The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Lovie Smith on Wednesday following two disappointing seasons with the franchise.
The organization passed along co-chairman Joel Glazer's statement on its official website:
After careful consideration, we informed Lovie that we have decided to make a change. I want to thank Lovie for his hard work and dedication to the Buccaneers during his time here. This decision was difficult on a variety of levels. I am disappointed that we were not more successful these past few seasons, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to give our fans the winning team they deserve. As we move forward, General Manager Jason Licht will oversee the process for finding our next head coach.
According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Tampa Bay's coaching staff had no idea Smith would be fired. He cited one Bucs coach, who said, "We are all in shock." ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that she had just talked to members of the staff who "believed things were fine."
On Thursday, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht told reporters the day was "one of the toughest of his career," adding he has "respect for [Smith] as a coach and a person."
Licht added the decision was made by ownership, and he complimented it for taking its time and "not making an emotional decision."
On Thursday, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Smith was fired via a phone call at his home.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk elaborated on the process that led to Smith's exit:
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, ownership had planned to meet with Smith in person on Thursday. But within the process of communicating the planned meeting to Smith by phone, Smith sensed that something was going on. One thing led to another, and it became clear that the meeting would be the last one he conducted with ownership.
At that point, Smith said he didn’t need to have a meeting. So the termination became official by phone.
Licht gave insight into how the decision shook out, saying he got a call from the owners about it, leading him to call Smith. At that point, Smith called Joel Glazer and was fired.
NFL Network's Jeff Darlington offered his take on the situation shortly after the announcement was made:
"On the surface, it makes no sense whatsoever..." - @JeffDarlington on dismissal of Lovie Smith https://t.co/MnaEPpWuZv1/7/2016, 4:22:31 AM
Even though Smith's record with Tampa Bay was bad (8-24), he took over a sinking ship in 2014. The Greg Schiano era resulted in the Buccaneers going from 7-9 in his first year to 4-12 before they fired him after the 2013 season.
While Smith didn't help matters by sticking with Josh McCown as the starting quarterback far too long in his first season as head coach, his roster was in transition basically from the moment he arrived. He also said questionable things in the midst of a 2-14 campaign in 2014, such as this following a Week 12 loss, per ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas:
We are still in the playoff hunt. So there's no looking at younger players -- it's who gives us our best chance to win, period. So it's pretty easy for us right now. Forget the record right now; everyone in the NFC South is disappointed and has let games get away and feel like they're a pretty good football team -- we're right in the mix of that. So it's full steam ahead for Cincinnati [this week's opponent] for us.
The NFC South was so bad last year that he wasn't technically wrong, but when you wind up having the No. 1 overall pick, those young players would have benefited from more playing time.
The Buccaneers did improve this season under Smith, with the presence of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston providing a spark to help the team have its most successful year since 2012. It still wasn't enough to help it reach the .500 mark, which it hasn't done since 2010.
With that said, Tampa Bay was among the most improved teams in 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The Buccaneers were among the teams with the most improvement in the win column this season https://t.co/rZNWXvzV7b1/7/2016, 4:29:35 AM
Smith did have a strong resume before arriving in Tampa Bay. He led the Chicago Bears to an NFC Championship in 2006 and had five winning seasons, including three playoff appearances, in nine seasons with Chicago.
Even though Tampa Bay didn't work out for him, he has proven skills to help build and develop a team that can compete for a playoff spot. Finding the right situation with a young group on the rise should be the 57-year-old's top priority if he decides to coach again.
The Buccaneers figure to be one of the most attractive openings for potential head coaches because they already have a young, talented quarterback and an excellent young wide receiver in Mike Evans to build around.
However, the organization's history of head coaching dismissals over the past half-decade could conceivably make prospective candidates wary of accepting the job.
Although Tampa Bay has assembled one of the league's most dynamic young cores, a new head coach won't be served well if he feels like he's racing against the clock to notch postseason wins. Without patience from ownership that affords the team time to develop gradually over a period of several seasons, the Bucs could continue to spin their wheels.