TAMPA — The Bucs could bring Lovie Smith back to Tampa Bay.
The Glazer family, which owns the team, has made contact with Smith about their head coaching position, which became available after they fired second-year coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik Monday morning.
Smith, who was the Chicago Bears head coach for nine seasons, began his NFL career as a linebackers coach for the Bucs under Tony Dungy in 1996. Out of the NFL this season, he went 81-63 in Chicago with four 10-win seasons and led Chicago to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.
He 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 that Smith would bring former Cal coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator.
Schiano was fired by the Buccaneers after only two seasons, including a dismal 4-12 campaign that ended with Sunday's 42-17 rout by the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs also fired general manager Mark Dominik, who took over in 2009 and averaged more than 10 losses per year over five seasons. Dominik finished with a 28-52 record.
The Glazers made the changes for two main reasons: they didn't see enough return on their recent investment in free agents and the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis; and Schiano's team failed to show significant improvement in the second half of the season following a 0-8 start.
"The results over the past two years have not lived up to our standards and we believe the time has come to find a new direction," said Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer in a statement. "Mark has been a valued member of our organization for two decades and we respect the passion he showed for the Buccaneers. We thank Greg for his hard work and effort the past two seasons but we feel these moves are necessary in order to achieve our goals."
Early speculation on Schiano's replacement also included Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. The 44-year-old spent five seasons under Bill Belichick, from 2007-11. He's been strongly linked to the Houston Texans' opening and is widely expected to leave the Nittany Lions to return to the NFL.
Schiano and Dominik learned of their fate shortly after a team meeting and series of exit interviews.
As players were packing their belongings in plastic garbage bags in the locker room, Schiano and Dominik were in a meeting with Bucs owners. Schiano then assembled his coaching staff, many of whom don't have contracts for next year, to tell them the news.
Schiano has three years remaining on his contract with the Bucs would could earn him in excess of $9-million. Dominik is believed to be signed through 2014.
Bucs players were not necessarily surprised by the firings, but some were saddened by it.
"I don't know what to think,'' defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "I know this is not easy as a player ... to see your coaches go. You never, ever want to see anybody get fired. It's tough to see that.
"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 just take a little bit from everybody? I don't know. I just roll with the punches and make sure I'm at my best regardless of what happens."
What Schiano discovered over the past two years is that it's tough to tongue-whip a pro football franchise into shape. "Well damn," tweeted Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn of the news.
Schiano went 11-22 in his two years, including losing his first eight games of 2013.
The firings came after a tumultuous season that saw an erosion of trust between Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman, who was benched after a 0-3 start and eventually released. There were accusations that Schiano rigged a vote for team captains and was responsible for leaking confidential information about Freeman's participation in the league's drug testing program.
The club also faced the distraction that came with three confirmed cases of MRSA, including a grievance filed by place-kicker Lawrence Tynes, who was put on the non-football injury list.
In some ways, those distractions may have earned Schiano a chance to make his case to remain as head coach 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.
The highly-paid defense finished in the middle of the pack in the NFL and the offense behind rookie quarterback Mike Glennon was last in the NFL in total offense and passing yardage.
Schiano took over a team that had gone 4-12 in 2011 and lost their final 10 games in the third year under coach Raheem Morris. He quickly established his heavy-handed approach, weeding out players such as tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive tackle Brian Price.
Schiano was instrumental in a successful draft, selecting safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin in the first round and linebacker Lavonte David in the second.
Freeman seemed to thrive in the NFL's ninth-ranked offense, the best in team history. He passed for more than 4,000 yards, threw 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Martin rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns and the Bucs fell a few yards shy of having a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Meanwhile, the defense was among the league's worst of all-time against the pass, allowing more than 5,000 yards and 30 TD passes. Tampa Bay lost five of its last six games in 2012 and finished 7-9.
Dominik and Schiano were aggressive again in the off-season in order to fix the secondary. They signed 49ers free agent Dashon Goldson, trading for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafting Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.
While the defense improved, the offense didn't, in part because of injuries to Martin and Williams among the 16 players who finished the season on injured reserve.
A tearful Dominik, who joined the franchise as a scout in 1995, visited the media room at One Buc Place Monday afternoon to say goodbye and said he would release a statement. "Nineteen years,'' Dominik said. "I love this franchise.''