TAMPA — As a teenager, Mikal Smith loved staying up late watching film with his father, Lovie.
It was 1992, when Lovie was working with linebackers at the University of Kentucky. And Mikal would study cut-ups of then-Georgia star running back Garrison Hearst.
"We used to have it up on the wall, the old projectors, the wheels and everything," Mikal said. "We didn't have flat screens like we have now. I'd watch games, watch college players and how they went about doing things. It was always good watching tape, getting to pick his mind every once and awhile."
Though the technology has changed, Mikal, 37, is still breaking down opponents with his dad. Only now it's his job.
Mikal, pronounced mick-ALE, is the safeties coach for Lovie, the new Bucs coach, marking the second time the father and son have worked together. Mikal spent three seasons as defensive quality control coach or nickelbacks coach (2010-12) under Lovie with the Bears, learning the dynamics of the unusual but "professional" relationship.
"I always assume that if I'm getting instructed, it's boss/father, either one of them," Mikal said. "It's hard to separate the two, but we find a way to do it. Obviously if I'm in the office alone, it'll be more a dad relationship, if we're in front of the team it's Coach Smith."
Mikal said many will say he got the job because of his dad. But the younger Smith points out that it's often about who you know; his father just happens to be an NFL head coach, and he's excited to learn from "one of the best in the game."
Lovie's other sons are involved — Miles, 24, as an offensive intern and Matthew, 27, as his father's agent.
Lovie says Mikal's background, not bloodlines, earned him the gig.
Mikal, an assistant at Trinity International University (Deerfield, Ill.) for two seasons before his Bears stint, also spent last year working with the Cowboys nickelbacks.
"It's always good when you can be around family, but I can be around family at home," Lovie said. "For me, it was about having the best football coaches I could to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win. Mikal came up the ranks the right way. He knows exactly what I'm looking for."
Lovie smiled and said, "He coaches positions that I've coached, so that may not be a good thing."
Like many coaches' sons, Mikal said he had to learn to "jump ship quick" as a kid.
That included three schools in eight months in three states at one point for Mikal, who says having a close-knit family helped.
"I wish it was now, I'd be able to get a lot of frequent flier miles," Mikal said. "I've got a lot of car miles. I have a lot of friends across the country, so I can probably go coast to coast and not use a map."
Mikal, Lovie's son from a previous relationship, always idolized his dad; he hated it when Lovie's teams would lose, knowing he couldn't help from the stands. Mikal, who played safety at Arizona, said he wanted to stay involved in the game, and Lovie told him "there's a joy you're going to get from coaching that you didn't get from playing."
"I'm just like, 'Dad, that's 'cause you're not playing anymore,' " Mikal quipped. "But after being around it and being able to coach, you watch how the players you're teaching, you watch them grow, and the two of you guys work together to get something done, it's an experience you can't fathom. And I think that's why we're all in it."
Mikal appears to have gleaned a style similar to his dad.
"What I learned from him is you need to be a great teacher, but guys respect you and you get through to them by your knowledge," Mikal said. "Don't try to B.S. them, be honest with the guys. I'm not going to yell. I'm not going to cuss at you. I'm going to find out what the problem is, and we're going to talk about it like men do and we'll get it corrected."
Mikal is proud of the family coaching tree. He once told the Chicago Tribune that "maybe one day they will talk about the Smiths like they do the Shulas."
Yet Mikal says there have been no special privileges in working with his dad.
"One thing about Coach Smith, he's not going to ever just give you a position, you're going to earn it," Mikal said. "I know I'm in the same boat as everybody else, if I don't get the job done, you're going to have a new safeties coach here."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]