When head coach Dirk Koetter announced that former Atlanta Falcons head coach (and his old boss) Mike Smith would be joining him to be the new defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago, fans were surely excited, but also knew he might not be in a coordinator position for long.

Here we are almost exactly 365 days later, and it’s being reported that Smith is scheduled to interview for two head coaching vacancies around the league, one in Jacksonville the other in San Diego.

There are six total head coaching vacancies as of right now: Jacksonville, San Diego, Denver, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Buffalo. Since Smith is already being considered for two of those six positions, the chances of him being retained as the Bucs defensive coordinator are slim.

So in the spirit of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, let’s analyze a handful of people who could possibly become the next defensive coordinator in Tampa by using these important components: Scheme fit, play calling experience and overall readiness for the position. 

Rex Ryan
Scheme fit: No
Play calling experience: Yes

Readiness: Yes

When it comes to defensive minds in the NFL, you can’t get too far into a conversation without bringing up Rex Ryan’s name. Ryan has been coaching in the NFL for 17 years. He started as the Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach, then worked his way up to be their coordinator. In 2009, he became head coach for the New York Jets, a team he led to back-to-back AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010. After his time with the Jets, he became the head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2015. After missing the playoffs two years in a row, he was fired just a few weeks ago.

Ryan is the big name that is floating around in coaching free agency, but I don’t think Tampa will be the team to scoop him up. Ryan is a 3-4 defense kind of coach, and the Bucs do not have the players to run that sort of defense as a base. If they end up having to replace Smith, it has to be with a coach who has similar scheme preferences. 

Wade Phillips
Scheme fit: No
Play calling experience: Yes
Readiness: Yes

It’s hard to believe a defensive coordinator who is one year removed form a Super Bowl victory – in which his defense was the reason the Broncos hoisted the Lombardi Trophy – would be available, but there’s a chance he might be; Phillips’ contract is up after this season, and the team has not extended him yet.

Unfortunately, even if Tampa was OK with offering Phillips enough money to get him out of Denver, the scheme fit just isn’t there. Phillips is another 3-4 guy at heart. He ran some 4-3 when he was the head coach in Dallas between 2007 to 2010, but since then he’s been a defensive coordinator with the Texans and the Broncos, both strong 3-4 defenses. I doubt he’s a guy the Bucs go after. With Tampa so close to the playoffs this year, they’re not going to risk having any time wasted for a learning curve with a new defense. They want things to stay the same, and improve on their current scheme. 

Gus Bradley
Scheme fit: Yes
Play calling experience: Yes
Readiness: Yes

If Mike Smith ends up taking the head coaching job with the Jaguars, wouldn’t this one be funny? It would end up being the guy Mike Smith replaced coming in to replace Mike Smith.

If Tampa Bay is going to sign a defensive coordinator from outside the walls of One Buc Place, Gus Bradley’s the guy. For Bradley, such a move would be a bit of a homecoming since his first job in the NFL was as the Buccaneers linebackers coach from 2006 to 2008. Following his time with the Bucs, Bradley became the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks from 2009 to 2012. Since then he;s been the head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Bradley’s defense is a varied 4-3 (under, over, bear fronts) with some aspects of 3-4 on the defensive line (meaning the defensive line controls gaps and the pass rush comes form the linebackers). He also uses Cover 3 as the predominant coverage. This bodes pretty well for Tamp’s current roster. Though the Bucs run more nickel than anything else (four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs), and such a formation would take away from how creative Bradley could be with over/under fronts on the defensive line, overall the scheme fit is good. We know he’s had success as a defensive play caller before, and he’s certainly ready for such a position. 

Mark Duffner
Scheme fit: Yes
Play calling experience: Yes
Readiness: Yes

Now let’s get into some names that are already familiar with the current Buccaneers roster.

Mark Duffner is the current linebackers coach for the Bucs. His NFL journey first began as an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1997 to 2002, where he served as linebackers coach and then defensive coordinator. From 2003 to 2005, he was the linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers, where the defense ranked first against the pass and 7th overall. From 2006 to 2015, he was a linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars then Miami Dolphins until being hired by the Buccaneers last season.

Duffner has defensive play calling experience both at the college and NFL levels. He’s a guy who coached the two most important components to this Buccaneers defense in Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, and has made them cornerstones in both stats and production. If the Bucs are promoting from within, Duffner is their best candidate. 

Jay Hayes
Scheme fit: Yes
Play calling experience: No
Readiness: ???

The next name I’ve seen floating around the rumor mill for potential in-house promotions is Bucs defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

Hayes, like Duffner, came to Tampa Bay last year with a lot of NFL longevity to his name. In his 13 seasons of work prior to the Buccaneers, Hayes was the defensive line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals. During his time there he helped coach the likes of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap Pro Bowl honors.

During his lone season as the Buccaneers defensive line coach, he’s been able to get his hands on Noah Spence and Robert Ayers, as well as get familiar with how to get the most out of Gerald McCoy. The Bucs defensive line has certainly improved this year, and Hayes deserves credit for that. However, when it comes to being considered for this promotion, Hayes has never been a play caller; he’s always been a position coach.

