It is hoped, in his year away from coaching, that Lovie Smith learned about the other half. As coach of the Bears for nine maddening seasons, he was a glorified defensive coordinator who built magnficent defensive units — and sometimes forgot he ultimately was responsible for offense, too. A world-class defense was wasted because the other half was neglected, with no better example than at Super Bowl XLI in Miami, when he tried to beat Peyton Manning with Rex Grossman.
Back in Tampa Bay now, where he served under close pal Tony Dungy in the Buccaneers’ elite era, Smith has several seeds in place for another fine defense: Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, among others. But in his second NFL go-around, particularly in a powerhouse division loaded with playoff teams (Carolina and New Orleans) and another that flirted with a Super Bowl last year (Atlanta), Smith can’t afford to focus on his specialty and let someone else take the heat for offensive woes.
You are the head coach, Lovie.
You are accountable for defense, offense, special teams, morale, personnel decisions, everything but the pirate ship in Raymond James Stadium and any lingering staph infections at One Hazmat Place.
And with no general manager in place at the moment, you are pretty much The Man In Charge. So read the memo, please.
Smith is bringing in Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator. At Cal, he developed a quarterback whose name might be familiar as it pertains to frozen tundras and silly insurance commercials: Aaron Rodgers. But if he is to avoid his ultimate fate in Chicago — a dismissal after missing the playoffs five of his last six seasons — he’ll need to be a complete head coach. The first decision is whether Mike Glennon, the teacher’s pet of deposed Greg Schiano, is still worth a long look as a potential starter. If not the Bucs will have to consider acquiring a veteran or drafting a potential franchise quarterback with the No. 7 pick in the first round.
Johnny Manziel, you say? Uh, not Lovie’s kind of guy, though Ybor City would love to have him.
Problem is, three teams drafting above the Bucs — Houston at No. 1, Jacksonville at No. 3 and Cleveland at No. 4 — likely will draft QBs. And depending on the evaluator, only three QBs — Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Manziel — are considered top 10 material, unless Marcus Mariota changes his mind and leaves Oregon and Derek Carr rescues his rep after a rough bowl performance against USC. Minnesota, at No. 8, also could trade up and snag a much-needed QB.
That means Smith may have to consider signing the quarterback who used to drive him crazy in Chicago, Jay Cutler, if the Bears choose to set him free. Cutler, given the $100-million-plus contract extensions signed last offseason by Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, will want a sum in that vicinity, which is lunacy considering he will be 31 in April, is prone to injuries, makes mistakes in critical situations and never has won anything. Another free-agent option would be Michael Vick, who will turn 34 in June and also has been plagued by injuries and turnovers in recent seasons in Philadelphia. He told CSNPhilly.com that he’ll be starting somewhere next season, now that Nick Foles has supplanted him as the Eagles’ starter.
“At some point, I’ll be back out there,” Vick said. “I don’t worry about it. My skill set is still there, my arm is still there, my legs are still there, I’m still a playmaker, that’s evident. I think at some point I’ll be playing somewhere.”
Next to Bill O’Brien, who will groom Bridgewater in Houston, Smith is the best of the available coaching names. Detroit and Washington were interested, but Smith was familiar with the Glazer family and accepted the offer after two days of discussions. The Glazers have been suspect owners in recent years — their last two head-coaching hires, Schiano and Raheem Morris, were abysmal — and at least Smith has the experience and savvy to re-unite the locker room, inject professionalism into the operation and coax maximum effort from players.
A blockbuster hire, this is not. But it’s not a bad hire, bad being the operative word attached to this franchise for a while now.
Tweeted Dungy: “Congratulations to the Bucs. I think they made a very good choice in hiring Lovie Smith. Now I’m excited about watching the Bucs next year!”
That would be a veiled shot at Schiano, who may be off to Penn State, completing an O’Brien-Smith-Schiano triangle. Schiano was a college coach who couldn’t adapt to the NFL. Lovie Smith better be a defensive coach who can adapt to the concept of offense.
Sure you wouldn’t want Johnny Football, Lovie?