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With Bucs, Lovie Smith is in right place at right time

TAMPA — Is Lovie Smith Mr. Right?

How about we settle for Mr. Right Now.

That's not meant to come off as bad as it sounds.

Smith was officially introduced as the Bucs new coach Monday and he talked and walked the part of a real flesh-and-blood NFL coach.

No surprise there. That's exactly what he is.

And that's exactly what the Bucs need these days. They need a guy who has been there and done that. They need a guy who has seen everything and handled it all at the NFL level.

So Monday went about the way these things normally go.

Smith told a funny story about fighting off howling monkeys during vacation in Costa Rica. He talked about how Tampa Bay feels like home. He paid proper respect to the good old days with Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. He optimistically looked to the future with Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David.

He sold hope, but not a bill of goods.

"We're a 4-12 team," he said. "We are what our record says we are. We have a long ways to go."

All in all, he said a lot of things you want and expect to hear on a coach's first day.

But, quite honestly, Smith said a few things that got him into trouble at his last job in Chicago.

Smith, you see, is a defensive coach and defensive coaches always think the best way to win games is to make sure the other team scores fewer points than you do.

Control the ball, protect the rock, sack the quarterback, pick off a pass or two, recover a fumble, maybe return a punt for a touchdown, kick a couple of field goals. And when the clock reaches zeroes, you've won something like 13-10.

"If you play great defense, you can win eight games," Smith said. "If you have special teams along with that, if you're great at special teams, you can win 10."

This isn't to say that Smith is against scoring points. Who is? He admits that the better the quarterback is, the better the team is. And he certainly wasn't going to commit one way or the other on quarterback Mike Glennon, who remains very much a question mark as an NFL starter.

"I believe you need to have a very good player at that position," Smith said. "Do I think you need to have a Hall of Fame guy to be able to win in the NFL? No. I don't think you need that."

When asked how much the game has changed since he first took over the Bears 10 years ago. Smith said:

"I'm going to give you an answer you're not expecting," Smith said. "I don't think it has changed an awful lot. I think you still have to play football the same way. You need balance."

Smith then pointed to the final four teams left in the NFC playoffs — the Seahawks, 49ers, Saints and Panthers.

What does Smith see? Four teams with stingy if not dominant defenses.

What does everyone else see? Four teams with elite quarterbacks that move the ball up and down the field.

Get used to this kind of thinking.

Smith has many of the positive attributes of his mentor, Tony Dungy. But he has some of Dungy's flaws, too, most notably that he tends to pay more attention to what happens when the other team has the football, almost at the expense of the offense.

That's fine if you have a sharp mind running the offense. Smith is bringing in former Cal coach Jeff Tedford to be his offensive coordinator and despite Tedford having a reputation of developing NFL quarterbacks, we should remember that he hasn't spent one day coaching in the National Football League.

Look, I still believe Smith is a very good hire.

Greg Schiano had to go and Smith was as good as any coach out there.

He's a pro. He's experienced. He has won in this league. He will have the respect of the players.

The strength of this team is defense, so Smith's philosophy fits.

Several times Monday, Smith talked about making the Bucs relevant again.

"When was the last time we were in the playoffs?" Smith asked.

The answer: 2007.

"That tells you all you need to know," Smith said. "That's not acceptable."

He's right.

The last time the Bucs won a playoff game, Smith was the defensive coordinator with the Rams. Since then, he went on to coach the Bears for nine seasons and then sat out a year. Man, that's a long time. That's practically a career.

In that span, the Bucs have had three head coaches.

Smith mentioned that he was fired after a 10-6 season with the Bears. Here, a 10-6 record might get you a statue outside of Raymond James.

And that's the point.

Before we start talking about whether Smith has what it takes to win a Super Bowl or even get to another one, perhaps we should concentrate on baby steps.

Like a winning record.

Smith, even with his defense-first philosophy, can help the Bucs become respectable. He can make them relevant. He can make you want to buy season tickets again.

He can turn the Bucs into a team that at least finishes above .500.

That's what the goal should be right now.

Then we'll worry about what comes after that.

With Bucs, Lovie Smith is in right place at right time 01/06/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 6, 2014 8:09pm]
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