He’s been a good one, but not every good position coach translates to a good defensive coordinator. Promoting Hayes would have some risk involved. 

Jon Hoke
Scheme fit: Yes

Play calling experience: Yes (college)

Readiness: ???

The final candidate who will be on the radar for the Bucs possible defensive coordinator opening is their current defensive backs coach Jon Hoke.

In his NFL coaching career, Hoke has been a secondary coach for the Chicago Bear and Houston Texans. He coached the likes of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman in Chicago, who earned four Pro Bowl selections. Hoke does have some defensive play calling history. Before joining Houston in 2002, Hoke spent three years with the Florida Gators as the teams’ defensive coordinator/secondary coach from 1999 to 2001.

The Bucs secondary (particularly their safeties) were down right bad during the first half of this year. But by the end of the season, the secondary unit was actually one of the stronger units on the team. We saw Keith Tandy, Bradley McDougald and even Chris Conte elevate their play to a whole new level by the end of the year, and some of the credit there has to go to Hoke.

His players have been able to boast improvement and accomplishments throughout his career, but is that enough to give him an honest look with no NFL play calling experience? Maybe, but I don’t expect him to be the first name on the list.

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About the Author: Trevor Sikkema

Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
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Randy H.
Randy H.
5 years ago

I watch ESPN NFL Insiders and NFL Live every day. Take it with a grain of salt, as I don’t know how much their reporters are in the know, but over the last two weeks on those shows, Mike Smith’s name has never come up as a potential head coaching candidate for anyone. Again, I don’t know how well they research, et al. to come up with their names, but that is just what I’ve seen. I don’t watch the NFL aka Cowboys Network much, so I’m not sure what they have said on that network.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Randy H.
5 years ago

Mike Smith has already interviewed for the Jags position and he’s announced to be a Chargers candidate. Doesn’t matter what any particular TV talking head thinks or says .. he’s a candidate for two of the six positions. None of the talking heads thought that Lovie Smith would be fired either, or that the Bucs would be “dumb enough” to promote Dirk Koetter to replace Smith … and then once Koetter was hired, virtually all of the TV talking heads projected the Bucs at somewhere around no. 28 to 30 in their preseason power polls, likely to win 6 or… Read more »

trollslayer
trollslayer
5 years ago

I like Mark Duffner he has the play-calling experience and has got the most out of his players at any position on defense. Jay Hayes wouldnt bother me either but i believe the key here is promote from within lets keep this scheme in place for now add pieces and see how it does. I really hope we retain Mike Smith but he has earned his right to be offered a head coaching position again we cant fault him for that… I would rather see a promotion from within but if we ventured out i would look at candidates with… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
5 years ago

I like Dirk Koetter’s judgment. That’s all we need to know or care about.

seat26
seat26
5 years ago

I think promoting from within might be the best bet. We need a guy that is proven in our existing system, and who can enjoy some success without bolting after one year. Hopefully we can get a guy who makes us a top 5 Defense and with only a few new players coming in, because it sounds like that might be the situation. Bucs reportedly are not going to be aggressive in Free Agency and if they go after mostly offensive players in the draft our new Defensive coordinator will have to make it work with what we have already.… Read more »

buccaneerNW
buccaneerNW
5 years ago

OK, the first 2 names don’t belong on the list. Dirk explicitly stated that whoever takes over if Smith leaves needs to not have to overthrow the current defense. Ryan and Phillips are automatically disqualified.

Bradley might be the most intriguing due to his success with the Seattle defense. Outside of him, Duffner makes the most sense unless Jay Hayes is known as a budding defensive genius waiting in the wings. Don’t know about that.

Horse
Horse
5 years ago

Here’s my thinking? Rex, NO!!!!!!!!!!; Wade, no; Gus, maybe; Mark, incline to say yes; Jay, not ready, Jon, not ready. Go Bucs!

Buc 1976
Buc 1976
5 years ago

If Jax does not hire Smith I think he will stay!

fredster
fredster
5 years ago

Gus Bradley seems best bet on surface. Hard to say if anyone within would be any good.

Amo
Amo
5 years ago

Promote Duffner. Draft a center and give Gottschalk every opportunity to take over the Evan Smith role. Go Bucs!

BUC 727
BUC 727
5 years ago

I think that the perfect guy is already here in Duffner. Maybe, then hire Bradley to coach the linebackers.

scubog
scubog
5 years ago

When I saw that picture of Buddy Ryan’s fat, obnoxious, and as Naples might say, “full of himself” son , I nearly chocked on my coffee. If his other really fat, burned out hippie looking son Rex had been in the picture (not that the Ryan twins could both fit in the same frame), I would have spewed it on the computer screen. I couldn’t even remotely imagine either one of the Ryans, whose over-stuffed bodies are only matched by their over-stuffed egos, working with Dirk Koetter. Then I scroll down to Trevor’s next offering of Bum Phillip’s fat son… Read more »

scubog
scubog
Reply to  scubog
5 years ago

Other fat son Rob not Rex. It’s early.