Lovie, Dungy Share a Bond, Now a Goal

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 23, 2007; 3:56 AM

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Lovie Smith owes his start in the NFL to Tony Dungy. And much more. There was an exchange of ideas from both defensive-minded coaches. And Smith was an interested observer of how Dungy treated his profession and his players.

Their strong friendship has lasted for a decade and now Smith of the Chicago Bears and Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts will try to beat each other and win the Super Bowl.

"I would not use laid back," Smith said of the description both have been given for their sometimes stoic demeanors.

"I think our styles are similar as far as we try to treat the players like men and expect them to behave that way," Smith added. "Be yourself and just believe in what you know and just stay with that through the storms and different things like that and you can get the job accomplished."

When the Bears were enjoying a bye week during the first round of playoffs, Smith ventured to Indianapolis to see Dungy and the Colts win their playoff opener against the Chiefs.

And after the Bears routed the Saints 39-14 on Sunday in the NFC title game, Smith joined his family and they watched the Colts win a trip to Miami by rallying past New England in the AFC championship.

Dungy, as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, hired Smith to be in charge of his linebackers. A bond formed and it has become a strong one.

The two friends spoke early Monday morning after their big victories.

"I heard excitement in his voice right away, when I finally let him speak a little bit," Smith said, flashing some humor.

"This was a time that we both wanted going into the weekend. When people asked me, I let everyone know that I wanted the Colts to win. We wanted an opportunity to play them and that dream came true."

Smith, like Dungy, isn't a yeller and screamer but he gets his point across _ sometimes with a look _ and makes sure things are done the way he wants. He's low-key but has been seen on the sidelines this season running and raising his arms when a touchdown is scored.

"I've had a couple other coaches and they've kinda been on the opposite end of the spectrum, yelling and kinda carrying on and stuff like that," said left tackle John Tait, part of an offensive line that helped the Bears rush for nearly 200 yards against the Saints.

And Tait said the more aggressive style is OK, too. It just doesn't work for Smith.

"Lovie's not that way, he kinda treats his guys like we're grown men," Tait said. "Shows you a lot of respect and in return I think you give a lot of respect to Lovie."

When he first came to the Bears in 2004 after a stint as the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, Smith's first rule was this _ lose the love handles.

Everyone, including quarterbacks and assistant coaches, were put on notice. Hit the workout room and eat right because, in Smith's world, football is won with quick and lean players, not massive ones.

He wanted his defense to pursue all over the field, create takeaways _ the Bears had an NFL-best 44 in the regular season and four more Sunday _ and then pick up the ball and run to the end zone. Scoring on defense is allowed, so why not try to do it all the time? In Bears practices when there is a fumble or interception, the defensive player who comes up with the ball runs to the end zone.

Smith's loyalty was fierce throughout the season as he stuck with Rex Grossman, despite some erratic performances from the young quarterback and harsh criticism from the outside.

Grossman responded with two workmanlike performances, a very solid 282-yard passing game against Seattle in an opening playoff win and then a good-enough-to-get-it-done outing against the Saints when he completed four straight passes during a key second-half TD drive.

Smith gave his quarterback a hug after the game and told him he loved him, realizing what Grossman had been through.

Now after some down time, the Bears will go back to work and get ready for the great challenge of stopping Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Smith, saying he's glad the Bears have two weeks before the game, will make sure his team's prepared properly. He's been in the Super Bowl as a defensive coordinator with the Rams.

"We lost that game and that feeling I will never forget. I have a scar, that's a scar that will never go away of a loss in that Super Bowl," he said.

"I don't want that feeling again."

© 2007 The Associated Press