In a move that PewterReport.com called for before the bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith and replaced him with linebackers coach Mark Duffner.

“I would replace Smith with linebackers coach Mark Duffner because I would want Alexander and David to be featured more on defense and in the pass rush,” I wrote in the Oct. 5 SR’s Fab 5. “As Duffner is the linebackers coach, I’m trusting that would happen. It’s been a long time since Duffner has been a defensive coordinator in the league, but at this point, it might be worth the risk of giving him a shot at calling the plays. At least since he’s on the current staff he would have a sense of what not to do.”

Duffner inherits the reins of a Bucs defense that currently ranks 31st in total defense, allowing an average of 439.8 yards per game, and the team ranks dead last in points allowed with 34.6 per game. Tampa Bay also ranks dead last in passing defense, surrendering 355.6 yards per game.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and LBs coach Mark Duffner - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and LBs coach Mark Duffner – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Under Smith’s direction, the Bucs had surrendered 400 yards in 20 of the 37 games in which he was the play-caller.

Duffner has been coaching for 22 NFL seasons, including the last three in Tampa Bay. In each of his first two years with the Bucs, a Tampa Bay linebacker has been named to the Pro Bowl – weakside linebacker Lavonte David in 2016 and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2017.

After David recorded five sacks and Alexander notched three sacks in 2016 when the Bucs had the league’s top third down defense, neither David nor Alexander recorded a sack last year as the Bucs ranked last in the NFL in sacks with 22. This year, Alexander has one sack through five games while David has none.

Duffner has previously coached with the Miami Dolphins (2014-15), the Jacksonville Jaguars (2006-13), the Green Bay Packers (2003-05), and the Cincinnati Bengals (1997-2002), where he was the defensive coordinator in his final two seasons. In 2001, his first year as defensive coordinator, the Bengals defense allowed the unit’s fewest single points (309) since 1989 and the fewest yards per game (302) since 1983.

The Bengals also set a franchise single-season record for sacks that year with 48, which was a mark that stood for 11 years. Duffner has 22 years worth of experience at the college level, including 11 seasons as a head coach at Maryland (1992-96) and Holy Cross (1986-91) where he was a two-time National Coach of the Year.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

40 COMMENTS

  1. Can we find out if Tony Dungy is interested the the job that Tom Coughlin has with Jacksonville? This team is where it was in 1995. THE DUFFER is not going to do anything. We need a new culture and identity. We have to start over.

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    • I think Dungy is pretty happy were he’s at. He seems to enjoy working with his charities… But this team has a lot of talent so it would be enticing no doubt

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    • Bucs76 Amen!! I’ve been screaming Tony Dungy for Vice president or President of football operations for 5 years now. Someone who can evaluate talent, great judge of character, and who the organization has history with. Note to Glazers if and when this season goes off the rails, hell even if it doesn’t pick up the phone, with your check book out, and make Tony Dungy an offer that’s hard to say no to. He’s right here!!! Make him tell you no! At least you can say you tried to be great again.

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      • “Make The Bucs Great Again!”

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    • I’ve heard far worse suggestions, Bux76. Tony has extremely strong ties to the area and to the franchise. He probably does not want to enter the coaching grind again, especially after seeing how it’s going for Jon Gruden so far with the Raiders. But a team president, charged with firing the current regime and hiring a new regime, especially one that knows something about defensive talent and defensive coaching, in addition to offense, that could be a real winner for the franchise and the fans.

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    • Starting over every 2-3 years is not a recipe to build a winner.

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      • Licht has had 5 years, not two or three years. He picks all of the players, and all of the coaches.

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  2. As much as I love Jameis, I feel like I’ve had too many games where I’ve had to defend his decision making even if he throws a good amount of touchdowns. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen him with a good defense. So for me this move is basically this Regimes last shot. Pray the defense is more aggressive and gives Jameis a fighting chance to prove himself as the future of the Bucs without being crippled by a horrible defense. If not, I see a new Regime moving in and potentially starting over, which I pray doesn’t happen, after what feels like a 17 years cycle since the glory days

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  3. He has he resume….just wish we had started the change after the Chicago game.

