Ask the 10 biggest Bears fans you know: Would they rather the Bears beat the Lions on Sunday to make the playoffs or lose to increase the chances of a coaching change? See if they answer quicker than Jay Cutler feels the pass rush on third-and-long.
My sense is your research will jibe with our completely unscientific chicagotribune.com poll last week.
According to the online poll, 52 percent of 3,414 respondents preferred a chance to see coach Lovie Smith fired over the Bears making the field of teams playing for a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. The sentiments surprise nobody in Chicago who's paying attention. Nothing sums up the sad state of football affairs better lately than the amount of feedback from diehards who consider losing games finding hope and root against the Bears.
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Usually it seems silly dwelling on unreliable totals drawn from impromptu questions concocted by somebody who put more thought into what socks to wear. But every so often the results of all the mouse clicks make you think, and they can't be ignored. Now is one such time. Especially if you are Bears Chairman George McCaskey.
Lovie Smith has lost Bears fans like never before in nine seasons. If there are Smith supporters out there, they are the most silent minority in Chicago sports. Perhaps years of avoiding talking to fans via Chicago's sports-talk radio stations and speaking down to folks at news conferences have caught up to a guy who has no public support when he could use some. By design, Smith keeps a football city at arm's length and, gradually, this season that distance has grown.
One rational reader emailed to ask whether recent critical columns reflected a dislike for Smith. It's a fair question. The truth is I don't like Smith. I don't dislike him either. Regarding the person behind the coach, I am a Lovie agnostic. I accept responsibility for not trying to get to know Smith better. I am fairly certain he never noticed or cared whether I did or didn't. It's irrelevant.
I respect that Smith values his family, watches his language and never has embarrassed his employer during a solid nine-season tenure. But the more I thought about it, I realized I felt no strong emotions about a man I have covered since he was hired on Jan. 15, 2004. Smith inspires that kind of indifference from people on his periphery. Apathy is the first symptom of Lovie Fatigue.
When it comes to evaluating his job, it's not personal. It might be easier for Smith's supporters if it were. Clinging to that idea only obscures Smith's professional shortcomings that limit the Bears organization moving forward.
Nothing about an NFL coach's personality matters if his team competes for Super Bowls and the organization's arrow keeps pointing up. But nothing that happened in 2012 convinced anybody that Smith understands how to assemble a modern NFL offense worthy of competing for Super Bowls. The local climate might be different if the Bears started 1-6 and improved to 9-6. But they started 7-1 and regressed.
In Week 17 of Season 9, Smith's Bears still can't move the ball consistently even with the most explosive quarterback-receiver combination in team history. They can't score touchdowns offensively. They can't beat the Packers.
Make the playoffs, miss the playoffs … Sunday's outcome really shouldn't affect the direction the Bears seem headed under Smith or the ultimate decision of general manager Phil Emery. Will a first-round loss to the 49ers make Emery feel better about his offense's ability to outsmart the Packers? How could Emery possibly still be undecided? Nothing logically suggests the Bears' overall offensive approach will change before next season if Smith stays.
Since Smith arrived in '04, the Bears have the NFL's 31st-ranked offense. The common thread connecting the sustained ineptitude isn't Terry Shea or Ron Turner or Mike Martz or Mike Tice. It is Smith, who doesn't deserve to hire a fifth offensive coordinator and has no justification to bring Tice back. Continuity for Cutler? Who wants 18.6 offensive points per game to continue?
Defense still wins championships in the NFL. But offenses put teams in position to play for them.
Sure, the people have spoken about Smith. But the scoreboard speaks even louder, and it says the Bears offense needs to be revitalized even more than their fan base. One bold move accomplishes both.