Bucs coach Lovie Smith: Proud father

On new Bucs coach Lovie Smith’s staff are sons Miles (intern) and Mikal (safeties coach).
On new Bucs coach Lovie Smith’s staff are sons Miles (intern) and Mikal (safeties coach).
Published June 15, 2014

TAMPA — Lovie Smith is going soft. As he sits in his spacious office at One Buc Place overlooking three empty emerald practice fields, his sturdy veneer shatters, cracking open a smile.

The new Bucs coach is talking about spending face time with his youngest grandchild, 18-month-old Jackson. The cooing and drooling can get completely out of hand. Not by Jackson, by Lovie.

"There probably isn't a more doting grandfather in the world than him," says his son Matthew, 27, the middle of Smith's three sons, who lives in Chicago.

One day last year, Lovie was left to care for Jackson for about seven hours. He wrote two pages of notes on nearly everything that happened in 10-minute intervals.

"I have a diary on that day on everything he did," Lovie said. "Changed the diaper this many times, had to walk him around the house in a stroller to get him to stop crying. All this stuff."

Matthew still laughs at the memory.

"He's a very detailed-oriented guy. The players see that," Matthew said. "He takes that same approach to being a grandfather. He wasn't around to see us play a lot. It means more to me to know Jack will get that attention."

Now entering his 34th year of coaching. Smith missed a lot of his sons' games. But there was no shortage of home movies. Sunday night was when his oldest son, Mikal (pronounced Mick-ale), would sit with his coaching father to watch video of his high school football games.

Mikal, 37, was an exceptional two-way player, good enough to become a two-year starter at safety for Arizona. On one particular night, proud of his performance, he was eager to share his success with his father.

"We put the tape on, and we watched about three plays," Mikal said. "I hadn't gotten a chance to even show him my scores yet. About three plays on defense, the ball was going to the other side. I started walking, not chasing the ball down. He turned the game off. He said, 'Show me a game that you played in and we'll watch it,' and walked out.

"At the time, I was like, 'What are you talking about?' But I learned a lesson. There was never a time after that you were going to see me not going all out. But even to this day, he hasn't watched the game yet."

As a father and coach, Lovie has been tough and demanding. But he can convey the same message with a look of disapproval, eliminating any need for anger.

"I know there are still expectations with being a Smith male," Matthew said. "I know what they are, and it motivates you in everything that you do."

• • •

It's hard to imagine anyone in Tampa Bay having a better Father's Day than Lovie Smith, the new patriarch of the Bucs.

He has returned to the city where he began his NFL coaching career, as a member of Tony Dungy's staff in 1996. Two of his sons are part of his staff: Mikal coaches the safeties; Miles, 24, is an intern who breaks down film, writes practice scripts and does whatever grunt work is asked of him.

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Matthew, who bypassed a chance to play Division III basketball to attend Northwestern and graduate from law school at Loyola, serves as the agent for Lovie and his brothers and oversees their finances.

Lovie and his wife, MaryAnne, are in the process of unpacking boxes in the 6,000-square-foot home they purchased in Tampa Palms. Although empty-nesters, there is room for their expanding family. And they never let go of their condo on Reddington Shores.

"We just moved into our 19th home," Lovie said. "We've been a lot of different places. We love it here."

At 56, Lovie is refreshed after taking a year off following his firing by the Bears. In nine seasons with Chicago, he went 81-63 with three playoff berths (all via division titles) and a berth in Super Bowl XLI, where he lost to Dungy's Colts.

Another layer to the story is his former coach at Tulsa, Larry Marmie, now is a Bucs defensive assistant. Marmie has been like an adoptive father to Lovie since his real father died in 1996, Lovie's first year with the Bucs.

"It happened right when we mae it to the NFL. My dad passed away before we won a game, too," Smith said. "He is watching down, but to have been here, it would've been great. He would've been so pumped up.

"My dad never looked at me with disappointment in his eyes. I never saw it. My coaching philosophy? Glass half-full. Positive. You can always find the negative. It's not me reading a book about it. It's what I saw from my dad. My dad was always there no matter what."

Marmie was responsible for Smith getting jobs as an assistant at Tulsa, Wisconsin, Arizona State and Tennessee. Lovie returned the favor, hiring him at age 71 because he needed his experience. Today, on Father's Day, Lovie will call Marmie.

Football has always been a family affair.

"Football has been the biggest thing for all of us as long as my brothers and I have been alive," Matthew said.

• • •

Lovie says he and MaryAnne had only one requirement. All three boys had to graduate from college. Matthew never wanted to go into coaching.

Said Lovie: "Hey, dad, there are different roles in the family. This is the one that I'm going to have. I want to be a lawyer. And then he wanted to be an agent, and he wanted to be in sports still but that's football. The tie was still there."

The Smiths' lives haven't been without heartache and near tragedy. Matthew nearly drowned at age 2 when he wandered onto the patio of the family's home in Tempe, Ariz., falling into the deep end of the pool. Lovie, who didn't swim, retrieved him, and MaryAnne performed CPR.

At 9, Matthew was at the house of Mikal's girlfriend in Knoxville, Tenn., when a dog attacked, biting him in the neck and head and leaving wounds that needed more than 400 stitches to close.

The emotional wounds still make Lovie wince. When Mikal was in fourth grade, his first year of baseball, he played shortstop and outfield. But in the final game of the season, he was forced to pitch and walked four batters, forcing home the winning run.

When he got home, still in cleats and uniform, he went to his bed and pulled the covers over him.

"I get choked up thinking about it," Lovie said.

Miles had a chance to earn a football scholarship and was a punishing safety on an undefeated team his senior year. But on the first play of a state playoff game, playing on FieldTurf, he took a false step and broke his ankle.

"What he asked me in that car … that conversation we had was about as hard as it gets," Lovie said.

"I knew that was it," Miles said.

But the next week, watching practice on crutches, he discovered his love for coaching.

So far, the biggest adjustment for the boys has been calling their dad, "Coach Smith."

"I didn't want to hear any of this 'Dad,' stuff," Lovie said.

"So far, it's been one of the best years we've had as a family," Matthew said.

"Once the games start, it will be even that much better."