Is Smith the 20th best NFL head coach?

The Sporting News doesn’t seem to be much of a friend of the Chicago Bears. Remember that list of most overrated NFL players that prominently featured Brian Urlacher? Now the magazine has gone after head coach Lovie Smith.

The Sporting News recently ranked Smith as the 20th best current NFL head coach. For those not good at math, being 20th best isn’t all that good.

The Tribune’s David Haugh took issue with this ranking.

The Sporting News ranked the hideous Bill Belicheck of the New England Patriots as the top head coach. You can’t argue with that, I suppose. Next comes the equally hideous Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles (very fat, yes, but not hideous in the way that Coughlin and Bellicheck, both giant A-holes of men, are), Jeff Fisher from the Tennessee Titans and Mike Tomlin from the defending champion Steelers.

That’s a good list of coaches. Haugh, though, isn’t happy that Sean Payton of the Saints is ranked sixth. It’s easy to see why. Payton’s record with the Saints is a mediocre 26-24. Smith, by comparison, is 47-37 with two NFC North titles and an NFC championship.

That record might be considered a bit of a miracle if you lived through the horror of the Jauron and Wannstedt days.

Still, there’s something about Smith. He seems to have trouble managing close games, and often makes some rather dubious decisions. Remember that playoff game against the Seahawks during the Bears’ most recent Superbowl season? With time running down for the game, Smith called what I still consider the oddest timeout in Bears history, a timeout that almost let the Seahawks tie up a three-point game.

Haugh is probably right. Smith is probably not the 20th best head coach in the game. But there are enough holes in Smith’s coaching career to make the Sporting News’ ranking not an entirely shocking one.

Why does Tony Dungy care what the Bears do?

Former Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy stirred up a bit of controversey last week when he publicly questioned the Bears for trading for new quarterback Jay Cutler. It’s the kind of story that becomes news when there’s not much else going on.

Dungy, of course, is free to have his opinion. I personally think he’s wrong: The Bears, and their fans, have had to suffer with bad quarterbacking for so long, it’s nice to finally have a guy who can throw an accurate deep ball. What I don’t get, though, is why Dungy even made such a public statement.

Why does he care what the Bears do? He’s never had any connection with the Bears. He’s had to suffer with his own poor quarterbacks in his Buccanneers days. (Shaun King. Remember him?) He, of all people, should understand how important a top quarterback is to a team. I don’t remember Dungy winning any SuperBowls until after his quarterback became Petyon Manning.

So don’t worry about it, Tony. Maybe Cutler will fail. Maybe he’ll succeed. But the Bears would have been foolish to stick with Kyle Orton at quarterback.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Denver fans after next season ends.

Does bad baseball have you hungry for the Bears?

A radio host asked the question yesterday: Does the fact that this baseball season hasn’t exactly been great for either the Cubs or White Sox, make you yearn even harder for the start of the Bears season?

The host had a point. The Cubs are supposed to be World Series contenders — again — but haven’t looked the part. Their offense has been sluggish, their bullpen terrible and their run of injuries amazing. The Sox, my team, has been even worse. They’ve already been shut out a league-leading eight times. That’ll happen with a boom or bust offense.

And there is real excitement around the Bears this year. The team has a far more experienced crew of assistant coaches. And, of course, they have new quarterback Jay Cutler.

But you know what? I don’t think it really matters what the Cubs or Sox do. People in Chicago are always eager for the start of Bears season. The Cubs may be ultra-popular, but Chicago truly is a Bears town. When the Bears are good, you can feel the vibe in the city.

So I think we’d be hungry for the start of Bears season even if both the Cubs and White Sox hadn’t been so disappointing.

Did we get Tinoisamoa or Lawrence Taylor?

I’m glad that the Bears picked up linebacker Pia Tinoisamoa. He’s definitely an upgrade, and will look good playing alongside Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher.

By the way some coaches and players are talking about Tinoisamoa, you’d think he was the second coming of Lawrence Taylor.

Last year with the St. Louis Rams, Tinoisamoa was credited with 104 tackles in 16 games. He had three sacks. Both were career highs.

Those are solid numbers. They are not superstar numbers.

The Bears made a good move in adding Tinoisamoa. And I expect his numbers to go up this year. But let’s not expect too much out of the new linebacker or the Bears defense in general. This has been a lousy defense for two years running. The addition of a slightly-above-average linebacker isn’t going to change that.

Can you imagine having to pronounce Pisa Tinoisamoa?

I feel bad for anyone having to announce Bears games this year. But I feel especially bad for muddle-mouthed Brian Baldinger, who seems to call more than his share of Bears games every year. Not only does he have to pronounce Adewale Ogunleye on the few times the Bears defensive tackle makes a play, but now he’ll have to say Pisa Tinoisamoa, too.

Those are a lot of syllables rolling around that former jock’s mouth.

I’ve never been a fan of Baldinger. He gets too wrapped up in all the cliches of the game, things like momentum, and high energy and heart. I even remember him referring recently to the Bears’ very good defense, when the team’s defense, in fact, hasn’t been good since the SuperBowl year.

It’s going to be a tough year for Bears’ announcers. Remember, there’s Israel Idonije, too.

