TAMPA — Lovie Smith and Josh McCown have the most high-profile homecomings Sunday as the Bucs play at Chicago. But defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has no shortage of familiarity with the Bears himself.
The 55-year-old played five seasons as a cornerback for the Bears, intercepting 20 passes and winning a Super Bowl, though he suffered a career-ending leg injury in that game in January 1986.
And before joining Smith's staff with the Bucs, Frazier faced the Bears twice a year for the previous seven seasons as defensive coordinator and then head coach of the Vikings.
"A lot of friends (in Chicago), a lot of great memories, but it's all about trying to get a win on the road against a good football team," Frazier said Thursday.
"More than anything, (it's) having an understanding of their personnel, having an idea of what their philosophy is, but the biggest advantage is having an idea of their personnel."
Frazier's playing days in Chicago were impressive, with 18 interceptions in his final three seasons as part of one of the NFL's great defenses. Former teammate Dan Hampton, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle, vividly remembers one pick Frazier made against the Packers, leaping over receiver John Jefferson near the goal line.
"It's still, to this day, the greatest play I've ever seen a defensive back make, and I've seen a lot of football," said Hampton, whose daughter Dakota is a sophomore volleyball player at USF.
Frazier's long history against his old team — this is his 20th game coaching against the Bears — started with success. He won his first seven games against Chicago, including a playoff win with the Eagles in 2001 and a Super Bowl victory while on Tony Dungy's Colts staff (beating Smith's Chicago team in February 2007).
Of late, his teams have struggled against the Bears, especially in Chicago, where he has lost his past six games, including a one-point heartbreaker last season on a Jay Cutler touchdown pass with 16 seconds left.
Smith and Frazier benefit from the Bucs playing against all four NFC North teams this season, with games still ahead against the Lions and Packers.
Roster turnover is significant after coaching changes, so much of Frazier's Chicago familiarity is limited. The Bears' current 53-man roster includes only 13 players who played for Smith, who has been gone fewer than two years.
"Things change quickly nowadays," Smith said Thursday. "With free agency and all, it's very seldom that you do keep a group together for a long period of time. That's just the nature of the game now. I know that the players that they still have are good football players and we get a chance to compete against them."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.