year later, the Rams had the league's third-best defense, giving up 273 points.

This season, St. Louis led the NFL with 46 takeaways. Leonard Little also had 12 1/2 sacks, third-best in the NFC. The Bears will run the same system, Smith said.

But defense isn't as big a problem as Chicago's stagnant offense. The Bears had the NFL's worst offense for all but four weeks this season and finished 28th with 273.8 yards a game.

And the Bears weren't just bad, they were boring, too. Offensive coordinator John Shoop was booed routinely, and the players weren't shy with their frustrations. So they had to like what they heard Thursday. Smith said he plans to use an offense similar to those run in Kansas City and St. Louis, high-powered, run-and-gun schemes that are sure to entertain fans and players alike.

"He's talking good things, so I think things will work out around here," receiver Marty Booker said. "It's been bad around here for so long. I feel the only way we can go is up. I'm pretty excited and hope it all works out."

Smith already knows who he wants as his offensive and defensive coordinators, and he's expected to hire them quickly. Most of Jauron's assistants already have new jobs, and Smith isn't expected to keep much - if any - of the existing staff.

Smith met with some of his new players Thursday, and he's already familiar with linebacker Brian Urlacher and center Olin Kreutz. Despite their recent records, Smith said the Bears have enough talent to win.

"I just want to let the guys know that it's a new day," he said. "I don't believe in rebuilding and things like that. I'm looking for us to make that move right away to beat Green Bay, to win the division and to, ultimately, win that world championship."