CHICAGO – Out of patience after three straight playoff misses, many Chicago fans were calling for coach Lovie Smith to be fired a year ago.
The Bears stuck with him. Now, they plan to keep him around a little longer.
The Bears gave Smith a two-year contract extension Friday, keeping him through the 2013 season after a year in which his team won the NFC North at 11-5 and reached the conference championship game.
Smith, who led the Bears to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season, is 63-49 over seven regular seasons and is 3-3 in the playoffs.
"Every day I've been on the job, the goal has been to do the best possible job that I could, and I could live with the results," Smith said. "With three years on my contract, I feel pretty good about that."
General manager Jerry Angelo had said last month that the Bears planned to sign Smith to an extension. Now, they're both locked in through 2013.
Smith said Friday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis that he was happy to get the deal done and gave his coaching staff credit for that.
"I'm in position to be here and get that extension based on what the players and our staff has done," he said. "They all did a great job."
The Bears came into the season with higher expectations after winning just seven games for the second time in three years. Management warned Smith and Angelo they needed to win, but there were some big changes to the coaching staff.
The Bears promoted Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator, and the offensive side got a major overhaul with the hiring of Mike Martz as coordinator and Mike Tice as the line coach.
In free agency, the Bears were big spenders and landed the top prize in Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. He delivered as advertised, and with Brian Urlacher back playing at a Pro Bowl level after being limited by injuries in recent seasons, the defense ranked among the best after several mediocre seasons.
Even so, the idea that the Bears would get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 team's Super Bowl run seemed far-fetched when they stumbled into their bye at 4-3 after a 3-0 start.
Quarterback Jay Cutler was taking a beating behind a struggling line, and the run was basically being ignored. All that changed during the off week, and with a more balanced attack, the Bears went on a 7-1 run that vaulted them to the NFC North championship and a first-round bye before finishing the regular season with a loss at Green Bay.
Three weeks later, the Packers knocked them out at Soldier Field on their way to the championship. Cutler was criticized for sitting out most of the second half of the playoff loss to Green Bay, but doctors later found he had a medial collateral ligament strain in his left knee.
"Just to kind of hit Jay one last time, no, there's no question about Jay's toughness or anything like that," Smith said. "For guys to even challenge that or question that don't know what they're talking about, don't know him. He's as tough as any quarterback in the league."
Smith said Martz's hiring was a success, even though the team ranked 21st in scoring and 30th in yards per game.
"Mike is a great offensive coach," he said. "We did some good things this year offensively. We won 12 games. We ended up in the (NFC) championship game. But Mike, and the rest of our staff, all of us would say we can take another step."
Smith said Cutler and Martz likely will improve in their second year together.
"I think the core is in place, starting with Jay Cutler, our quarterback, leading us," he said. "I wouldn't ask for any other quarterback. I'm excited about him going into that second year with Mike and seeing those improvements on the offensive side."
Smith said the Packers have set the bar for his team.
"We realize we have the Super Bowl champs in our division, and we're looking up to them," he said. "We're looking forward to this next year of trying to get ourselves in position where we can hold up the Lombardi trophy."
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