Jones: Bucs can do better than Smith

Lovie Smith came to the Bucs as a defensive specialist, and the defense was a major problem as Tampa Bay ended his second season with four straight losses. More on Wednesday’s firing, 1A.
Lovie Smith came to the Bucs as a defensive specialist, and the defense was a major problem as Tampa Bay ended his second season with four straight losses. More on Wednesday’s firing, 1A.
Published Jan. 7, 2016

Is it the right move?

Really, that's the only question that matters this morning. Did the Glazers do the right thing in firing coach Lovie Smith late Wednesday night, three days after the end of the 2015 season?

The gut feeling: Yes. You bet. Absolutely. The Glazers did the right thing firing Lovie Smith.

You can make lists and spreadsheets and jot down all the pros and cons.

On one side, you can write down all the reasons Lovie should have stayed.

Such as, two years isn't long enough to raise the sinking ship that he inherited from the previous regime. Such as, his second year showed some improvement — and four wins more — over the first season. Such as, he showed some improvement despite playing a rookie quarterback who looks for all the world like he's going to get better and better. Such as, you want to have consistency in your organization and firing coaches every couple of years creates chaos.

On the other side, you can write down all the reasons Lovie should have been fired.

Such as, he went 8-24 over two seasons and that few wins with that many losses will get you fired just about anywhere. Such as, he's a defensive specialist and the main reason the Bucs have lost way more games than they have won the past two years is because the defense is so lousy. Such as, just when this team put itself in playoff contention with a 6-6 record, it completely fell apart, losing four straight games that weren't even competitive at the most critical stage of the season.

But forget all that. Forget all the charts and graphs and statistics. Forget the lists. Forget what seems fair or appropriate or prudent.

Here's what it comes down to: Did the Glazers believe in their hearts that Lovie Smith was the right man to lead this team? Is he the coach who is going to take this team to the playoffs? Can they see the Bucs in the Super Bowl someday with Lovie Smith wearing a headset on the sideline?

That's it. That's all that matters. Is Lovie the best coach this team can have?

Obviously, their answer was no and, to be honest, I don't disagree with them. I'm shocked at the timing. I figured Lovie was in for at least another season.

But I don't think the Glazers did the wrong thing. Smith's performance is part of the reason he is gone. Lack of confidence that he can take the Bucs where they need to go is a better reason.

The best way to put it: He just didn't feel like "the guy" anymore.

When he was hired, Lovie seemed like a good fit. He was a veteran NFL coach with widespread respect from his players. In other words, he was the anti-Greg Schiano, the man Lovie was hired to replace.

He was supposed to bring professionalism and character and integrity. That's exactly what the Bucs needed, and he did bring some of that.

He just didn't bring enough victories. Or promise that more victories were coming.

Just two days ago, I wrote that Lovie was on the clock. That if the team didn't show improvement next season, it was time to look for a new coach. That was partly a result of believing the Bucs were going to proceed with Lovie for another season, and there was enough of a slight improvement that you could make a case that Lovie deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

He was on the clock, one that expired Wednesday night. And it's hard to argue with the idea that there isn't someone better out there.

There's an adage in sports that you should never fire a coach unless you can hire someone who is better. The Bucs have been down that road before. They have fired coaches in the past thinking they had a better coach lined up, only to have that plan backfire.

The Glazers lucked out when they fired Tony Dungy because they ended up with Jon Gruden. But, if you remember, Gruden was not the first choice, and they had to give up a hefty price to get him.

However, the Glazers completely bungled the next move, firing Gruden and ending up with someone who was clearly a step in the wrong direction in Raheem Morris.

What is the plan now? Perhaps the Glazers have someone already in mind to replace Lovie. Perhaps it's offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Perhaps it's someone else. Perhaps they don't know.

But they do know that it isn't Lovie.

Personally, I'd be good with Koetter. He's dynamic. He's smart. He has what appears to be a great relationship with quarterback Jameis Winston and, right now, there is nothing more important to this organization than making sure that Winston is happy and on his way to reaching his full potential.

Koetter would seem to meet such criteria.

But even if it is not Koetter, the fact that it won't be Smith feels like a good thing. Smith's style wasn't working. While the team showed some improvement this season, you just didn't get the feeling that it was going to keep improving enough to compete with a team like the Carolina Panthers in the coming years.

Lovie Smith no longer seemed like the right man for the job.

To use Lovie's favorite phrase, it's as simple as that.