TAMPA — As soon as the news broke Thursday night that the Bucs were promoting offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach to replace Lovie Smith, reaction from players started popping up on social media.
"Niiice! … I'm riding with you coach!" safety Bradley McDougald wrote on Twitter.
"In no way was that a shot toward Lovie or his staff. Nothing but respect for him and the opportunity he gave me, as well as the life lessons. I was simply excited to finally have a new coach."
The Bucs will have more to say after the hire is formally announced — that's expected today — but the continuity of promoting an assistant from this season's staff could ease the transition from Smith, who was fired Jan. 6 after going 8-24 in two seasons.
"Let's gooo!" wrote linebacker Kwon Alexander, who started 12 games at middle linebacker as a rookie. "Won't forget coach Lovie though! He had faith in me when nobody else (did)! Would never forget that! Thanks for everything coach Lovie!"
A week earlier, when players were surprised to learn of Smith's firing, the initial reaction was harsh. Linebacker Lavonte David called the decision "stupid," and others echoed his shock three days after the season ended with a fourth straight loss to finish 6-10.
Players were still appreciative of Smith on Thursday as they expressed their eagerness to make a strong impression on a new coach.
"Thankful for the opportunity granted by coach Lovie and his staff," wrote rookie cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, "but also excited for the future with coach Koetter #GoBucs."
The offseason will see personnel and scheme changes as the Bucs move from Smith to Koetter, who will likely have a mix of former Bucs assistants and new hires on his 2016 staff.
Losing Smith means uncertainty for some players — especially on defense — who were brought in for their ability to play in his scheme.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.