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  4. Scott also spent much of last season writing about the greatness that would accompany Jon Gruden when he became the Bucs HC this season which:

    1. Never happened
    2. Oakland (1-5) is now a mess greater than the Bucs after trading the best player on their team.
    3. Gruden has 9 years to go on his contract.

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    • To follow up on this, it’s easy to say you predicted something when you predict Smith is fired in a Fab 5 and say that Smith is here to say in a Cover 2 calling for a Peterson trade.

      Pick one or the other if you’re in the prediction business!

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  5. Two weeks ago Koetter claimed firing Smith was not the answer,” then what”? So what changed? Was this Licht’s call, the Glazer’s? This should’ve been done after last year, certainly the timing would’ve been better during the bye to give Duffner more of a chance. We’ll see if it pays off. One thing is for sure, the clock is ticking on everyone from Licht down. Tick, tock.

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    • Koetter was right then, of course. But he couldn’t announce to the media that his boss needs to be fired and replaced by someone who is not a destroyer of Bucs defenses.

      This was a desperation move. That only 5 games into a 16 game season desperation moves are believed necessary is directly traceable to the GM.

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  6. File this under “Don’t just stand there, DO something!” So the Bucs did something.

    Color me extremely skeptical that this action is anything but rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic. This guy Duffner has been coaching our underperforming linebackers for the last three years. He cannot invest and install a new defensive scheme in the middle of the season and do anything but massively confuse the players. And contrary to most Bucs fans, I don’t agree that we have had fantastic talent on the defensive side of the ball, and that the only missing ingredient is a better DC.

    The root cause of five years of bad Bucs defense is the guy who’s been hiring all the players and, and all the coaches since Lovie Smith was canned … yet produces worse and worse results every single year.

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    • I agree on this. Duffner has had his chance to put his stamp on the defense over the entire time frame. The LBs have been a large part of the problem. I was hoping fro Buckner as he was an outsider coming in and has the look of a future coordinator/head coach.

      At any case, I’m all in on Duffner, for the remainder of the season. This is a no-win situation for Koetter. If nothing changes, Koetter is fired because he has been the head coach of this debacle. If Duffner gets the guys playing, you must ask Koetter why he stuck with Smith for so long.

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      • You say Duffner has had his chance to put his stamp on this defense but has he? We don’t now what Mike Smith was forcing his LBs to do. Maybe Duffner wanted to blitz them more but Smith was to stubborn to let him. We really wont know until the 2-3rd game in as DC. If I’m Duffner I blitz a lot. Take lots of risks with high reward. What’s the worst that can happen? Can we get any worse on defense?

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  7. I think this also paves the way for Dirk Koetter to be more involved on the defensive side. In a way, I think Mike Smith was somewhat of a crutch for Koetter to lean on. Good or bad, it’s in Koetter’s best interests as a NFL Head Coach to make this move today. He and Duffner can get busy figuring this out. I’m obviously hoping for the best! GO BUCS!!

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  8. Do we know if Duffner was calling plays in the 2nd half or not?

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    • Did you watch the game? He wasn’t!

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  9. The defense can’t get any worse than its current 32nd ranking.

    Smith was terrible for three years and even the fans knew it. Koetter is a pushover, and he’s next..if Ronald Jones and vita vea don’t pan out, Licht will never be in an NFL front office again.

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    • He’s been here for three seasons. His first year the defense was ranked 14th, which caused the bucs to sign him to a long term deal with big money. Because he was getting calls for a head coaching spot.

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      • 14th is not good, and that’s the best smith did for us

        Shoulda let him take the HC spot

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  10. There probably is no quick fix for this D, but if he just does two things in 1) BLITZ more and 2) play Bump-and-run more, we have a fighting chance to get out of the league basement for defense. Again, that’s not going to fix all that ails with this D, but at least we should be able to stop letting QBs sit comfortably in the pocket and pick apart our soft zones. Let’s hope this guy tries something new…

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    • If you put our busted-out rookies in bump/run (with their backs turned towards the QB) against Julio Jones, they’ll get burned for 80 yards per completion (but you’re right, at least we could blitz with this scheme). They can’t cover a soft zone let alone run the field with a freak of nature

      Glazers are gonna call ronde outta the press box and into the huddle pretty soon. This season is over boys-the seconday shit the bed

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  11. I don’t know much about Duffner but it can’t be worse than dead last. I would done it last year. Or after the bye. I’m concerned he’s another old guy. Would have preferred Buckner but perhaps he isn’t ready who knows. Wish they could bring somebody in but that’s too hard mid season I guess.

