One strand of consistency throughout the fan base of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is hope. Hope for a better season. Hope for an impact draft pick. Hope for a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. As we inch closer to the opening kickoff of the 2014 season, Bucs fans have hitched their hope-wagon to the plow horse that is the Lovie Smith regime.
After the Greg Schiano era was mercifully put out of its misery, Bucs fans were able to seamlessly answer the “What’s next” question without much anticipation – Enter Lovie Smith. For most Bucs fans, Smith represents the brightest ray of hope since Jon Gruden hoisted the Lombardi Trophy over a decade ago.
Lovie Smith knows Tampa Bay. He know its fans, he knows it’s media, and he knows what winning feels like in central Florida. As the Linebackers coach from 1996-2000, Smith was a key component in the brain trust, which made the Tampa 2 Defense a household entity. He was also on the sidelines for the Bucs first trip to the NFC Title game in 20 years, and he died a little inside just like fans did when the Bert Emanuel’s touchdown catch was disallowed. Lovie knows what being a Tampa Bay Buccaneer is all about.
Smith has the resume to stoke the flickering flame of hope in a Bucs franchise that hasn’t tasted a playoff victory since that fateful 2002 Super Bowl. However, his detractors will attempt to down play Smith’s success by pointing out the fact that, though he has been to two Super Bowls as a coach, he is 0-2 in the big game. For the record, in 2001 as the Defense Coordinator for the Rams, Smith was left wanting by the genesis of the legend that is Tom Brady. In 2006, as the head coach of the Bears, Smith was sent home empty handed by Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy. However, Lovie’s defense was the best in the league that year, and Rex Grossman was his starting quarterback…. REX GROSSMAN.
Smith DOES have an 84-66 record as a head coach. (Including Post Season) He HAS won three division title and an NFC Championship, and he WAS named NFL Coach of the Year in 2005. For all you Lovie Smith skeptics out there, most Bucs fans will take that resume over the collective 28-51 record of his two predecessors at One Buc Place, any day. Hope dear Tampa fans, thy name is Lovie.
It is however, not the resume alone that has Buccaneers fans walking with an extra spring in their step. It is the fact that Lovie understands that winning in the NFL cannot rest on the shoulders of one man. A leader is only as good as the men who help him lead.
Bringing in Jeff Tedford to run a dismal Bucs offense, which spent 2013 riddled with injury and inconsistency shows Lovie’s commitment to offensive innovation. Tedford coached 6 first round draft picks at the quarterback position throughout his college coaching tenure. He has often garnered the elusive “Guru” moniker from football pundits, and is primed to bring his unique offensive spark to the NFL. Whether Mike Glennon is the answer at quarterback is yet to be seen, though one thing remains clear; Tedford should have the Bucs offense trending in the right direction in very short order.
Defensively, a Bucs team who spent last season marred by underperformance is now the responsibility of former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier. Frazier’s time as a head coach could be described as mediocre, though he did lead the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012. Frazier does have two Super Bowl rings in his collection however; one as a player on the 1985 Bears, and one as a coach under Tony dungy with the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. Having the experience of his team’s colored cascading confetti falling on the last day of the season, gives Frazier a winning perspective which can only help a Bucs team in tremendous need of a “Winning” transfusion.
Ultimately, Lovie Smith has the opportunity to join the likes of Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll as NFL head coaches who made the most out of their second (or third) chance at NFL glory. The resume is respectable, the staff undeniable, and the hope – the hope of a brighter future is strong in the hearts of the Buccaneers faithful. Remember Tampa Bay fans, without hope you might as well be rooting for the Cleveland Browns.