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From Sun Times.


Lovie takes lead in coaches pole

January 12, 2004


The Nick Saban hangover didn't last long.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was back in the hunt for a new coach on Sunday night, beginning the interview process over dinner with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm. Angelo will meet with Grimm again today, and the Bears also have scheduled a second interview with St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith for Tuesday.

The hunt appears to be winding down, especially because Tuesday at midnight officially marks open season on assistant coaches without contracts for next season, and teams will begin the vital scramble to fill out staffs.

Smith is clearly the front-runner now given his immediate availability and his history with Angelo. The Bears' general manager has long used the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between a coach and GM, and it only stands to reason he's going to lean heavily on his personal knowledge and experience with any candidate.

Angelo and Smith worked together at Tampa Bay when Smith was a linebackers coach on Tony Dungy's staff and Angelo was player personnel director. Bucs assistant head coach/defensive line Rod Marinelli, regarded by Angelo as one of the best in league at his job, worked with Smith for five years and says he would make a great head coach.

''He's awesome,'' Marinelli said. ''Not just in terms of knowing the game of football, but in his leadership and ability to lead and direct men.''

Of course, the question with Smith or any defensive coordinator comes down to how they will handle the other side of the ball. Marinelli said Smith has much experience in that area.

''He's had a chance to be around some unique offenses,'' Marinelli said. ''We were a ball-control offense when he was here and the Rams are a big-play offense. The important thing is having been exposed to different systems.''

Grimm's arrival in town gives credence to the belief the Bears are coming close to a conclusion. Unlike any other candidate, he will be the first to tour the team's facility and meet with Bears president Ted Phillips.

A surprise candidate even in Pittsburgh, where Grimm is regarded as one of the best teachers on Bill Cowher's staff, the former guard has no experience as a head coach or coordinator, a fact that actually puts him in some pretty good company in NFL circles.

Philadelphia's Andy Reid, Minnesota's Mike Tice and the New York Jets' Herm Edwards were all hired as head coaches without previous experience as coordinators. Detroit's Steve Mariucci, San Francisco's Dennis Erickson and Arizona's Dennis Green all got their first NFL jobs out of college without experience as coordinators in the NFL.

St. Louis' Mike Martz, Green Bay's Mike Sherman and Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio all were hired as head coaches with just one year working as coordinators and Sherman's was under Mike Holmgren in Seattle, who basically called his own plays.

''Like anybody else, who knows when you are ready?'' Steelers coach Bill Cowher said of Grimm. ''But he certainly has a lot of the qualities you would want in a head coach. He's very organized and he commands tremendous respect from all his players. He's just a very good football coach.''

A Pittsburgh-area native who played college football at Pitt and is one of 25 candidates for the Hall of Fame, Grimm reminds a lot of people of former Bears coach Mike Ditka, with whom he shares many common traits. Ditka was never a coordinator before he was hired by the Bears and says Grimm's understanding of blocking schemes would be invaluable to any team, especially the Bears.

No one is saying the coaching search is down to a two-horse race between Grimm and Smith, but Angelo has yet to reschedule an interview with Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, and the Bears are thought to be unwilling to wait another week or two for New England's Romeo Crennel.

Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache could still get a chance to talk to Angelo, but it will likely be more of an informal meeting about Blache's offensive philosophy than a full-blown interview. The Bears could always have a mystery college coach waiting in the wings, but that scenario is increasingly unlikely.

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