Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jones: Lovie Smith may be out, but it appears his plan for Bucs is firmly in place

Wonder what Lovie Smith is thinking today.

The former Bucs coach is probably wondering why, exactly, he is the former Bucs coach.

Smith is ticked. And, when you look at what the Bucs have been doing lately, you start to understand why he thinks he got a bum deal.

Everything Smith hoped the Bucs would do — everything he planned for the Bucs to do — is being done. The only problem? It's being done for new coach Dirk Koetter, while Smith is off to salvage what is left of his coaching career at a second-tier Big Ten school.

This whole fire-Lovie-hire-Dirk deal is looking messier and uglier by the day and you know who is to blame for the bad look? The Glazers.

They're the ones who fired Smith, although they have yet to explain their reasons, leaving it up to general manager Jason Licht to do the dirty work even though it wasn't Licht's decision to fire Smith.

And now this very active offseason only leaves Smith more confused.

Over the past week, the Bucs have been busy putting a solid offseason plan in place.

They re-signed their star running back (Doug Martin). They signed an offensive lineman (J.R. Sweezy). They signed a cornerback (Brent Grimes). They signed a pass rusher (Robert Ayers). And because of all of those signings, they can attack the upcoming draft the way a team is supposed to attack the draft: by taking the best players available.

Give Licht credit. He has done well. It does feel as if the Bucs are getting better. Brighter days are ahead. It just takes some time.

Wait, wasn't that the blueprint drawn up by Smith?

Smith hasn't spoken to Tampa Bay media since his firing three days after the season. It's also believed that he hasn't talked to Licht or the Glazers either. Clearly, he's still pretty raw about the whole thing.

Talking to Fox radio host Colin Cowherd last week, Smith said, "Disappointed, is what I would say. I was surprised. Didn't see it coming. I thought we had a plan and I was a part of that plan. I felt like I put a lot of things in place for the Buccaneers to be successful in years to come."

Look at it from Smith's perspective.

He took over an awful team. He didn't have a quarterback. His offensive coordinator quit before the season started. The Bucs went 2-14, but that record allowed Tampa Bay to draft quarterback Jameis Winston, and Smith pushed harder than anyone in the organization for Winston.

Then, alongside Licht, Smith decided to address the team's offensive struggles before shoring up the defense. The improved offense helped Tampa Bay to a 6-6 record before a late-season collapse that coincided with a four-game PED suspension to rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander.

So then the plan, again put forth by Lovie along with Licht, was to address the defense this offseason.

"Things don't happen overnight," Smith told Cowherd. "You have to have a plan going in and stick with that plan. When I took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job, I thought there was a plan in place. I thought that plan was being put into action."

But Smith won't see the end of the plan. He was fired while it is still being installed. He's out. Koetter is in. While Koetter might get to reap what Smith sowed, Smith will try to figure out how to avoid getting his brains bashed in by Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh.

Now let me clear about something: I've never been a big Smith fan and I really didn't have a big problem that the Bucs fired him. I was never convinced he was the guy and it's hard to defend an 8-24 record.

I also have no problem if the Glazers felt the same way — that they just didn't think Smith was the right fit and that 8-24 just wasn't good enough. Maybe they wanted him to make changes to his coaching staff and maybe he refused. Maybe they were sick of Smith constantly bringing in a bunch of Bears rejects. I have no problem if any or all those reasons led to the pink slip.

Here's where I do have a problem: the Glazers have never explained why they fired Smith even though it was their decision to do so.

Instead, they made Licht explain it and that hasn't been fair. Not only to Smith, but especially to Licht and Koetter. By remaining purposefully silent, by letting Licht be the voice, the Glazers have created a scenario in which Smith (and others) might be convinced that Smith was the victim of a coup.

It's doesn't take much imagination to believe that Smith was overthrown by Licht and Koetter — two men that he helped bring into the organization. That's not fair to either Licht nor Koetter, but that's a possible narrative created by the Glazers' silence. Perhaps that can be cleared up if someone named Glazer speaks next week at the owners' meetings.

The firing in mid-stream also doesn't give the Bucs a good reputation among other players and coaches and, perhaps, someday that impatience with a good man like Smith can affect whether people want to be here.

That aside, this is turning into an optimistic offseason.

Licht is doing a good job. His free-agent signings have been encouraging. He has drafted well so far, giving you reason to believe more help is on the way. The Bucs have a good plan in place and seem to be executing it well.

Just like Lovie Smith hoped they would.

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