On the same day that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik after a brutal 4-12 season, the Glazers reached out to former Buccaneers linebackers coach and former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who is one of the hottest coaching candidates in the NFL after sitting out the 2013 season. Smith, who coached under the legendary Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000, has already interviewed with the Houston Texans for their vacant head coaching position.
NFL.com reported on Monday that Smith’s choice for offensive coordinator would be former Cal head coach and noted offensive guru Jeff Tedford. That answers what would have been a big question for Smith, who coached the Bears from 2004-12, from NFL owners.
What led to the demise of Smith, who is a defensive-minded head coach, in Chicago was his trouble on the offensive side of the ball, including finding a good quarterback. Smith went through three offensive coordinators in nine years, including Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice. All were eventually fired.
While Rex Grossman helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006, Smith’s third season at the helm, Chicago struggled to find a consistent winner at the quarterback position, and went through the likes of Grossman, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton in seven years before trading for Jay Cutler in 2011.
Former Buccaneers Pro Bowl middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson was spotted roaming the halls at One Buccaneer Place in December as a guest of the Glazers. Not only did Nickerson play for Smith in Tampa Bay, he also was Smith’s linebackers coach in Chicago in 2007. Nickerson, a Cal alum, has spent the last three years coaching high school football at Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, Calif., and he has undoubtedly familiar with Tedford from his recruiting the Oakland area and the fact that he coaches at his alma mater.
Could the Glazers’ interest in the Smith-Tedford combination date back several weeks and explain why Nickerson flew all the way across the country? Was it to give the Glazers a scouting report on both Smith and Tedford?
Nickerson may not have been the only former Buccaneers linebacker the Glazers could have reached out with regards to Smith as Shelton Quarles, Tampa Bay’s director of pro personnel, played for Smith from 1997-2000. Yet there are two other former Bucs linebackers that could offer up a ringing endorsement of Smith in the legendary Derrick Brooks, who works in Tampa as the general manager of the Arena Football League’s Tampa Bay Storm, and Jeff Gooch, who works with Brooks as the Storm’s vice president of football operations.
PewterReport.com spoke with Gooch about Smith and his opportunity to coach the Buccaneers.
“I played for Lovie and his football credentials speak for themselves and what he did in his goal of becoming a head coach,” Gooch said. “One of the things I remember about him and having respect for is being a role model for young men. That’s not so much what he was doing off the field as it was the football side. Day in, day out preparations and with the expectations that he placed on all of us in the room. He had a unique ability to demand a certain performance out of all of us, but at the same time, keep it individualized. You knew where you stood with him and what he needed out of you. I don’t think that every coach can do that. Just being around a lot of coaches playing football, not every coach is able to do that. The way he would place expectations on me with still making us as a group. That was unbelievable and I think that a lot of coaches out there can do that without the group breaking up, without animosity or things of that nature.”
Smith inherited a talented group of linebackers, starting with Nickerson, who was a two-time Pro Bowler by the time he and Dungy arrived in 1996. He would help Nickerson get to the Pro Bowl three more times (1996, ’97 and ’99), in addition to helping Brooks become a Pro Bowler from 1997-2000 before Smith was hired by St. Louis to be the Rams defensive coordinator in 2001.
“All of those qualities, all of those traits that he was working on there as the linebacker coach, made it an easy transition for him in St. Louis,” Gooch said. “To kind of go back in my own story, at the time that he left, the Rams wanted to make a trade for me to go up there. I actually went there for a visit and was Lovie’s first year there. Obviously, the trade did not go through, but he hadn’t been up there probably a week or so before they asked me to come visit. So I had the big opportunity to sit down with him and just talk with him about what he was going to do. He was so energetic about taking on that next challenge. You saw the same thing when he became a head coach – taking on those challenges, being prepared, being consistent, and just being an all around good role model for his staff.”
Throughout the years, Smith has undoubtedly been compared to Dungy, his good friend and mentor, who happened to endorse Tampa Bay’s interest in Smith on Monday through his Twitter account. At no point was the comparison more pronounced than in 2006 when Smith and Dungy squared off in the first and only Super Bowl appearance for both men.
“The first thing that makes them similar was consistency,” Gooch said. “Day in day out, without a doubt, you knew exactly what you were going to get in Lovie Smith. I’m sure you’ve talked to a lot of ex-Bucs about Tony, and you know exactly what you were going to get with him, and it didn’t matter if it was a win by 30 or a loss by 30. It was the same consistency every day that you as a player, could depend on. It was the same way with Lovie, too. Once you saw that, your play just gravitated to those two men. That’s one similarity that I know first hand.
“As far as differences, I think Lovie and the way he did things just within his group was a bit different from Tony how he would have pushed an individual group. That would have been different from how Lovie did it. Lovie Smith was very meticulous about notes, charts, a grid – everything being absolutely in the right way. I’m not saying that Tony was not that way, but I think that Lovie would go over and beyond compared to any of the other coaches on the staff in terms of preparation. What he wanted from us as far as details was much more than just your normal linebacker coach.”
Gooch stays in touch with Smith, who visited the Tampa Bay area this fall, and is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the game from his mentor.
“Derrick and myself talk to him and text Lovie,” Gooch said. “I don’t as often as Derrick does, but Lovie and Jerry Angelo actually let me come up and take a behind-the-scenes look at football operations to see how things were put together a few years ago. I stayed up there for period of time during training camp. That was the type of person Lovie was. He offered those opportunities to guys he liked and respected.
“When he left St. Louis for Chicago I never doubted the fact that he would be successful. It didn’t work out for his good friend, Rod Marinelli, in his head coaching stint [in Detroit], but those guys are two of the best coaches I’ve ever been around.”
If Smith were to be hired by the Buccaneers, there is a chance that he could bring his good friend and noted defensive line guru, Rod Marinelli, with him back to Tampa Bay. Smith went through three defensive coordinators in Chicago, firing Ron Rivera, who is now the head coach in Carolina, and Bob Babich before hiring Marinelli in 2008. Marinelli is currently working with former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in Dallas as the team's defensive line coach, but there are some rumors that Kiffin could be fired.
Gooch, who is still a Buccaneers fan, would love to see Smith get the opportunity to coach in Tampa Bay.
“If Lovie were to come back to Tampa he could definitely bring a defensive perspective,” Gooch said. “When he got out of coaching [after 2012] that’s when teams were going for the hot offensive coaches like Chip Kelly and Andy Reid, and I think that played in to it. Teams wanted to progress their offense rather than their defense.
“But as a coach and a man, I would bet on Lovie. He’s the type of coach that could command respect from the players, but at the same time, allow players to be themselves. With him having roots in the Tampa Bay area, I know that a lot of people would be very receptive to him and really embrace him.”
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