CHICAGO—Harried, flinch-prone Bears head coach Lovie Smith said Thursday his biggest concern going into the 2011-2012 NFL season would be the constant presence of the cruel, derisive voices in his headset that keep calling him an idiot.
"I had hoped the voices would go away after last year, but they've been there all preseason," a visibly shaken Smith told reporters, saying the voices could be frustrated, angry, exasperated, or "even just sad, sometimes," and confirming he hears them whenever his headset is on. "Our first practice of the year, the first thing I heard when I put my headphones on was 'Welcome back, idiot.' I hadn't even done anything yet."
“I can’t stop them,” he added. “And if this season is anything like the last, the voices will only get louder and meaner. It starts with idiot, but the voices in my headset inevitably get angrier as the season goes on. They call me all sorts of things: moron, dumbass, stupid piece of shit—you name it. Sometimes all of them yell at once: ‘We could do this job far better than you without even trying, you fucking idiot.’”
Team sources confirmed Smith has been plagued by the voices in his headset throughout his tenure as the Bears' head coach, most notably but not exclusively during crucial game situations involving clock management, replay challenges, fourth-down play-calls, and decisions regarding when to use Devin Hester.
"Those account for about half the times the voices call me idiot on my headphones, and those are the worst," said Smith, adding that while he would like to ignore the voices, circumstances have made it difficult to do so. "It's tough, because usually when they're calling me that, something really bad has happened and I'm trying to figure out what to do next, and being called an idiot doesn't help at all, especially when it happens like 10 or 12 times a game."
“Sometimes I wonder what I have to do to make them go away,” he continued.
According to Smith, the accusing voices do not always confine themselves to headphones but can be heard coming from all manner of electronic communications devices and sometimes even through ambient noise.
"Often when I’m at home I’ll hear them on the radio,” Smith said. "On the TV, too, if I pay attention. And now and then, if I listen closely, I hear them on my phone, especially when I’m talking to [Chicago Bears GM] Jerry Angelo. They’re also there when I eat in restaurants or go grocery shopping—even when I’m at church and it seems that no one's talking but the pastor. They’re sort of taking over my life."
"Last season I even started hearing them in the shower, and that’s really scary, because it sounded like my voice when that happened," Smith added. “So I went to a psychiatrist, a real nice guy and a Bears fan. He said that maybe I should really listen to the voices, especially when they tell me to get off the fucking football field.”
Although the instances of hearing voices call him an idiot tapered off to just a few times a day during the summer lockout and ceased almost entirely when he was asleep, Smith said the frequency of the insults redoubled shortly after training camp began. The cries of idiot also began increasing in volume to the point that Smith reported hearing, during preseason games, roughly 60,000 people screaming "What are you doing, you idiot?" in unison.
"They came back in full force a couple days into practice, right after I cut [Pro Bowl center Olin] Kreutz and assigned a rookie center [in a complex and difficult-to-learn Mike Martz offense] to protect [fragile, mistake-prone quarterback and Smith protege Jay] Cutler [in a division that includes formidable defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and B.J. Raji]," Smith added. "In fact, that time the voices came from behind me where the offensive linemen were hanging out. But when I turned around, they weren’t talking at all.”
"There it is again," the three-time NFC North champion coach and idiot said when reached by phone for an interview. "Did you hear that?"