I was sitting playing NBA 2K last night, when my phone buzzed. It was a notification from ESPN breaking the news about now former Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith.
I immediately opened my phone and texted Matt Lupinno, whom many of you know from his contributions to this site. Matt has been a Bucs fan for as long as I have known him. He was dumbfounded when he heard about Smith being fired.
I have to admit that I am in the same boat. Lovie Smith is one of the better coaches I’ve seen in the NFL over the last 10 years. He has a career record above .500, he lead Chicago to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman under center and posted five winning seasons in his nine year tenure in the Windy City.
I was confused after his firing from Chicago. The Bears went 10-6 that season and narrowly missed the playoffs. I’m even more perplexed by his firing from Tampa Bay. Smith took over a struggling Tampa team two years ago and laid the ground work for Tampa to be a playoff contender next season. His record, 8-24, isn’t very impressive, but it there were definitely signs of improvement this season.
The Bucs were the NFL’s worst team in 2014, winning just two games. The offense was pitiful, ranking 29th in scoring offense and 30th in yards per game. The defense wasn’t much better, ranking 25th in both scoring and yards allowed. 2015 saw Tampa take major strides as the team’s offensive scoring jumped to 20th, the offensive yards rank moved up to fifth and the defensive yards rank pushed to seventh.
The only reason I can think of for Lovie being fired was because the scoring defense actually got worse. The Bucs were 26th in the league in points allowed per game this season. Smith is supposed to be a defensive guru, so that type of stat really reflects poorly on him.
Yet, it still shouldn’t have been enough for the Tampa front office to pull the plug. The Bucs are clearly trending in the right direction. This was a rebuilding project down in western Florida.
The Buccaneers had a rookie quarterback, left tackle and right guard starting this year. They had a second year starting wide receiver, the explosive Mike Evans, and sophomore tight end as well. Their number three receiver was an undrafted rookie. That group produced the fifth most yards in the NFL this season. That is tremendous for such a young group with so much room to grow.
On defense, the Bucs had four guys who started at least 11 games for them, all 25 years old or younger. By the end of the season, either due to injuries or poor play from veterans, Tampa was starting seven players 25 or under. The scoring defense was woeful but finishing seventh in yards allowed has to count for something.
With so much youth and potential, it does not seem to make sense to fire the man at the forefront of this rebuilding project. The fact that this team relies so heavily on it’s youth too shows how well Smith has done at building the team through the draft. The Bucs brought in Lovie to rebuild their team. He laid the foundation to build on and then the cut him loose, just before the team had a chance to really shine.
If anything, I think this move actually hurts Tampa Bay. You have a rookie quarterback in place who is definitely your future at the position in Jameis Winston. You let him play for a year in an offensive system, then get rid of his head coach and force him to restart in a different system. That seems counter productive to Winston’s growth.
The real question now is who will replace Smith. There are not many ways in which Tampa can really find an upgrade. The only hire I think that would make sense is Adam Gase. He is a young coach with a lot of potential himself. Many have pegged him as the premier head coaching candidate for the last three seasons. He would present the Bucs with a coach that would grow with the team. Otherwise, I fail to see who the front office could target that would have more upside than Smith.
As for Lovie, I hope he isn’t out of a job for long. I could see him taking over the Tennessee gig, getting to work with the other quarterback selected at the top of the 2015 NFL draft. Other potential fits for Smith could be New York, where the Giants need a defensive make over, or Cleveland, who is in desperate need of a proven coach to help turn around their situation.
Well I definitely gave Lovie some love in this post. Hopefully, someone else will give him some soon.