Lovie Smith breaks silence, focused on making Bucs ‘relevant’
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter January 6, 2014 5:30PM
Updated: January 6, 2014 6:15PM
Without ever saying good-bye to Chicago, Lovie Smith said hello again to Tampa on Monday.
The former Bears coach didn’t look back as he celebrated a homecoming upon officially being introduced as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach at the Buccaneers facility in Tampa.
‘‘It’s time for us to be a relevant team again,’’ said Lovie, who was the Buccaneers’ linebacker coach from 1996-2000 under Tony Dungy. ‘‘I really like the foundation that’s in place here for us to make a quick climb. I’m excited about taking the next step and improving our ballclub to get back to where we belong.’’
As has been clearly evident, Lovie moved on from the Bears long before Monday. His departure from Chicago after nine seasons as head coach of the Bears — which included a Super Bowl berth in 2006— was marked by his silence since being fired by general manager Phil Emery after failing to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons in 2012, despite a 10-6 record.
Previously fired Bears coaches at least said thank-you and good bye — from Mike Ditka (‘‘All things must pass. This too shall pass.’’) to Dave Wannstedt (‘‘I’m not going to make excuses. It’s a tough job, a tough city.’’) to Dick Jauron (‘‘I have loved every moment of it. I wish it could have turned out better, but I am not looking back.’’). But Lovie never was heard from again in these parts. Over nine years, Chicago never really warmed up to Lovie, and it appears the feeling was mutual.
He reflected on his days with the Bears only indirectly Monday. ‘‘My time in Chicago, it was my first head coaching job so I did learn a lot from start to finish,’’ the 55-year-old Smith said. ‘‘Just a great experience. As I come here as a coach that spent nine years in the league, every situation that will come up I’ve been in ... except for holding up the Lombardi Trophy.’’
Lovie moves on to the Buccaneers, who were 4-12 under Greg Schiano last season and have not made the playoffs in six seasons and have not won a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl under Jon Gruden after the 2002 season.
Smith inherits a situation not unlike the Bears in 2004 — with better defense (17th in total yards) than an offense (32nd) and a second-year quarterback with potential in Mike Glennon.
You know Lovie will maximize the defense — that’s what he does. It’s the other side of the ball that failed him in Chicago and will challenge him in Tampa. Glennon staying healthy where Rex Grossman could not, would be a good start.
The record of second-chance NFL coaches is hit and miss. Ditka (15-33 in three seasons with the Saints), Wannstedt (42-31, 1-1 in the playoffs in four-plus season with the Dolphins) and Jauron (24-33 in four seasons with the Bills) were fired from their post-Bears gigs. On the other hand, Bill Belichick (3), Tom Coughlin (2), Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden all won Super Bowls after being fired elsewhere.
Lovie could wind up in either group. He was 81-63 (.563) with the Bears. The loyalty he engenders from his players — a particularly valuable asset in the NFL — is second-to-none. His players play for him.
But it remains to be seen if the head-strong Smith has learned from his experience in Chicago. Even in the best of times, his teams often faded. In his nine seasons, the Bears were 44-28 in the first half of the season and 37-35 in the second half. His teams led the NFL in takeaways, but too often gorged on low-hanging fruit — 25 of the Bears’ 31 defensive touchdowns in the Lovie era came against non-playoff teams, 21 of them against teams with 10 or more losses.
Smith’s record of hiring assistant coaches with the Bears was unimpressive. The only assistant to become a full-time head coach in the NFL is one he fired — current Panthers coach Ron Rivera. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has head coaching potential. Perry Fewell won a Super Bowl with the Giants. But none of Lovie’s offensive coordinators are still in the NFL — Terry Shea, Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice.
Smith is rolling the dice already. His offensive coordinator is former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, a noted quarterback guru who never has coached in the NFL. His defensive coordinator is former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, who is proven but will be running Smith’s defense. Lovie’s good buddy Rod Marinelli is staying in Dallas, Smith said Monday.
And it can’t be ignored that Lovie is inheriting an awkward front-office dynamic. The Buccaneers don’t have a general manager. It is presumed that Lovie will have some say in who is hired. The good news is that Lovie has been here before. The bad news is that the last time Lovie had a say in a GM search, the Bears ended up hiring the guy who fired him. The more things change ...