TAMPA — The Bucs' search to replace fired coach Lovie Smith is off and running, with the team confirming Friday that it will interview two up-and-coming candidates over the weekend who have a history with general manager Jason Licht.
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, both enjoying bye weeks before their teams open the playoffs next week as the NFC's top seeds, are the first candidates to interview with Tampa Bay.
The Bucs will also look hard at their offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, who Licht said was a "very strong candidate" during Thursday's news conference to address Smith's firing after going 8-24 in his two seasons.
Koetter, 56, helped the Bucs set a franchise record for total offense in his first season with the team. Rookie Jameis Winston passed for more than 4,000 yards, and running back Doug Martin finishing second in the league in rushing.
Licht acknowledged that other teams — reportedly the Dolphins, Eagles and 49ers — requested and were granted permission to speak with Koetter about their head coaching vacancies, though there have been no reports of interviews yet.
McDermott, 41, worked with Licht from 2003-07 with the Eagles, where he ascended to defensive coordinator after working under the late Jim Johnson. He has thrived with Carolina, whose defense is a big part of its 15-1 record. The Panthers have won six straight against the Bucs, allowing an average of 14.5 points.
Goodwin, 42, overlapped with Licht at Arizona in 2013, and the Cardinals offense has been arguably the NFL's best this season — No. 1 in total offense and No. 2 in scoring offense, behind Carolina.
The former Michigan offensive lineman came up through the ranks as an offensive line coach — his first NFL job came under Smith with the Bears from 2004-06, and he was a young assistant on the Steelers staff when Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl in Tampa in 2009. Goodwin would satisfy the Rooney Rule to have the Bucs' search comply with the NFL hiring policy of interviewing at least one minority candidate.
And while the coaching search continues, the Bucs are at-risk to lose Licht's right-hand man in the front office, as director of player personnel Jon Robinson interviewed Friday in Tennessee for the Titans' general manager opening. Robinson, a Tennessee native, is one of five candidates the team has confirmed as interviewing from a pool of 14 finalists.
Robinson also interviewed for the Jets' general manager job last year, and he helped Licht with a draft class that included four starters this season in Winston, tackle Donovan Smith, guard Ali Marpet and linebacker Kwon Alexander.