By Dory LeBlanc
"This is an exciting day as we begin a new chapter in our franchise history, one that will energize our fanbase and provide the Tampa Bay community with the winning football it deserves." - Bryan Glazer
Monday afternoon, a new era dawned in Tampa Bay as Lovie Smith was introduced as the head coach of the Buccaneers. Smith not only comes with respect, he brings success.
In his first stint in Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy, Smith was part of a rejuvenated Buccaneers franchise, coaching the linebackers to three playoff appearances in 1997, 1999, and 2000. In his five years with the Bucs, Smith coached two LBs with multi-Pro Bowl appearances, Derrick Brooks (1997-2000) and Hardy Nickerson (1996-99).
Brooks and Nickerson also received recognition for their off-the-field contributions under Smith's tuteledge; Nickerson was awarded the "Whizzer" White Man of the Year honor in 1997 and Brooks was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2000.
As expected, Brooks was supportive of his former coach when he joined The Ron and Ian Show last week, noting Smith brings something the Bucs have lacked in recent years: stabiliy.
"I think the first thing you're going to get [with Smith as head coach], Ian, is that valuable experience," Brooks said. "When you think about the latest head coaches that the Bucs have had the past two, they haven't had the experience that Lovie has, not only coaching in the old league, but even the new league after the CBA (was) done.
"Our league has changed and Lovie has that vast experience of being a part of both and having success in terms of the wins in winning in both, so I think he'll bring that obviously. The man who Lovie Smith is sort of brings stability to this position.
"You talk about loyalty, getting good players to play for him, believing in his convictions - those things are going to transcend. Finding teachers on his staff (who) are going to teach the way I was taught. The way that he knows Tampa Bay got turned around because he was part of that process, along with coaches that were teachers and that honestly transcended to his success at St. Louis as a defensive coordinator, then on to to the Bears."
Smith's success not only continued when he left Tampa Bay for the Rams, it escalated. As the defensive coordinator under Mike Martz, the Rams went to the Super Bowl following his first season with the organization and returned to the postseason in 2003.
In 2004, Smith was named the head coach of the Bears and in his third season he made a return trip to the Super Bowl, losing to his close friend and former boss, Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts.
In all, Smith has coached in the playoffs eight times (three with Tampa Bay, two with St. Louis and three with Chicago). Even moreso, he has coached his players to be the best they can be on the field - the Bears had thirteen defensive and special teams players make the Pro Bowl in his nine seasons - and off the field.
The Buccaneers have been without that success and stability, going 28-52 in the past five seasons combined.
But it wasn't just the win/loss column that was a problem in Tampa Bay; a culture touching two different ends of the spectrum was bred and seemed impossible to overcome.
Under Raheem Morris (1999-2011), the Buccaneers organization took a hit in reputation in two aspects; the team went 17-31 in three seasons, but at least 10 players or members of Morris' coaching staff were arrested. That number doesn't include players suspended by the NFL, like Tenard Jackson who was sidelined twice by the league.
When Greg Schiano took over in 2012, he cleaned up the roster, quickly sending players like Jackson packing, as well as trading the troubled Aqib Talib midway through the season and releasing Eric Wright before the 2013 season began, after Wright was arrested twice in a year in Los Angeles. For as much as Schiano boasted to be a disciplinarian, the losses mounted and the Bucs had the dubious honor of being the second-most penalized team this season.
With Smith, the Bucs are looking for an obvious turnaround in production, but the organization would also like to get back to where they were when Dungy was here: a respected franchise.
"After we left Tampa many years ago, we kept a home here in Tampa," Smith said, "And every time we had an opportunity to come back, we always would come back to visit. So I feel it has always been a big part of us."
By all accounts, hiring Smith is a step in the right direction - a step back home.
To hear the entire Lovie Smith introduction press conference, click below: