LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith will take over defensive play-calling responsibilities from defensive coordinator Bob Babich next season as part of a shakeup of the team's coaching staff.
"I'm excited about taking a more hands-on approach to helping our defense get back to where it was," Smith said Tuesday.
Babich, who came under heavy criticism last year, will retain the defensive coordinator title but will take on the responsibilities of coaching linebackers. He coached Bears linebackers under former coordinator Ron Rivera from 2004-2006.
Rivera was not retained after the Bears' Super Bowl appearance two years ago and is now the defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers.
Chicago's defense finished 28th (354.7 yards per game) in 2007 and 21st this past season (334.7 ypg) under Babich. The Bears placed fifth (294.1) in 2006 and second (281.8) in 2005 under Rivera.
Smith, who built his reputation as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams from 2001-2003, said he doesn't think he's taxing himself by calling defensive signals in a game while also serving as head coach.
"I'm a big boy, and after five years in this role, I think you find out exactly how much time you have and where you have time to do a few more things," he said.
"This past year I coached the [nickel backs] for about half of the season and enjoyed that quite a bit. So I saw that I had a little bit more time to do some of these things. It's not unprecedented for head coaches to call defensive signals, but rare. There are a lot of offensive coaches in the league that call plays, that do a little bit more on their side of the ball where their expertise is," Smith said.
"For some reason, a lot of defensive coaches haven't done it. But I think it's time to change some of that."
The Bears hired former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli Saturday as defensive line coach and assistant head coach. Smith and Marinelli became good friends while coaching together under Tony Dungy with Tampa Bay from 1996-2000, and Smith said Marinelli will make his job easier.
"I have worked with Rod in the past. I know what he brings, he's an excellent teacher, communicator, motivator," Smith said.
Marinelli, fired after the Lions went 0-16, was pursued by both Seattle and Houston, but chose the Bears.
"I just knew that it was a perfect fit for Rod to be here," Smith said.
Babich, another close colleague of Smith's, was not made available for comment.
"Bob is a team player," Smith said.
"We didn't meet our expectations this past year and in the offseason you look to try to make improvements the best you can. ... And just because I'm going to be more involved doesn't mean that Bob's not our defensive coordinator. There will be a lot of things that he'll be helping me do.
The Bears linebackers-coaching spot was open because Lloyd Lee was fired when the season ended after Chicago finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Their former defensive line coach, Brick Haley, left to take a job with LSU. The team on Monday announced the hiring of Jon Hoke as defensive backs coach. He replaces Steve Wilks, who was fired after two seasons.