Past, present collide in Lovie's return

CHICAGO -- It's Lovie Bowl week, another excuse to get nostalgic about the good ol' days.

Who doesn't want to relive how cool it was to play for Lovie Smith?

Man, Lance Briggs makes it sound as though Lovie was Gil Thorp plus George Halas with a dash of Craig T. Nelson.

"Lovie should be remembered as one of the great coaches in Chicago," Briggs said during his Wednesday news conference at Halas Hall. "George Halas. You have Mike Ditka. And Lovie Smith comes next."

I can't wait to ask him about playing for Marc Trestman in a couple of years:


You know, Trestman. The dude with the glasses. He caught a lot of grief for letting you skip a practice to open a barbecue restaurant.

Trest ... man?

As Trestman adjusts to life in the spotlight in Chicago, Smith is the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field in a matchup of lackluster sad sacks.

Thanks to both teams' foibles, the Lovie Bowl is strictly a civic affair, not a national storyline.

After nine years in Chicago, Smith left an indelible impression on his former players, and their stories of him are both charming and inspirational. Young coaches should study his methods on how to build an aura, let alone a defense.

The Bears' recent past wasn't that great by our tough modern standards of championship or bust: Lovie was fired, in part, because he made the playoffs only once post-Super Bowl, but also because that record got his general manager, Jerry Angelo, fired. But given the aberrant state of the present Bears, the Lovie Days sound positively sublime.

In retrospect, anyway.

Smith and 2013 folk hero Josh McCown return to Chicago this week not so much as conquering heroes, but rather as two down-on-their-luck football archaeologists looking through the relics of fonder times.

These Bears that welcome Smith and McCown back are a mess, to put it mildly: a supposedly offensively focused organization that can't score, along with a defense and special teams that are stains on Lovie's legacy.

As it stands this week, the 4-6 Bears (12-14 since Lovie left) are no better off without him. The reverse isn't true, either.

Under Smith, the Buccaneers (2-8) have given up the third-most points in the NFC. The Bears have given up the second-most points.

Smith gets a pass this year. And it's tough and probably unfair to judge Trestman on less than two seasons in charge.

While Briggs has respectfully waxed on about Smith's importance to him, personally and professionally, there are only 12 players on the Bears' active roster (not including injured corner Charles Tillman) who played for Smith.

Smith said he isn't worried how he will be received in Chicago on Sunday. He shouldn't be. Some fans will boo him, for one reason or another, while many more will cheer. One would hope the Bears recognize him with some kind of welcoming message. And he should be honored here when his coaching career ends.

"Oh, I know how I'm remembered there," Smith said during a conference call with the Chicago media. "So as I come in Sunday, I'm coming in as an opposing coach. That's how I'm looking at it. The year I had off, and just being in Chicago for nine years, I don't need anything validated this week.

"Fans were great to me and my family while we were there. Administration was. I have lifetime friends on the Chicago Bears football team. So I think I have all those things. Right now, I'm an opposing coach on the other side of the football coming in this week."

All of the Lovie retrospectives this week, written or spoken, have conjured up the sweet memories of Smith. With Trestman's run turning quite sour, it's easy to dawdle in recent history.

But with past and present colliding, it's not wrong to think about the future.

Like, who gets to follow Trestman?

No offense intended to Trestman, but when you can't live in the past and the present isn't pretty either, the future is all you've got.

Trestman's job could be in jeopardy depending on how the Bears finish their last six games. And if he doesn't make the playoffs next season, certainly that's it.

While the Lovie love stories this week have resulted in sentimental longing from some fans, I'm thinking toward the future. I'm reading "Collision Low Crossers," Nicholas Dawidoff's book about spending the 2011 season with the New York Jets. So, I'm thinking about Rex Ryan with the Bears, and not as defensive coordinator.

I know, I know. Too easy. Too meatball. The woeful Jets are 2-8 this season, having just ended an eight-game losing streak.

But you always go with opposites when it comes to coaching changes, right? And Rex is not just a personality. He's a defensive guy. For all his recent struggles and concerns about his outsize persona, Ryan did take the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Games, and he is more than just Buddy Ryan's son. Imagine Rex Ryan, who isn't long for his job with the Jets, winning in Chicago.

Ah, I'll save that for next month, when Trestman's seat could be red hot.

We've got six weeks left in this season, plenty of time to daydream about the future. For now, let's live in the past. Lance, pass the ribs and tell me another Lovie story.