    I also have lost all faith in Koetter now. He is a fool. That game management yesterday was horrible. He has no balls either. I’m not 100% sold on Licht but I’m done with Koetter and was done with Smith long time ago. I don’t think Koetter has a clue honestly.

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    • You know who hired Koetter, don’t you?

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      • People downvoting verifiable, undeniable facts.

        You guys need to pull your head outa your asses.

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    • I agree with you on game management. With seven seconds left, with the tall weapons we have, why not take a shot in the endzone? If not a TD, possibly a PI and another shot. SMDH!

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    • You guys are so quick to knock Koetter but why. Because our defense is horrible? Koetter is a former QB coach and OC. He knows very little about defense. He unfortunately trusted a good friend of his to run our defense and now its crap. That’s the only mistake he really made. Look at our offense. We have a top 5 offense for the first time ever. We avg 450 ypg and over 28 ppg. When was the last time our offense avg over 28 ppg. Never. Not to mention we have the #1 passing attack which is the main reason he became our head coach. To develop our QBs and make this offense great. He has done a tremendous job on the offensive side of the ball where he specializes. If he could find a good DC to run this defense right, we could be a playoff team easily. He let his relationship with Smith get in the way of his firing decision. You cant do that as a head coach and it was a hard lesson he learned and I bet he never does it again. I’m glad he finally stepped up and fired Smith which should have been done last year. I hope he gets 1 more year with a great DC to prove himself. This constant changing of HC every 3 years kills us. We have no stability and it will stunt Winstons growth to have to learn a new system again.

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  12. I like it.

    More aggressive blitizing and CBs playing closer to the line.

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  13. I am happy, happy that the bucs are trying to do something. At this point, our defense can’t get any worse and I do think that change was needed.

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  14. If Koetter holds his job at year end, he needs to find a young and upcoming coach for DC. One who is aggressive, but flexible enough to design the D around the talents he has and not try to wedge a square peg into a round hole. One stipulation should be to keep Buckner as DL coach. Of course if Duffner becomes the new Belecheat than all is saved.

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    • Charlie Strong!

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  15. If he allows 350 yards were good

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  16. I would like to see a new GM come in and clear the house. Licht has been a bust just look at the draft all those slow DBs and most of them are on the little side. And can we go back to the smaller flag on the helmet like before.

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    • why? So we can start all over again and it will be another 3-4 years before we are relevant again. There is nothing wrong with our offense. We avg 450 yyp and over 28ppg. Its just our defense. Koetter is an offensive minded coach who doesn’t know a lot about the defense. He has done a great job developing our QB and making this offense great. He deserves a shot with a talented DC who can make our defense at least avg. With an Avg defense we will be a playoff team and contender.

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      • You keep changing until you get it right.

        Sticking with failure is failure.

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        • That what the Cleveland Browns thought before they fired Belichick. We all know what happened to the Browns after they fired him. They still aren’t relevant. Meanwhile, Bill takes the Pats to 16 playoff appearances in 18 year, 7 super bowls and wins 5 of them. I bet the Browns wish they would have given Bill another year or 2 before just changing and keep changing until they get it right.

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  17. If I’m reading this right, the Bucs felt their D problems was “scheme” instead of execution, so they change out the “schemer.” Okay, maybe there are only so many ways to set a defensive game plan and Smith just set the wrong one(s). Does this mean the same schemes will continue – making this a “tweak,” or are we gonna see a significant change? In which case why wasn’t this done before the by? With time to install new stuff?

    And why is there no mention of the DB coaching here? Opponents’ receivers running free past 5 yards cannot have been anyone’s plan.

    Go Bucs! I hope …

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  18. Long time lurker, first time poster. Signed up to agree 100% with WNB0395. I also wanted to get everyone’s take on a name I haven’t seen thrown around here. How do you guys (including staff if you are reading this) feel about Don Brown from Michigan? I’d love if we gave him a look after this season. He runs a pro scheme under Harbaugh and has had success everywhere he’s been. Anyone have thoughts on him?

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