TAMPA — When he was asked to interview for the Texans head coaching job, Lovie Smith was sent a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Houston on a commercial flight. No private plane, no organization entourage knocking on the door in Lake Forest, Ill.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers asked to interview Smith, the team's three co-chairmen flew to Chicago on Tuesday in the dead of winter and summoned the former Bears coach to a home owned by Bryan Glazer, who was joined by his brothers, Joel and Ed.
"In the coaching carousel, everybody is playing this shadow game and trying to figure out where they stand," said Smith's son Matt, an agent for IMG who represents his dad. "The Bucs were very candid they wanted dad, and they were willing to do what it takes to get him. They knew who they wanted, and they got their guy."
Smith, 55, officially was named the Bucs' coach on Thursday, signing a five-year contract. He will be introduced at 2 p.m. Monday at One Buc Place.
There has been a lot of speculation about where Smith, arguably the most coveted free agent head coach, might wind up. Why did he choose Tampa Bay over the Lions, who have a great front seven on defense, an unworldly receiver in Calvin Johnson and a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford? Or over the Redskins, who are a high-profile job with quarterback Robert Griffin III?
The reason? Familiarity.
Familiarity with the Glazer family and organizational structure. Smith began his pro career as a linebackers coach on Tony Dungy's first staff in 1996. Familiarity with the Tampa Bay community, which he loves. Familiarity with the franchise DNA, which is identified by a dominant defense.
And familiarity is not much different than family when you think about it.
"It's home," Matt said. "That was something it had over other places. The level of familiarity and comfort level was important. And in the NFL, being comfortable, familiar with where you are and who you're working with adds to the chemistry of the organization.
"He said, 'I just don't want to go somewhere, I want to go to the right place. Tampa is the right place.' "
Certainly, the Bucs feel comfortable with Smith, who has compiled an impressive resume since leaving after the 2000 season to become the Rams defensive coordinator and then the Bears coach two years later.
"Today is an exciting day for the Buccaneer organization, and the entire Tampa Bay community, as we welcome back Lovie Smith," Bryan Glazer said in a statement. "Lovie is an accomplished and very well-respected head coach who has enjoyed success at every level of his 30-year career. We knew from the start of our search that he was the ideal man to lead this team into this new era of Buccaneer football."
But what the Glazers are hoping is that the new era will look a lot like the old era when the Bucs were a perennial playoff team and Super Bowl XXXVII champions.
As for Smith's staff, former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who coached Aaron Rodgers and DeSean Jackson, among others, is expected to be the new offensive coordinator. Smith also would like to hire Rod Marinelli as defensive coordinator. But they've not asked the Cowboys for permission to talk to Marinelli, who is under contract as their defensive line coach.
Smith, who was fired by the Bears after going 10-6 in 2012, spent the fall sitting on the couch of his home in Lake Forest watching games with a critical eye. That included the Bucs, whose defense has all the critical elements of the Tampa 2 scheme.
"He's very, very excited about them," Matt said. "Defensively, Gerald McCoy is the perfect three-technique tackle. What an unbelievable linebacker they have in Lavonte David. It's not fair to compare him to (Derrick) Brooks, but it's hard not to. You have two very good safeties and of course Darrelle Revis."
Speaking of Revis, there's talk that the league's top cover corner won't fit into the Smith's zone schemes. His $16 million per year salary, which can be restructured to make it more salary cap friendly, includes $3 million payouts for the offseason. Would the Bucs part with Revis after one year, having paid a first-round and potentially third-round picks to the Jets?
Revis tweeted: "I'm excited about the future for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Heard some great things about Lovie Smith & can't wait to finally meet him."
Perhaps a bigger question is at quarterback. Mike Glennon went 4-9 as a rookie and the Bucs were last in passing yardage.
One option at quarterback was removed Thursday when the Bears signed Jay Cutler to a seven-year contract. He was set to become a free agent.
But there is time to address all that. Time to hire a GM, who isn't likely to be in place Monday.
"I know the fans are impatient," Matt said. "But they know he's going to get things going on the right path."