Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
I apologize for the short length of this week’s SR’s Fab 5 column. I know you have come to expect a lot of in-depth analysis from this weekly Friday column, which typically ranges between 5,000-8,000 words. However, I have succumbed to a wicked case of bronchitis and walking pneumonia that has made me bedridden most of this week. Since coming down with this affliction on Monday I have not been to One Buccaneer Place for any interviews, nor have I had the energy to delve into potential SR’s Fab 5 topics that would require a substantial amount of research.
I haven’t been this sick in years, but with the Bucs facing their biggest game in recent memory in Dallas on Sunday Night Football, I didn’t want to let you down without an SR’s Fab 5 this week.
FAB 1. WHAT IF SMITH LEAVES TAMPA BAY AFTER 2016?
Be careful what you wish for, Bucs fans, as success often comes with a price.
What if Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith were to leave Tampa Bay after just one season to return to head coaching duties in the NFL? That’s looking more and more like a possibility with each victory and each dominating performance by Tampa Bay’s once-awful defense.
Smith’s name is now red hot in NFL circles after being barely lukewarm as the Bucs defense was quite porous in the first half of the year after a dismal 3-5 start that saw the Bucs surrender 24 points or more to Atlanta (twice), Arizona, Denver and Oakland. Heck, I even speculated that Smith could be ousted at the end of the year in a previous SR’s Fab 5 column after a horrific showing by the Bucs defense against the Falcons on Thursday Night Football. But during the Bucs’ five-game winning streak, Smith’s defense has rebounded and is a major reason for the turnaround in Tampa Bay while holding four of its last five opponents to 17 points or less.
Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith in Atlanta – Photo by: Getty Images
Smith is widely respected around the league after becoming Atlanta’s all-time winning head coach from 2008-14 when he amassed a 66-46 record (.589), leading the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons. Back-to-back losing seasons in 2013-14 and a 1-4 record in the postseason led to Smith’s dismissal after the 2014 campaign, and led to the Bucs picking up Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator last year. But the Falcons posted a franchise-best 13-3 mark twice under Smith’s leadership, first in 2010 before losing to Green Bay in the NFC Divisional Game and again in 2012 before losing to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. That track record, combined with the job he’s done turning around the Bucs defense, has restored his image in NFL circles.
What led the Falcons to hire Smith in 2008 was the outstanding job he did as Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator from 2003-07 where he was paired with Koetter, the Jaguars offensive coordinator, who then became Smith’s play-caller in Atlanta from 2012-14. While the Los Angeles head-coaching job is currently vacant after Jeff Fisher’s firing this week, it’s the potential opening in Jacksonville after this season that should concern Tampa Bay fans.
Gus Bradley has had four years to turn the Jaguars around, but instead has a 14-47 record (.230), including a disappointing 2-11 mark in 2016. The Jaguars took a shot on Bradley, who has had no head coaching experience, but will be in the market for a seasoned leader once Bradley is fired after the end of the season.
Smith had previous success in Jacksonville and is likely to be at the top of the list, as Pro Football Weekly speculated this week.
“Sources have told us that Smith might believe the Jaguars job is his if he wants it, and that he has already begun reaching out to candidates to put a staff of assistants together,” reported Pro Football Weekly.
Because Tampa Bay’s assistant coaches are all under contract through at least 2017, the Bucs only risk losing three coaches at the most if he were to leave – Smith and any assistant that he would want to promote to the role of offensive or defensive coordinators. Linebackers coach Mark Duffner might be a candidate to join Smith and run the Jaguars defense in this possible scenario. He has previous defensive coordinator experience in college and for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2001-02.
Duffner coached with Smith before in Jacksonville from 2006-07, and obviously in Tampa Bay this year. Of course if Koetter wanted to promote Duffner to the role of defensive coordinator to replace Smith if he left the Bucs could block his departure.
Former Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who holds the same position in Baltimore and has worked for Smith before, could also be an option as defensive coordinator both in Jacksonville under Smith or in Tampa Bay as Smith’s possible replacement. Like Duffner, Cullen, who is a Rod Marinelli disciple, has previous play-calling experience, but just not at a pro level.
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Todd Monken – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
If Smith were to leave and poach a Bucs offensive assistant to become his offensive coordinator in Jacksonville, quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian and offensive line coach George Warhop could be potential candidates. Bajakian was the offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee before coming to Tampa Bay. Warhop is the Bucs’ run game coordinator and was the offensive coordinator for the London Monarchs in NFL Europe from 1991-92.
Offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Todd Monken, who coached alongside Smith in Jacksonville prior to the 2016 campaign in Tampa Bay, may be a candidate as his role with the Bucs does not include play-calling duties. Those are handled by Koetter and that might prevent Smith from luring Monken away from Tampa Bay to work with quarterback Blake Bortles in this potential scenario.
Of course Koetter would be furious with all of this speculation right now because it has nothing to do with the Dallas Cowboys game and is nothing but a distraction to the team. But he doesn’t need to think about any of this right now. That’s the job of general manager Jason Licht.
Aside from prepping for the 2017 NFL Draft and the looming East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl in January, Licht now has to be putting together short lists of all of these possible scenarios to give to Koetter when the time is right so that the Bucs can be prepared to hit the ground running for any coaching vacancies that may occur if Smith departs this offseason. That’s the price of success in the NFL.
Naturally, the best possible time for Smith’s potential departure would be in early February if the Bucs’ winning streak can continue all the way through December and January with Tampa Bay being a surprise Super Bowl team.
Don’t expect Smith to stay with the Bucs as a loyal defensive coordinator like Monte Kiffin did for two different head coaches from 1996-2008. Kiffin never really wanted to be a head coach and only wanted to leave Tampa Bay when his son, Lane, became the head coach at the University of Tennessee in 2009.
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The 57-year old Smith, who is a native of Daytona Beach, Fla., has the desire to become a head coach again, and if Jacksonville comes calling, my guess is that he will leave Tampa Bay, especially with the personnel the Jaguars have assembled with defensive back Jalen Ramsey, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler, and linebacker Myles Jack, in addition to free agent defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Price and others. I think it would be a great fit and I would be happy for Smith.
Of course I would be even happier if Smitty somehow ended up staying in Tampa Bay past 2016 and continued to build on the foundation his defense has laid this season. Smith’s defense has become absolutely fun to watch and admire this season with the Buccaneers.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
Scott, get well soon! Go Bucs!
Scott – couple of comments:
1) Mike Smith – I figured he would be a very good DC for us this season, but that it would take at least half a season for the results on the field to reflect his coaching input … it’s worked out exactly that way, and now he is obviously going to be in demand as a head coach given the great results in the second half of the season, as well as his prior success as a head coach at Atlanta. Given that this is what I expected, I will also say that I also expected Smith to only stay one season here at Tampa if everything else worked out. So the “big question” once our season is over, be it in early January or early February, is who will Dirk tap next for DC? We certainly don’t want install yet another 180-degree out of phase new defensive system. Who on the current defensive staff is ready to step up to DC and keep Smith’s system going?
2) I’m with you on criticizing Coach Koetter’s play calling in recent weeks, as I’ve commented several times in threads here, and to which one or two have objected (Scubog – I’m talking about you!). It’s not a matter of trying to assign any asterisks to games already in the books, but about how do we keep winning when the competition is obviously going to get stiffer (Dallas this Sunday, and we hope other playoff teams come next month). Dirk absolutely has to step it up and stop being so damned conservative. Let our playmakers on offense do what they can do. If they give up the ball but start turning field goal attempts into red zone touchdowns, that is exactly what needs to happen. We cannot win a Super Bowl on Roberty Aguayo’s foot, starting with Sunday’s game against the Cowboys.
Unlike you, Scott, however, I am betting that Dirk does exactly that and lets Jameis and our skill players air it out to beat the ‘Boys, while the defense continues to shine. I may well be wrong on this, but I don’t believe that Dirk is either stupid or stubborn. He knows he’s got to up his game, and I believe he has the ability to do it.
Naples: You must have a podium in front of your computer to preach your version of the football gospel, but I do enjoy your posts.
Let me make myself clear. What I objected to in your comments after the Saints game was your insistence that the Bucs were “lucky” without regard to the Saints’ good fortune. We longtime fans know all too well the Bucs have had a lot of bad luck too. Your one-sided view of shoulda, coulda, woulda is meaningless. Bucs won. Leave it up to the Saints fans to speculate what might have been.
That said, I totally agree with Scott and you about Koetter seemingly dialing things back either by choice or circumstance in recent weeks. I also concur that a too conservative approach and the red-zone inefficiency against the Cowboys in Jerry World might not get it done.