Who’s gone? Hillenmeyer, Roach or Williams?

So the Bears last week signed a new linebacker, one who’s name I can’t even try to pronounce: Pisa Tinoisamoa.

He played for the St. Louis Rams last year — poor guy — and has played under coach Lovie Smith, too. He’s certainly an upgrade over fellow linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams.

It looks, then, that one of those three will be gone next year. Who will it be? I’m guessing Hillenmeyer.

Hillenmeyer played well during the SuperBowl season. But he hasn’t done much since, and he’s never been the type of turnover-causing speed guy that Smith prefers.

Roach and WIlliams have not distinguished themselves. But they’re newer to the league. They probably have more potential.

Hillenmeyer always seemed like a smart player. He was a bit of a go-to guy for sports talk radio. But I have the feeling that we’ve seen the last of him in Chicago.

What if Benson has another good year?

I’m not sold yet on Matt Forte.

Yes, the Bears running back had a fine rookie season. He was a workhorse, and showed skills as both a runner and receiver.

But … there were some bad signs. There were many games in which Forte had little to no impact. There were a few where he rushed for an average of less than 3 yards a carry. And, worst of all, he faded as the season went along. The Bears, who were miraculously still in playoff contention during the last week of the season, needed Forte to carry them at the end of the year.

He didn’t. In the Bears 31-24 season-ending loss to the Texans, Forte managed just 50 yards rushing.

That brings me to Cedric Benson. Yes, he was a miserable bastard while with the Bears. Yes, he had his problems with the law, and with his fellow teammates. And when he was made the starter for the 2007 season, he flopped miserably.

But last year with the Cincinnati Bengals, Benson gained 747 yards rushing and 185 yards receiving, even though he didn’t become the Bengals’ starting running back until week 7.

It will be interesting to watch what happens to Benson this year. Will he be the 1,000-yard-plus workhorse he was supposed to be coming out of the University of Texas? And if he is, what does that say about the Bears’ coaching staff?

If Benson had been a stronger player for the Bears, they undoutbedly would not have drafted Forte. Like I said, I like Forte. But if Benson had been the answer at running back, the Bears could have drafted to fill another of their glaring needs, and they’d have a stronger team today.

Let’s just hope that the Bears didn’t mishandle Benson.

Saw a guy wearing Muhsin Muhammed jersey yesterday

I was in downtown Chicago yesterday when I saw someone wearing a Muhsin Muhammed Bears jersey.

At first I was amazed. Muhammed didn’t exactly have a stellar career while in a Bears uniform. In fact, near the end of his tenure here, it really was “boo” — and not “Mooooose!” — that you heard when he was on the field.

Then I thought a bit about this. Muhammed wasn’t great with the Bears. But he at least got into position to make catches. He ran good routes. He caught the ball when a Bears quarterback actually managed to throw it somewhere near him.

Was a he a touchdown machine? No. Did he catch 100 balls in a year? No. Was he a deep threat at all? No.

But he sure was better than Rashied Davis or Marty Booker or Brandon Lloyd. He was probably a more consistent receiver than is “number-one” receiver Devin Hester, too.

So maybe seeing that Muhammed jersey wasn’t so weird. Or maybe the guy wearing it didn’t have any other clean clothes.

Call it mercy: Boot Hampton from the radio waves

I always used to chuckle whenever I’d hear former Chicago Bear Dan Hampton shilling for some auto dealer on the radio. It was hard to get Hampton’s DUI arrest out of my mind.

I don’t laugh when I hear Hampton’s voice now. I cringe. Then I turn the dial.

Hampton is part of the largely unlistenable “Hampton & Holmes” radio show that runs from 10 a.m. until noon on Chicago sports radio talker the Score, 670 AM on your dial.

The problem is that Hampton stutters, a lot. He also rarely says anything original. And when he has to talk about anything besides the Bears? It’s not pretty. Listening to him analyze the Blackhawks’ postseason run has been damn painful.

I like Hampton as a football player. He was an invaluable member of those great Bears’ defenses of the mid- to late-1980s. (Anyone else remember how the Bears’ defense, and the team, fell apart after Hampton suffered a serious injury in 1989? A team that started the season 4-0 ended up a surprising 6-10.)

I hate him as a radio host. Please, someone at the SCORE do the right thing: Boot Hampton from the radio booth.

Did 1985 Bears have the best season of any football team ever?

The 1980s Bears should’ve won more than one Super Bowl. But those 1985 Bears did just about everything right on their way to that amazing Super Bowl win.

The book is a bit old now, but Dominance, written by Eddie Epstein, is a book that every fan of the Chicago Bears should check out. Epstein’s goal was to rank the very best seasons enjoyed by the very best teams in the NFL.

Epstein picks the 1985 Bears as having the best season that any NFL team has ever had.

I can’t disagree. That was one magical season. Yes, it was nearly 25 years ago. But there was something about the way that team routinely blew out opponents — who could forget the 44-0 drubbing of the Cowboys? — or the way the players seemed to have so much fun week in and week out, that makes the 1985 Bears unforgettable.

So if you haven’t read it, check out Dominance. It’ll bring back some great memories.