Angelo's top candidate was his long-time friend Nick Saban, but he couldn't pry the LSU coach away from the bayou, where he's king of the football world after winning the BCS portion of the national title. Angelo also talked to California's Jeff Tedford, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Fresno State's Pat Hill about the Bears' job, but none of them were interested.
So, after missing the playoffs nine times in 11 years under former defensive coordinators-turned-head coaches Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron, the Bears went back to the defensive well a third time.
Smith, who has been the Rams' defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, agreed to a four-year contract Wednesday afternoon. Reports peg the deal at $5.4 million, which would make Smith one of the NFL's lowest-paid head coach, at an average of $1.35 million a year. Fired Buffalo Bills head coach Gregg Williams recently agreed to a $1.8 million-a-year deal to become the defensive coordinator under Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins.
Before joining the Rams, Smith spent the five previous seasons coaching the Buccaneers' linebackers and getting to know Angelo, who was Tampa's director of player personnel under general manager Rich McKay.
"We both had a background starting together in Tampa, especially on what we put together down there defensively -- the type of guys that you play with at certain positions," Smith said. "I've known Jerry for a while, just being around someone for five years and knowing what they're looking for and things like that."
This relationship will be different.
"I haven't actually worked with him in this role," Smith said. "But I think it helps when you know someone and know a little bit about them. He knows a little bit about me and my family."
Anyone who knows Smith, knows he will bring with him the attacking style of defense that he learned under Monte Kiffin in Tampa, which helped the Rams force an NFL-best 46 turnovers this season. Smith's defense can be expected to play a lot of cover-2, with the safeties deep to prevent big plays and cornerbacks given a chance to make plays underneath.
Smith's defense was No. 2 in interceptions this season and No. 4 in sacks. In his scheme, defensive end Leonard Little accumulated 39 sacks over the past three seasons. As a team, the Bears had just 18 sacks last season.
"I think the players will be real eager to play for him," Little told Mike North and Doug Buffone on WSCR (AM-670) Wednesday night. "He's a guy you can trust. He's going to be a great one."
A bigger concern is the offense, where the care and nurturing of quarterback Rex Grossman is considered essential to the team's success. The 2003 first-round draft pick was impressive enough in three starts at the end of the season for Smith to say, "The Bears will go as he goes. I think the future can be bright with him leading."
Smith envisions an offense similar to the Rams' but with a greater emphasis on running the ball.
"If you talk about just offensive philosophy, you look at what I've been around," he said. "Of course, my defensive philosophy is what we did in Tampa and what we've done in St. Louis. I got a chance in St. Louis to be around Mike Martz and see how an offense can work and really be a big part of what you're doing."
Smith didn't reveal any names of potential assistants when he visited Halas Hall on Tuesday. But a Rams source indicated Smith might bring St. Louis' wide receivers coach John Ramsdell along as his offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach, and linebackers coach Bob Babich as a defensive aide. It is highly unlikely that Rams offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Steve Fairchild would leave St. Louis.
While Smith says he'll be hands-on in every aspect of the team, his area of expertise has always been and will always be defense. He has always on the defensive side of the ball, even when he coached at the college level for 13 years before coming to the NFL.
"I don't think you can ever leave what is your expertise as far as football is concerned," Smith said. "So I'll always have a hand and a special place in my heart for defensive football.
"But, from defending different offenses, I think I know a little bit about what it takes to stop them, and I will be giving my input quite a bit. I see myself being on both sides of the football, contributing as much as possible. But our coordinators will run both sides of the football."
Smith, who also with the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills, got the nod from Angelo over the other finalist, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm.
In addition to the four college coaches, Angelo interviewed New England Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr., who got the Atlanta Falcons' head-coaching job last week.