We’re friends here, Scubog. Everybody has a little different perspective, and sharing the differences of opinion is what makes it interesting. If we all had and wrote from the exact same perspective it would get very boring!
Yes we are Naples.
I will NOT be careful for what I wish for Scott! LOL Look, we’re all hoping for continued success on both sides of the ball and a possible playoff appearance off this exciting run. If that means Coach Smith is offered a HCing job next year, so be it. It’s part of the deal and the Buccaneers will survive.
They survived after losing so many great coaches from the Dungy tree years ago. And hell, unfortunately St. Lovie came back although his “coaching” the team to 0-8 in the Ray Jay helped land Jameis! LOL
For those that are interested, here is the story that’s being floated out there about DC Mike Smith. Could be true, could not be true. I’ll put more faith in it when Smith responds in a press conference. I’m not putting much faith in the statement that he is already putting together lists of asst coaches should he be offered a HC job. IMO, probably just focused on winning at Dallas! But you decide!
Wouldn’t necessarily lose any assistant coaches under contract even for a coordinator role. From the NFL rules: Assistant coaches in the NFL cannot leave their team unless granted permission or following the expiration of their contracts unless they are hiring for HEAD COACHING POSITIONS as a coordinator is considered an assistant coach and a lateral move. The only exception would be if they are made coordinator/assistant head coach.
I would imagine that Smitty is gone after this season. He’s going to be too hot of a prospect. But, what about Gus Bradley filling his role? Smitty to Jax and Gus on a bus to the Bay? Gus is one of those really good coordinators that don’t make a very good HC. Is his scheme similar to Smitty’s? Even if Gus shined as the Bucs DC, he wouldn’t get that instant shot as a HC anytime soon… Ah, all stuff for the offseason. It’s great to see the Bucs now in so many national conversions!
Scott, I hope you get better soon. I’m not sure why it was necessary to bring Coach Smith into the picture just before a big game like Dallas? The Defense needs to stay focus on the game. Now that you brought it up about Smith, lets discuss possible players he might be interested in for the Jaguars? Just about any defensive player or offensive player with the Bucs whose contract is up! Any ideas as who could be traded to theJaguars if this actually happens?
Get well Scott! GB!
Get well soon Scott, love everything you guys write.
As for Coach Smitty, I had a feeling this was going to happen and the timing sucks on this. We need our guys focused, not collapsing like the year Monet stupidly told the team he was leaving after the season. I do think Smitty is gone after this season and I think Jay Hayes should get a shot. IT all depends on who wants it, but If I’m Koetter I”m making sure Smitty is showing everything he can about this defense to the right people. We don’t need another half a season getting used to a new scheme again.
Third down is the money down in the NFl and the Bucs have been outstanding in that department this year. They lead the league in adjusted percentage I believe. This week it will be about managing first and second down. You get Dak and 3rd and long this game a lot and we will win this thing.
I’d be inclined to think the opposite in a game like this when it comes to making the game changing plays. I think this is one of those games, where your stars have to go win it for you. This is prime time and the biggest game our Bucs have played in a long time.d
I’m with you on Koetters play calling recently and I do think he needs to open things up a but this week and go for the kill if it’s there.
After what this defense has done to the murderers row of Qb’s we’ve faced in recent weeks, we should be able to control Dak well. It’s going to be all about stopping Zeke and that big offensive line.
This is not Monte Kiffen quitting to coach with his son in Tennessee. This is all speculation and good coaching will get you that.
And Scott, as others have chimed in, get well soon my man!
The pressure will be even greater now that he is being speculated as bolting to another team if the Defense continues to dominate. Playing an away game against the top team in the NFC ? I guess he deserves the speculation and a position as Head Coach on what ever team that will have him if he wins this game. For us to have any chance at all, the Defense will have to have its best game. When you turn around a pathetic defense after suffering countless injuries and lackluster play, and win 6 straight ? Fine. But do us a favor Coach Smith, Make it 8 straight. Take us right up to the top. This organization and the fans have suffered for the last 15 yrs through 4 coaching changes and barely a winning season through it all and watched as draft pick after draft pick has floundered. It feels so good right now to be a Buc’s fan We knew this defense could be something special if we were healthy and you made it happen.Take us to the playoffs get us one playoff victory at least, and I will tip my hat to you if you take a head coaching position somewhere else. Let us have that feeling of greatness one more time.
I’ve commented before on Koetter’s play calling, especially in the run game, been to predictable. Would like to see us come out firing for a change. Let Jameis sling it around a bit.
