TAMPA — The stone face melted, the granite chin quivered and the eyes went glassy a few minutes after Greg Schiano finished his farewell news conference in a ballroom at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel.
Sure, after suffering Sunday's 42-17 blowout loss at New Orleans to finish 4-12, he knew there was a possibility he could be fired after only two seasons. But like many NFL head coaches, the news still hit hard Monday. To illustrate the impact, with two reporters gathered in an adjacent boardroom, Schiano pointed his index finger to his forehead, right between his eyes.
"Hit me right here," he said, fighting back tears.
Saying the "results have not lived up to our standards and we believe the time has come to find a new direction," co-chairman Bryan Glazer announced a housecleaning that also swept out general manager Mark Dominik, who took over in 2009 and averaged 10 losses over five seasons. Dominik finished with a 28-52 record.
But the new direction Glazer spoke of Monday might actually be an old one. By Monday afternoon, the family that owns the Bucs made contact with former Bears head coach and Bucs assistant Lovie Smith about their head coaching job.
Smith, who went 81-63 over nine years with four 10-win seasons and a Super Bowl berth in Chicago, is considered the front-runner. He began his NFL career as linebackers coach for the Bucs under head coach Tony Dungy from 1996-2000.
Smith, 55, has interviewed for the Houston Texans head coaching job and is likely to draw interest from several other teams.
But those close to Smith said he is particularly intrigued by the opportunity to coach the Bucs. Multiple reports say Smith would bring former University of California coach Jeff Tedford as offensive coordinator.
The Glazers made the changes for two main reasons: They didn't see enough return on their recent investment in free agents and cornerback Darrelle Revis; and Schiano's team failed to show significant improvement in the second half of the season after an 0-8 start.
"We didn't get it done," Schiano said. "I accept full responsibility for that. I'm the head football coach. It didn't work."
When Schiano awoke Monday morning, he was focused on the task at hand. He met with his team, still unaware of his fate, and thanked it for sticking together during a difficult season that included the benching and eventual release of quarterback Josh Freeman, a MRSA outbreak that infected three players and a rash of injuries (especially on offense).
"I woke up this morning planning on being the head coach of the Bucs, so that tells you that I believe it was going to take some more time," said Schiano, who went 11-21 in his two seasons. "But I understand. I'm a big boy, and I understood what I was walking into in the National Football League. A quarter of the coaches turn over every year. Did I think we had an opportunity to move this forward? I still do. I think whoever takes over in this job is taking over a good situation; a real good situation."
Dominik, who joined the Bucs in 1995 as a pro personnel assistant and also was a pro scout and director of pro personnel, did not hold a news conference but released a statement.
"I have been blessed over the years here to work with some of the brightest minds of the game," it read. "Winning (Super Bowl) XXXVII under the direction of head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Rich McKay was an experience I will never forget."
As players packed their belongings in plastic bags in the locker room, Schiano and Dominik were meeting with Bucs owners. Schiano then assembled his coaching staff to tell them the news.
Upon his hiring, Schiano signed a five-year, $15 million contract that has three years and about $9 million left. Dominik is believed to be signed through 2014. Many Bucs assistants have contracts that expire this season with a one-year club option. They were told they can continue to use the practice facility over the next few days as they evaluate their opportunities.
Bucs players were not surprised by the firings, but some were saddened.
"I know this is not easy as a player … to see your coaches go," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "You never, ever want to see anybody get fired. Me personally, I haven't had any consistency in my career. Third head coach, going on my fifth year. And if you add up everybody, this will be six (defensive) line coaches. Who do I learn from and what do I keep? I don't know. I just roll with the punches and make sure I'm at my best regardless of what happens."
Schiano, who spent 11 seasons as the head coach at Rutgers before coming to Tampa Bay, was hired to change the culture of a franchise that had gone soft on discipline and expectations.
He started his first season 6-4, pushing the Bucs into playoff contention.
Freeman thrived in the NFL's ninth-ranked offense, the best in team history. He passed for 4,065 yards (a franchise record), 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Rookie Doug Martin rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, and the Bucs fell 4 yards shy of having two 1,000-yard receivers in Vincent Jackson (1,384) and Mike Williams (996).
Meanwhile, the defense was among the league's worst of all time against the pass, allowing 4,758 yards and 30 touchdowns. Freeman struggled down the stretch with two straight four-interception games as the Bucs lost five of six to finish 7-9.
Schiano indicated Monday he would have preferred to start 2013 with a different quarterback, rookie Mike Glennon, whom they drafted in the third round out of North Carolina State.
But, Schiano said, the Glazers and Dominik insisted Freeman remain the starter, and the coach went along.
"Whether I agree, disagree or somewhere in between, once a decision is made as an organization, I'm going to execute that like it's my own decision," Schiano said.
Dominik and Schiano were aggressive during this past offseason in order to fix the secondary.
They signed All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson, traded for All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafted Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.
While the defense improved, the offense didn't, in part, because of injuries to Martin and Williams — among 16 players who finished the season on injured reserve.
Meanwhile, the trust eroded between Schiano and Freeman, who was benched after an 0-3 start and was eventually released. The club also faced the distraction that came with three cases of a MRSA staph infection.
In some ways, those distractions might have earned Schiano a second chance despite an 0-8 start. The Bucs went 4-4 in the second half of the season, but they lost four of their final five games and were not competitive Sunday against the Saints.
The highly paid defense finished 17th in the NFL in yards allowed. And the offense, behind Glennon, was last in the NFL in total yards and passing yards.
"It's no secret … I think the world of Mike Glennon," Schiano said. "I think he's an excellent quarterback. In a very, very tough set of circumstances, this guy performed at a very high level."
What's unclear is how the Glazers will proceed with their search for replacements for Schiano and Dominik. Do they hire a head coach first and match him with a general manager? Or hire the general manager and let him have input on the head coach?
If past is prologue, they won't be rushed. It took 36 days for them to trade for Jon Gruden after firing Tony Dungy. It took 26 days to hire Schiano.
Dominik visited the media room at One Buc Place on Monday afternoon to say goodbye, shaking hands with everyone.
"Nineteen years," Dominik said tearing up. "I love this franchise."
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.