TAMPA — By 11 a.m. Monday, when Lovie Smith gathered his team for the final time this season, four NFL head coaches and two general managers were already gone, including the man who replaced him just two years ago with the Bears.
None of them had suffered through a worse season than Smith's first with the Bucs, which ended with a 2-14 record.
"The football season didn't turn out exactly the way we wanted it to," Smith said. "There's no way around that. I hadn't envisioned a 2-14 season. What I did know is that when you come in, you know sometimes you have to first establish a foundation, which I feel like we've done. You do have to crawl before you walk. … Our future is bright."
Smith has always been one to walk on the sunny side of the street and the biggest reason for optimism is that the Bucs own the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which they most likely will use to select a quarterback.
While some teams were firing, the Bucs are going to be hiring an offensive coordinator to replace Jeff Tedford. Smith's first swing at an offensive coordinator and quarterback didn't go so well. Josh McCown signed a two-year, $10 million contract and he finished as the lowest-rated quarterback in the league.
Meanwhile, Tedford was placed on indefinite medical leave after a surgical procedure until he was granted a release from his contract a few weeks ago. He left to be the coach of the CFL British Columbia Lions.
Why should Bucs fans think Smith will get the offensive coordinator and quarterback right this time?
"When something doesn't happen exactly how you want it to, that doesn't say quit or don't go with what you believe," Smith said. "It just says do a little bit better next time and that's what we're going to do this time."
One candidate for the job could be Marc Trestman, who replaced Smith as coach of the Bears after the 2012 season. Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were fired Monday. McCown had his best season under Trestman, throwing 13 touchdowns and one interception as a backup to Jay Cutler in 2013.
"I think Marc is an outstanding coach and an outstanding person and has a great sense of offensive football and especially quarterback play," McCown said. "I played my best football of my career under him so obviously I'm going to have good things to say."
Smith said he already has begun evaluating candidates for offensive coordinator and wants to fill the position as soon as possible. "At the same time, not rush it," Smith said. "We have time. So I'm going to take my time and use this opportunity to talk to as many people as I possibly can."
Smith said the new coordinator would be instrumental in evaluating players, including the top quarterbacks who could declare for the draft — Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston.
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"When you're down here, you want to get players who make a difference," Smith said. "Last year's draft, there were a lot of players who made an immediate impact in the NFL and I hope that's the case this year, especially the guys at the top where we're drafting."
Smith said the Bucs will be active again in free agency, though they didn't get much production from players such as Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and left tackle Anthony Collins.
"You look back to free agency. No, it didn't go the way we had planned," Smith said. "But it starts with the coaching staff, we didn't do as good of a job as we will this coming year. You can say we failed in all those areas. Our record says that. So we're all taking credit, it was all on our backs. But that has nothing to do about what we're going to do moving forward."