Having already tried "something new" their last two go-rounds in the head coaching carousel, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are reportedly set to try "something old" for their next selection. And by "old" I mean someone they've employed in another capacity previously.
That's according to The Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings, who, citing an unnamed source in the organization, claims the team is finalizing a contract with Lovie Smith to become the 10th head coach in the franchise's history.
Smith, who spent nine seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bears (2004-2012), worked as linebackers coach with the Bucs from 1996-2000 under Tony Dungy, helping to turn what was one of the worst franchises in all of sports into perennial contenders.
In Smith, the Bucs are not only getting someone who is beloved by his players (both current and former), but someone who will also command respect without demanding it by displaying a calm and confident demeanor that his predecessor lacked entirely.
Remember, Greg Schiano was brought on to instill discipline and reign in the malcontents.
However, after two losing seasons, it became clear that while the malcontents may have been dealt with (or dealt, period), there was little semblance of discipline anywhere within the organization.
The Bucs had the ninth-most penalties and second-most penalty yards in the NFL last season after finishing 10th and 15th, respectively, in Schiano's first season. In other words, all the yelling, screaming and "toes on the line" talk didn't pan out.
As it turned out, they were no better off going with the disciplinarian than they were under the loosey-goosey ways of Schiano's predecessor, Raheem Morris.
That's where Smith comes in. From all outward appearances, his toughness and ability to be a player's coach is well balanced.
He doesn't let the enormity of the moment cloud his decision-making. He's tough, but not a bully. He's fair, but not a pushover. Oh, and he's not too stubborn to make in-game adjustments.
But above all, he's everything players love in a coach, as evidenced by tweets from some of his former players:
Big congrats to Lovie Smith. Wish him the best of luck in Tampa— Alshon Jeffery (@AJJeffery1) January 2, 2014
Big congrats to Lovie Smith. Wish him the best of luck in Tampa. NFL is better with him in it.— Lance Briggs (@LanceBriggs) January 2, 2014
Great hire by the #Bucs in Coach Lovie Smith. Very excited for him!— Hardy Nickerson (@hardynickerson) January 2, 2014
Much like Smith was part of a coaching staff that helped right the ship in the mid-90's, this time around he'll be expected to salvage a group of under-performing players that are largely young and inexperienced, albeit with a ton of upside.
Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where Smith and his yet-to-be-named defensive coordinator will have the pleasure of running a unit bursting at the seams with potential, but grossly misused under the previous regime.
Profootballtalk.com—along with multiple media reports—suggest either former Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier or current Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli are the likely candidates for the defensive coordinator role under Smith in Tampa Bay.
Whoever ultimately winds up in charge of the defensive side of the ball will have plenty of weapons at their disposal including two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster, safety Mark Barron, cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks and the disappointing duo at defensive end in Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers.
Given Smith's defensive nature, there are concerns about how he'll handle the offensive side of the ball considering his dismal track record while at the helm of the Bears, which likely contributed to his eventual demise.
As highlighted by T.J. Shouse of windycitygridiron.com, those concerns are valid.
During his nine-year tenure in Chicago, the Bears averaged 20.9 points per game. To put that into perspective, an offense averaging 20.9 points/game this season would've been ranked 23rd in the NFL in scoring.
The flip side to that is to consider the talent Smith was working with during his tenure. Jay Cutler was acquired in 2009 and threw 63 interceptions in 56 starts with an average rating of 81.9 under Smith, nearly three points lower than his career average.
Prior to Cutler, Smith had the misfortune of having Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman under center, yet he somehow managed to lead the Bears to Super Bowl XLI despite Grossman's erratic play.
In other words, while Smith's teams weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard, he never quite had a quarterback capable of doing so, let alone the complementary playmakers needed either.
All of which brings us to the million dollar question: Will Lovie stick with Mike Glennon under center, or opt to look elsewhere?
Smith has shown himself capable of winning with marginal quarterback play, but the games weren't always pretty, and it didn't leave much room for error on defense.
Regardless, bringing on Lovie Smith to lead this franchise is the right decision given the personnel in place and his familiarity with the organization.
Above all, his hiring elicits a little nostalgia.
It brings us back to the renaissance of not only a franchise, but of its fanbase. It evokes memories of Dungy-ball and raised expectations.
But it also reminds the fanbase how good they had it and how much they didn't appreciate it. The fans took competitiveness for granted and assumed, like the moon and the sun, it would always be there. And boy, were they wrong.
Though if Lovie's record has proven anything, it's that he'll give the Buccaneers a fighting chance. And after enduring the last two years of futility, isn't that enough?
J.J. Rodriguez can be reached via email at BRJJRodriguez@gmail.com