Columnist Phil Arvia runs through some possibilities, for better or worse.

Rex Grossman can continue to author more aborted plays than a Goodman Theatre workshop. He can continue to handle snaps like an arthritic beatnik. He can prematurely recoil from Olin Kreutz’s hindquarters as if the center’s pregame meal consisted entirely of selections from the legume family.

It matters not at all, as long as Lovie Smith is in his corner.


Which might explain the easy smile Bob Babich is walking around with these days.

As loved by Lovie as Rex “Is Our Quarterback” Grossman is, Babich is exponentially more so. The new defensive coordinator is also, from this vantage point, the Bear most likely to make a difference this season - good or bad.

Not that there are no other candidates. Consider Devin Hester -- or, if you’re Ron Turner after the return man’s shoulder injury Saturday, reconsider Devin Hester as a blocking wide receiver.

Then there’s Grossman, who was by turns brilliant and awful last season -- just as he was Saturday evening -- and the Bears still made it to the Super Bowl. Or Cedric Benson, assuming Thomas Jones’ role in the part of the offense to which the Bears pay lip service.

Tommie Harris? Until further notice, his surgeon is the difference-maker. New safety Adam Archuleta? Let Babich field that one:

“Obviously, I’m in position to have more of an impact, because I’m involved on every play, and Adam may not have that opportunity.”

Precisely. Which is why the feeling here is Babich comes into his job with the simple mandate of “Don’t Blow It.”

Of course, Babich doesn’t quite see things the way I do. I see a relative novice who is replacing in Ron Rivera a twice-Super pedigreed fan favorite and who will be derided as a patronage choice the first time an opponent throws a screen pass over a blitz.

And I imagine that if I were in his shoes, the most pressure I’d feel would be to justify Smith’s faith in me.

“No,” Babich said. “But, yeah, I understand what you’re saying.”

I’m glad somebody understands something. Because a lot of folks are still trying to figure out why Rivera got whacked -- er, the Bears declined to offer him another contract -- after helping them get to the Super Bowl last year.

For the record, I don’t believe it had anything to do with losing that game. I think Smith would have made this move even had they won -- and considering Rivera has been passed over nine times while interviewing for head coaching jobs in the past two years, Smith would hardly be the first person to choose another coach over Rivera.

Rivera, since latching on as linebackers coach in San Diego -- conveniently scheduled as the Bears’ season-opening foe - has studiously avoided griping. The closest he came was in an interview early this month with the Monterey Herald.

“The hardest thing is I was not quite sure where all the credit was going,” he said. “But I thought it was fair. With coach Smith, I got a chance to learn from one of the best.”

Babich got that chance much earlier, serving as a graduate assistant under Smith in 1984 at Tulsa, where they both toiled through ’86. Babich would return to Smith’s employ in 2003 with St. Louis and followed him to the Bears the next season.

“We started at a young age molding (our philosophy) together,” Smith said. “Then we went away. I think you should all leave the house ... get life experiences, then come back together.

“That’s what happened with Bob. He had been a head coach, he had acquired a lot of knowledge, along with still having the same basic philosophy on how we did things.”

Being in philosophical agreement with Smith hasn’t moved Babich to share how those philosophies might reveal themselves on the field -- though he dismissed efforts to label him “more aggressive” than Rivera.

“I don’t have any idea what difference my presence as a defensive coordinator will make in the personality of the defense,” he said.

But maybe this is a clue:

With Mike Brown and Harris in the lineup last year, the Bears never allowed more than 286 yards, and before the game in which Harris got hurt, a foe went over 300 only once in 11 games. After Harris and Brown were out, including the playoffs, the Bears allowed eight straight games of at least 306 yards.

Babich appropriately praised those players and considered their losses, but added a caveat that suggests his hand will not be so light on the tiller as Rivera’s: “Once we got the home-field advantage, the guys felt really comfortable about where we were. We just needed to continue to improve our game. It didn’t quite work out that way.”

This season, it will work out, or not, Babich’s way. Which is also Smith’s way. Which, I guess, makes Smith the Bear Most Likely To Make a Difference - as he should be.

Phil Arvia can be reached at
parvia@dailysouthtown.com
or (708) 633-5949. Read his blog at http://blogs.dailysouthtown.com/arvia