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Faith keeps Bears' Smith grounded

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Pam Oliver

Since joining the NFL on FOX team in 1995, Pam Oliver has established herself as one of the premier sports reporters on network television. She contributes feature stories and sideline reports for "FOX NFL Sunday" and reports from the NFL on FOX's top game.

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ALL ACCESS: A lot of networks do TV interviews, but have you ever wanted to know the juicy details that never make air? You can tell a lot about who people really are when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look of the interview with Chicago coach Lovie Smith.

The Chicago Bears are the Dallas Cowboys of the Midwest.

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If you believe what you read and hear coming from those parts on a regular basis, a win that’s not quite on par with a major butt-whipping fuels demands for an immediate coaching change.

Fool around and drop a game to the Seattle Seahawks a week after your quarterback returns from the land of the concussed, combined with the fact your offensive line looks like the inspiration for the Dolly Parton song “A Coat of Many Colors,” and it’s a tragedy.

I’ve often wondered how Lovie Smith and other successful, but not successful-enough-lately head coaches, navigate it all.  I should have known the answer when it comes to Smith, the 2005 NFL Coach of the Year, who led the Bears to their first Super Bowl appearance in over two decades the season after receiving that honor.

For the years I’ve known him, Smith is simply the unflappable type and faith-driven to a degree I’ve suspected, but never bothered to explore. We all know religion mixed with sports can make people recoil like a child facing a tablespoon of Robitussin.

“I believe in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and just knowing in the end we’re going to be successful,” Smith tells me before I head up to Chicago for the Bears' matchup with the Redskins on Sunday.

“(You can’t) be up and down on your philosophy, what you believe in,” Smith says when I ask him about his approach to the job.

“God has a plan for my life and I go along with that every day.”

Uh oh.

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I’ve long been fascinated about how a devout man leads a 53-man NFL roster of players, a collection of coordinators, assistants, scouts and the like.  Smith gets ahead of me on this one and volunteers the answer before the question fully forms in my head.

“I’m not one with my Bible saying, ‘Hey guys, have you read your Bible verses?’... I don’t do that,” Smith says.

“My faith is strong and guys that have a similar faith as me will share, but I won’t go any further than that. If a guy doesn’t believe in God or have any faith at all, it’s not my job to try to convert him. We keep that on a professional basis.”

Professionally, Smith doesn’t wander far from his personal approach to all things. He believes you do what’s right, be honest and trust your foundation. He credits his solid family life, his upbringing and a long list of supportive coaches who nurtured him.

“My seventh-grade basketball coach still e-mails me every week,” he says. “You need to have a supportive group to survive.”

Smith’s survival as Chicago’s head coach seems in constant peril. You miss the playoffs three straight seasons and it’s goodnight and thanks for stopping by.  I know plenty of head coaches who are terribly insecure, slaves to perception, and who try to work the media in hopes of getting nice stuff written about them.

The Lovie Smith I know is guilty of none of the above. Honestly.

“As for the media, some people say they don’t listen to it (calls for one’s head and such.). I don’t,” Smith says. “If somebody says something good about me, what if somebody says something bad about you, does it help to know it?”

“Things that are wrong (with his football team) -- we see it, we correct it. It’s that simple.”

Here’s where the Norman Vincent Peale in Lovie Smith makes you scratch your power-of-positive-thinking head.

Running the ball is notoriously unappealing to new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who Smith told me was a very important hire for him and is a “great assistant, great coach, great guy.” 

Smith’s of the play-strong defense (eighth overall), run-first offense (26th overall), mind.  But through six games, the Bears have leaned toward throwing the rock like crazy people, with poor results in that offensive department, too (22nd overall).

“We’re not in a situation where we just think run first,” Smith says, “we feel like we can pass the football and win games, too.”

“I like what we’re doing,” Smith says of the idea of the plan, not so much the execution. “We’ve have a couple of bad games. I feel good about what we’re doing. You’re going to see a better offensive day for us this coming week.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Look at what we’ve gone through. We haven’t had the same offensive line. Last week Jay (Cutler) was out. We’ve been without receivers. A new offense we’ve put in -- there were some times for whatever reasons it didn’t work out.”

“Three third downs converted on 40 tries,’’ Smith continues, very animated. “HOW can you get ANYTHING done with that?”

The Bears do lead the NFC (4-2) and the division (2-0.) But ...

A little more faith, people.

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