Lovie Smith decided he needed to explore the world beyond football. So after being fired by the Chicago Bears following the 2012 season despite a 10-6 record and nine years in the Windy City, he and his wife, MaryAnne, rented a house in a remote part of Costa Rica for two months.
"We figured it would be remote but not quite in a rain forest like this," Smith said.
By Day 6, they heard the ear-splitting screaming of howler monkeys. By Day 8, the large primates started walking into the residence. Smith had only a machete to defend his property.
"By Day 9, I had barbecued a little earlier in the day, I look up and there are two male monkeys standing up on a table showing me their teeth," Smith said. "I said, 'This is not going to end well.' Anyway, I got a broom. I didn't have to kill one of the monkeys. I pushed him out of the house, and we packed up that day and got out."
The bad vacation was saved when they relocated to their condo on the gulf beaches in Tampa Bay.
When fall arrived, Smith was back in the basement of his Lake Forest, Ill., home watching football. His DirecTV would break the games into eight tiny screens. Of course, he kept a discerning eye on the Bucs but had no way of knowing that on Monday he would be introduced as the 10th head coach in franchise history.
As he went tripping down memory lane, Smith sounded like a man ready to be back where he belongs.
The Glazers didn't need a broom, but the team's owners made sweeping changes, firing coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik after a 4-12 season, then hiring Smith as coach and giving him contractual control of the 53-man roster. Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer called Smith "the right man at the right time for the Buccaneers."
Smith, 55, was part of the first coaching staff under Tony Dungy and said he plans to bring that brand of football back to a Bucs franchise that has gone six seasons without a playoff appearance and hasn't won a postseason game since Super Bowl XXXVII more than a decade ago.
"We did lay a foundation for Tampa Bay Buccaneers football," Smith said. "The certain brand of football you expected from us. You knew we would be relentless, we would play hard, physical … but there was a brand of football that you did get from us each week at Raymond James Stadium. It was hard for opponents to come in and win.
"We have gotten away from that a little bit, and it is time as we go to the future for us to become a relevant team again. You always want to go back, if you get an opportunity, as I said early about coming back home. We have unfinished business."
Smith's first order of business has been to hire former California coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator and former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier as defensive coordinator. A general manager hasn't been chosen, though the frontrunner is Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard, who worked with Smith in Chicago.
"He's a football coach. He can't do everything," said Smith's son Matt, who also serves as his agent. "He can't be on the phone with another general manager and saying, 'Hey, what about this trade?' You need everybody in the organization to have their voice heard, including the Glazers. … Having a real large voice is always important."
On Monday, Smith spoke softly with a hint of his Texas twang, promising to restore the pride and expectations he experienced as an assistant with the Bucs.
"If you play great defense, you can win eight games," he said. "If you add special teams along with that, if you're great at special teams, you can win 10. From there … you need offense."
To that end, Smith said he was impressed with quarterback Mike Glennon and thought he improved each week: "Just strong-armed, he had a great pocket presence to me. There's nothing like having that experience he was able to get his rookie year."
Defensively, Smith said many of the pieces are already in place, with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and safety Mark Barron. He also ended speculation that cornerback Darrelle Revis might not be part of the Bucs' plans.
"No one should ask me if we're a 3-4 (defensive) team," Smith said. "We're a 4-3 team. There's a reason why we have Tampa 2 associated to one of our coverages. But I just want you to know — and especially Darrelle Revis — that we don't play Cover 2 every snap, all right? We have a place for a great cover corner that's physical and can do all things."
Smith says he wants former Bucs players to feel welcome back to One Buc Place as well.
"We want our current players to feel the pressure of how they're supposed to perform each week," he said.
"In an ideal world, I didn't think it would be with my old team. But it's funny how things turn out."