Jay Hayes should take over if Mike leaves. He’s been a successful position coach under successful defensive coordinators for years.
Smitty is not a spring chicken. I say pay the man big bucks and keep him around like they did Monte.
Monte never was an NFL head coach, while Smith was not only a head coach but the most successful coach in franchise history for the Falcs. No doubt he believes he had the rug pulled out from under him and would like a shot at head coaching again. I personally like the guy, even liked him when he was on the opposite sideline from the Bucs.
What is more important is keeping the bulk of Smith’s current assistants on staff, and promoting one of them to keep the same system in place. It will kill us if we have to go out and bring in yet another new DC who will seek to install yet another new defensive system. We need some continuity in system, even if not all the coaches remain year after year.
Scott get well buddy!
Look into probiotics I started few years again and at age 49 I haven’t even had so much as a cold in years.
Most of your immune system is in your gut.
Whatever Jacksonville offers, we should match it. We need continuity and his scheme has been a hit thus far.
Lets ignore the hype and focus on Dallas. 1 week at a time is the only way we make it into the playoffs
I was gobsmacked when the Chickens fired Smith. Seems to have worked out for them though. I say pay the man and call him head defensive coach.
Does Marinelli have a long contact will Dullas?
To much speculation for me about after the season. What happens , happens.
Too bad about LVD, I bet he plays though. It’s going to be hard enough to crack their offensive line, even with him.
Hopefully that big left tackle does start for Dallas.
I don’t know much, but I haven’t wanted a win against a team this bad since the Super Bowl.
It’s time for the whole team to step it up. These are games that define a season.
Scott wrote that some players need to step it up, not true. Every body needs to step it up.
That includes Koetter and Smith.
If we can get the same shining special teams play that we have been getting of late we have a shot.
As a matter of fact the special teams aren’t getting enough credit. And that means Roberto also. I think this game gets won by a field goal.
WAITING WITH ANTICIPATION WITH FINGERS CROSSED AND MY RABBIT FOOT READY
Way to suck it up Scott.
Get well Scott. For a sick guy it was a good Fab 5 as the remarks show. Go Buc’s….Kick Cowboy butt.
Good luck, bad luck?
For the most part, every NFL team makes its own luck, good or bad.
Those teams that play and practice hard and know and do thier assignments, usually have the most good luck. Strange how that happens.
As far as Mike Smith leaving, I am betting it doesn’t happen.
Not only is he 57 years old, but owners have a tendency to remember a coaches last couple of years in the league, not his beginning years.
What would really help Koetter’s play calling is a more effective running game.
For that to happen the offensive line is going to have to start opening up some running lanes. Even a small crack would help.
But it’s hard for any RB to get started when you are having to dodge the first tackler two yards behind the line.
I think it is apparent the Bucs really miss Logan Mankins. Kevin Pamphjille is a good backup, but I’m not sure he is good enough yet to qualify as a full time starter.
We should hope very much that Sweezy can play next season … and we need to add some more talent to the O-line every season.
Hey drd. He is just 57, I don’t think he’ll need a walker or anything for awhile.
And I agree. We need to build our line up.
I hope Sweezy isn’t like Carl Nicks. Back when they signed him I read he is one nasty dude.
Won’t we be saved by the Rooney rule? Here’s hoping Mike Smith will be relegated to the bottom of every list by mandate.
Welcome back! We’ve missed you.
First time login in .It seems like everybody is an expert on how the “Bucs ” should be run ,or on how the PR writers should write their stories . Sorry all I know is the “Bucs” are winning (first time I see the “Bucs ” win five in a row ) sit back and enjoy the ride , like we did back in 2001. Or, for those who are just getting on the Bus, most of you guys don’t know who the Quarterback was in 1976, or who the first round pick was, Steve Spurrier and Leroy Selmon. PR you guys do a “great ” job.
I know that I enjoyed the ride a lot better in 2002 than in 2001!
Sorry ma5711 but these guys have been posting on here for years. First time we’ve seen you. And yes we all know who Spurrier and Selmon were. Anyway welcome aboard.
I know the great # 63’s name is Lee Roy, not “Leroy”. This winning streak is not the first.
The team won the first five games in the1979 “Worst to First” season before losing to a Ray Perkins led Giants team. There are a lot of us old school Buc fans who remember the past very well ma5711. Not sure I can recall what happened last week, but the old Bucs’ memories are all intact.
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