After a year away from the NFL, Lovie Smith will be back in the coaching business. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Two days after they fired Greg Schiano, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to make Lovie Smith their next head coach. Jay Glazer of FOX Sports first reported that Smith, who spent 1996 through 2000 as the Buccaneers' linebackers coach, will reportedly sign a four-year deal with a fifth-year option. ESPN reports that the contract will be for about $5 million per year.
Smith was the Chicago Bears' head coach from 2004 through 2012, amassing an 81-63 regular-season record and a 3-3 record in the postseason. Smith's Bears lost Super Bowl XLI to the Indianapolis Colts, and his defenses regularly ranked among the top in the NFL, but he was fired at the end of the 2012 season after a 10-6 record. Chicago started the season 7-1 that season but faded down the stretch.
Smith also interviewed with the Houston Texans in mid-December about their vacant head coach position before the Texans hired former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien on Dec. 31. The Detroit Lions were also said to be interested in Smith's services after firing head coach Jim Schwartz. Several reports have indicated that Smith will bring former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford in to be his offensive coordinator, and it's possible that Rod Marinelli could be Smith's defensive coordinator. Marinelli was Smith's defensive line coach in Chicago in 2009, and his defensive coordinator from 2010 through 2012.
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Even though the Bears came close to a playoff berth in 2013 under head coach Marc Trestman with a re-defined offense, the defense regressed mightily without Smith's input. Chicago's defensive players seemed especially unhappy after Smith's firing.
"The effect he had on me as a player was that he challenged me to be better than everybody else at my position," cornerback Charles Tillman told me about Smith last June. "He told me to be bold and brave, and I just thank him for that. Whatever I did well, he challenged me to do it again, and again, and again. His standards for me were extremely high, and things he asked me to do ... sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I failed. But in the end, I think he was pleased with how I responded overall. As a person, he was a guy I would call for advice. When my daughter was in the hospital, he was the first one there. Him and our defensive coordinator, Bob Babich. He wasn't just a coach; he is a great man and a great person, and there was a friendship involved as well."
When asked whether he was surprised that Smith was not hired by an NFL team for the 2013 season, Tillman said that he most definitely was.
"Yes, I am. But looking at how things are going, a lot of teams were hiring offensive-minded head coaches. That's not to say he shouldn't have a job, but I just think that's how the league is going."
In 2012, the Buccaneers finished 4-12 after an 0-8 start. Schiano, who was involved in several controversies including circumstances that led to the release of quarterback Josh Freeman
, was fired on Dec. 30, along with general manager Mark Dominik. Given that the Buccaneers have not yet hired a replacement for Dominik, it's entirely feasible that Smith will have a great deal of control over his own coaching hires.