Wednesday, August 4, 2004

By NICK WAGONER
Staff Writer

Quiet, unassuming, calm. The adjectives used to describe Lovie Smith hardly tell anyone that he is one of the league’s greatest defensive minds and brightest young coaches.

The former Rams’ defensive coordinator returns to Macomb on Thursday, the place he spent the past three years teaching his players in the ways of the Cover 2 defense. This time, though, Smith won’t wear the traditional blue and gold of St. Louis and he won’t be barking out orders to the like of Aeneas Williams, Adam Archuleta and Leonard Little. Instead, Smith will be the man in charge of the whole team…for the Chicago Bears.

Rams’ coach Mike Martz said he approached Smith about the scrimmage and is excited to see his former assistant head coach.

“Lovie is a very good friend,” Martz said. “Knowing Lovie and how he will approach this practice, it’s almost like practicing against your own team. There won’t be the fights and all that stuff that happens.

“After this amount of time, you just need to lineup against somebody different.”

The Bears and Rams are set to scrimmage at 10:30 Saturday on Hanson Field at Western Illinois University. The teams will have three practices in the two days leading up to the scrimmage, one Thursday and two Friday. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will be in town Thursday.

Martz isn’t the only person from the Rams anticipating Smith’s return. Archuleta, who spent his first three seasons in the league playing for Smith at safety, said Smith had a profound impact on him as a player. For now, though, Archuleta is somewhat upset with Smith. Archuleta tried to call his former mentor in the days before training camp with no success. After leaving a message for Smith, the coach didn’t return his call.

Archuleta joked that he would make Smith pay for his lack of communication skills.

“I’m still waiting on my phone call,” Archuleta said. “I’m going to have to give him something on that.”

With Smith in charge, however, the Rams’ defense was no laughing matter. Smith’s defenses were known for their swarming, ball-hawking style. A style that was no more evident than in Smith’s final season in St. Louis in 2003. The Rams led the league in takeaways with 46 and tied for second in defensive touchdowns with five.

While most defensive coordinators rely on a hard-nosed, tough-guy approach, Smith found the right blend of subtlety and toughness. The furthest Smith would go would be to yell “Jiminy Cricket” at someone who made a mistake.

“I’ve never met a person that can hold you accountable, and you know you are being held accountable, without yelling,” Williams said. “He was that kind of person. When he said something, he said it almost in a matter of fact kind of way. He didn’t say in a defensive meeting whom he was talking about, but you always knew who he was.

“If you were the person, you knew it. So, after his meetings you would feel like your dad had just spanked you, but he hadn’t touched you.”

Williams should know the kind of impact Smith can have on a defense. After 13 years of Pro-Bowl caliber play at cornerback, Williams moved to safety. That kind of switch would be difficult anyway, but for an established star? It seemed almost unbelievable. Williams proceeded to recover four fumbles and snare four interceptions, scoring two touchdowns.

That’s the kind of thing that made Smith one of the league’s hottest coaching commodities entering the offseason. With Smith came former Rams’ linebackers coach Bob Babich and a new staff. He also brought the Cover 2 scheme that emphasizes speed and turnovers. He also brought his “Loaf Chart,” which kept track of which players were giving full effort on every play.

Williams said he is certain Smith will be a great head coach.

“It’s just going to be different seeing him over there with those sunglasses on,” Williams said. “You’ll hear his voice, but it won’t be on your side. I’ll have to keep myself, when I hear him make calls, from reacting to his voice.
“I miss him a lot. I can only say this; I have never come across a coach like him. I wish him all the success. I think he will be very successf