Lovie Smith's Bucs plans have gone awry

“What you have to do is weather the storm. And that’s why we’re encouraged because of what’s going on behind the scenes.” — Bucs coach Lovie Smith
“What you have to do is weather the storm. And that’s why we’re encouraged because of what’s going on behind the scenes.” — Bucs coach Lovie Smith
Published Sept. 28, 2014

Bucs coach Lovie Smith could spend another year in the basement. But this time, it's the cellar of the NFC South — not in self-exile at his home in Illinois, where he took 2013 off to formulate his plans for a return to an NFL sideline.

Smith's team is 0-3, having allowed the second-most points in club history on Sept. 18 in a 56-14 loss to the Falcons. Turns out, many analysts might have been wrong about the Bucs this season.

Not because they aren't a great team, but because they aren't even a good one.

"We have lost good players," Smith said. "We lost a big part of the coaching staff. Normally, things that have happened to us don't happen in a typical year. This isn't a typical year. I should say this isn't a typical first quarter (of the season), and that's how I'm talking to our football team.

"This first quarter? A lot of things have hit. But just think about a game. All of a sudden, you get out there in the first quarter and boom, boom, boom, boom. You're taking all kinds of blows, and it will knock you off your feet. But the game isn't won or lost in the first quarter of the game. It's what you do later on."

Heading into today's game against the Steelers, Smith's plans to make the Bucs relevant again look like they were written in invisible ink.

He hired former University of California coach Jeff Tedford to run his offense. But Tedford had a heart procedure one week before the regular season and Wednesday was put on an indefinite medical leave of absence. Smith said the team will proceed as if he is done for the season with 34-year-old quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo calling plays for the 30th-ranked offense.

He signed 35-year-old former Bears quarterback Josh McCown to be the starter. But McCown threw four interceptions over 21/2 games before tearing a ligament in his right thumb against the Falcons. He will be replaced by Mike Glennon.

He released cornerback Darrelle Revis and his $16 million a year salary to help sign four free agents: left tackle Anthony Collins, center Evan Deitrich-Smith, cornerback Alterraun Verner and defensive end Michael Johnson. None has played well. Johnson has been injured and has six tackles.

He expected defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the engine of the Bucs' Tampa 2 defense, to be one of the best players in the league. But McCoy broke a bone in his left hand early in the Week 2 loss to the Rams and sat out against the Falcons.

While a perfect storm of events has doomed the Bucs during the first month, Smith's calm approach might be what the Bucs need to reach daylight.

"What I've been preaching to the guys, keep the faith," Smith said. "All is well with our team if we don't look for reasons why we're here. We just (need to) keep working hard and correcting things. What you have to do is weather the storm. And that's why we're encouraged because of what's going on behind the scenes."

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By far, the worst blow has been the loss of Tedford. A defensive coach, Smith had four offensive coordinators in nine seasons as Bears coach. Tedford was his most important hire, and he was going to bring a multiple-set offense with an up-tempo component.

"I haven't ever lost a coordinator," Smith said. "But we lost a quarterback. One year in the preseason (at Chicago), we lost Rex (Grossman) right away, and we end up going 10-6."

The Bucs have problems in every phase of the game. The defense is allowing opposing quarterbacks (backups in the case of the Panthers' Derek Anderson and Rams' Austin Davis) to complete 76.9 percent of their passes. The offense has committed nine turnovers (five fumbles) and has a 6:37 deficit in average time of possession. And the special teams has had a punt and field goal blocked and allowed a punt return for a touchdown.

Smith buried the Falcons game within 24 hours and has rarely spoken about it since. He told his players it's a scar they will wear for the franchise, much like the 45-0 loss the 1997 team suffered at Oakland in a season that finished with it losing the NFC title game.

"What you do in times like this is you continue to let guys know what our history says," Smith said. "I talked about Oakland when we had that, and (linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson) talked about being on a Steelers team that lost 51-0."

That 1989 Pittsburgh team lost its next game 41-10 but went on to win a wild-card game before losing the following week.

Maybe Glennon gives the offense a spark. Maybe Arroyo dials up the right plays. Maybe McCoy's return settles the defense. One thing is in the Bucs' favor: It's a long season with time to climb out of the darkness.

"If we had three wins right now, we'd take it," Smith said, "but we're not there. What does three wins get you? And three losses doesn't keep you from doing anything. That's the picture. You have to keep that faith and keep hammering it home."