Lovie Smith is coming back to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs hired Smith on Thursday, making him the 10th head coach in franchise history. FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer reported Wednesday night that the Bucs would tap Smith, a former Tampa Bay linebackers coach from 1996-2000, as their next leader after quietly interviewing him this week.
Smith signed a five-year contract that is reportedly worth $5 million per season.
"Today is an exciting day for the Buccaneer organization, and the entire Tampa Bay community, as we welcome back Lovie Smith," Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a release. "We knew from the start of our search that he was the ideal man to lead our team into a new era of Buccaneer football. Lovie is an accomplished and very well-respected head coach who has enjoyed success at every level of his 30-year career."
The Bucs are hoping Smith’s proven NFL track record brings consistency back to Tampa Bay after two ineffective, sometimes tumultuous, seasons under former coach Greg Schiano. After his time as linebackers coach under Tony Dungy, Smith went to the St. Louis Rams to be their defensive coordinator from 2001-2003. He coached the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012 and had an 81-63 regular-season record.
Smith’s highest moment as a head coach came in the 2006 campaign, when he guided the Bears to a 13-3 regular-season record, which resulted in an NFC North title. Chicago won the NFC crown before losing in Super Bowl XLI to the Indianapolis Colts, led by Dungy.
Smith, known as one of the league’s brightest defensive minds, led the Bears to three postseason appearances in his tenure there. With him, Chicago won at least 10 games in the regular season four times. He was named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year in 2005, after guiding the Bears to an 11-5 regular-season record, which led to their first postseason appearance since going after the 2001 campaign under former coach Dick Jauron.
In all, Smith’s time with Chicago led to three division titles and two NFC Championship Game appearances (2006 and 2010), in addition to the Super Bowl berth. He’s one of only eight active NFL coaches with at least 80 career victories. His 81 victories in Chicago stand as the third-most in Bears history.
People with current and former Bucs praised the hire.
"I think the fit is going to be tremendous," Dungy said in a release. "Number one he knows the area, he knows how the team got built into a Super Bowl winner, he knows how to win in the NFL, but more than that, I think he is going to build just a chemistry and camaraderie in that locker room and in the whole organization that’s going to resemble what we had before."
"He was able to see how this franchise was built, how we maintained success and is very familiar with the structure of our organization," former linebacker Derrick Brooks said in a release. "I think that’s going to be a benefit in terms of his coaching tenure here and a lot of personal attributes of him as a man."
Said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, in a release: "I don’t think they could’ve chosen a better guy — not just him as a coach, but as a person."
Smith will face a significant recovery job upon his arrival. The Bucs have had three coaches in six years: Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris and Schiano. They have produced losing seasons in five of the past six seasons, and their postseason drought has reached six campaigns.
Though he’s a defensive-minded leader, Smith must find a way to correct one of the NFL’s most ineffective offenses from this season. The Bucs ranked 30th in scoring offense (18 points per game), 32nd in total offense (277 yards per game) and 32nd in passing offense (176.2 ypg). Reportedly, Smith will tap Jeff Tedford, who coached California from 2002-2012, as his offensive coordinator.
Defensively, Tampa Bay is in better shape. The Bucs’ two Pro Bowlers (McCoy and cornerback Darrelle Revis) are found on that side of the ball. Linebacker Lavonte David, a second-year player, is one of the game’s rising stars at his position. Safety Dashon Goldson, a two-time Pro Bowl player, can be an asset as well.
This season, the Bucs ranked 15th in rush defense (110.1 yards per game), 17th in pass defense (237.9 ypg), 17th in total defense (348 ypg) and 21st in scoring defense (24.3 points per game).
Smith is reportedly seeking Rod Marinelli to be his defensive coordinator. Marinelli, who worked as a defensive line coach and defensive coordinator under Smith in Chicago, spent this season as the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line coach. Marinelli also worked with Smith in part of his Tampa Bay tenure that included a stint as the team’s defensive line coach from 1996-2005.
It remains to be seen who will replace Mark Dominik as general manager. Still, the Glazer family acted quickly to entice Smith, who was expected to interview with the Detroit Lions soon.
Smith’s familiarity with the situation in Tampa Bay, however, appears to have helped convince him to return to a franchise seeking new life.