LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs considers current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith one of the greatest coaches in Chicago Bears franchise history, on par with team founder George Halas and the iconic Mike Ditka.
“Lovie should be remembered as one of the great coaches of Chicago,” Briggs said Wednesday. “You have George Halas, you have Mike Ditka, and then Lovie Smith comes next.”
Factually speaking, Briggs is correct.
Smith’s 84 wins in nine seasons (84-66) ranks third in Bears history behind only Halas (324-151-31) and Ditka (112-68). Smith led the Bears to three division titles and the 2006 NFC championship, falling to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
“We continued [the Bears] tradition of great defense throughout Lovie’s years,” Briggs said. “Now looking back, defense and special teams, it was a special time.
In particular, Briggs flourished under Smith, earning seven straight Pro Bowl selections (2005-11) from his customary weakside linebacker spot.
However, the relationship took time to develop.
“When he was hired I started doing a little research [about Smith],” Briggs said. “One of the guys that stuck out was [former Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker] Derrick Brooks. I remember when he got hired a lot of people were saying Brian [Urlacher] should play [weakside linebacker] and Lance should play [middle linebacker]. I remember him saying no. Brian is my middle linebacker and Lance is my weakside linebacker. It worked out. We bought in. All I remember doing that first year was run. We would run, run, run. We didn’t even know where we were running to, but we had to run.
"It was fun to be around Lovie, especially when you got to understand his personality. I remember back in 2004 [Smith’s first season in Chicago], he challenged me all the time. It would be like, ‘Lance, you’re not going to make that play, or he’s not going to make that play.’ Or he’d talk to Brian or some of the other players and say, ‘Lance can’t make that play. Derrick Brooks can make that play. The real No. 55 can make that play.’ As I started making more and more plays and the years went on, his tune really changed. That was earned. To me, that respect he showed me was earned. That goes for all the guys in the room.”
For all of Briggs’ fond memories of the Smith era, the 12-year NFL veteran still wants to win on Sunday. Briggs does not expect there to be a conflict of interest.
“I’m a Chicago Bear,” Briggs said.