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Bucs coach Lovie Smith failing at instilling discipline

Under new coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs are on a pace to have more penalties than last season.
Under new coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs are on a pace to have more penalties than last season.
Published Dec. 2, 2014

TAMPA — They don't line up right. They don't know the snap count. They don't know the rules.

For crying out loud, they don't even know how many players you're allowed to have on the field.

The Bucs are the dumbest, most undisciplined team in the NFL, and there is one man to blame for that: Lovie Smith — you know, the head coach.

This is his team, his responsibility. He's the one in charge.

And he is the one who needs to fix it.

Several times Monday, Smith referred to his team's record as "2-and-whatever." Officially, it's 2-10. I'll tell you what it is: 2-and-grisly.

It's not time to call for Smith's job. That's crazy talk. But it is time for Smith to start earning his paycheck.

"Am I angry right now?" Smith said. "I guess the only way I wouldn't be angry is if I was satisfied with what's going on right now. I'm not going to start throwing stuff, kicking guys around, getting physical on the sideline, but I'm disappointed where our football team is right now. I'm doing everything I possibly can to get this fixed."

The discouraging part is the very thing that Smith is supposed to be good at — teaching discipline — is at the top of the list for why the Bucs are struggling so badly.

When the Bucs fired Greg Schiano after last season and hired Smith, we knew it would take time to repair all the holes of this ship-wrecked franchise. The Bucs still were way short on players, but the coaching was set even if we all agree that Smith isn't necessarily the most dynamic personality in the world.

He doesn't run up and down the sideline like Pete Carroll. He's not a goofball like Rex Ryan. He's not even charismatically weird like Jim Harbaugh.

And all of that was just fine. The Bucs didn't need a personality. They needed a coach, and that's exactly what they were supposed to get: a professional coach.

Smith is experienced. He has a level head and a steady hand. And you had better believe his team, while short on talent, would play with discipline, intelligence and poise. It might not beat its opponent, but it wouldn't beat itself.

What in the world happened?

Here we are, 12 games into Smith's first season with the Bucs, and you can't help but notice that this ship hasn't gotten any better. The Bucs are the most undisciplined team in football. That's not an opinion. That's a fact. Tampa Bay is tied with Seattle for the most penalties in the NFL with 102.

The Bucs are on pace for 136 after having 121 (third-most) last season.

"Haven't been in this situation before, as I told the team," Smith said. "Normally, I preach turnover ratio. And if you win that, you're going to win the football game. What I found out this year was that that many penalties can offset anything you do. Again, I knew it, but I've seen it too many times right now."

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One reason teams commit penalties is because they are not good enough. A defensive end beats a tackle, so the tackle has to hold. A wide receiver blows past a cornerback, so the cornerback has to interfere.

Another reason a team commits penalties is because it isn't concentrating or it is facing a situation that it isn't prepared for. Sometimes, penalties are a result of fatigue, both mentally and physically.

So what's up with the Bucs? Why has a yellow flag become part of team's color scheme?

"All of the above," Smith said. "The discipline part comes back, though, when you have that many at the end of the game. We're trying to separate exactly what happens."

Smith can live with the occasional holding or pass interference.

"The rest of them," Smith said, "there's no defense for."

Five times this season, the Bucs have been called for 10 or more penalties in a game. Two other times, they've committed nine penalties. Penalties kill drives on offense and extend drives on defense. On Sunday, with the 12 men on the field, it literally cost the Bucs a great chance to win.

It has gotten so bad that Bucs rookie wide receiver Mike Evans says he looks for a flag every time the Bucs make a big play.

"We got to play smart and stop beating ourselves," Evans said.

So how do you do that?

"I think you correct it the same way you do any mistake that is happening," Smith said. "You keep working on it. You keep bringing it to their attention. … You keep preaching it throughout the week. And you just keep hammering it home. And, eventually, it gets through."

If it doesn't get through with the players you have, maybe it's time to get new players.

And if the new players don't get it, then maybe it's time to get a new coach.

We're not there yet. Smith deserves more than a season to get the Bucs up and running again. This is a long-term project. But it would be nice to see some signs that things are getting better.

Maybe the Bucs can start by lining up only 11 players from now on.

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