So I was going to sit down and write a nice, simple postmortem for the Bucs’ 2015 season, talking about the good, the bad, and how they could look forward to a nice, stable off-season in preparation for a make or break 2016 season for Lovie Smith.
Yeah, about that.
Lovie got fired last night. He would have been fired today, but he was smart enough to know that your general manager doesn’t call you at 10:30 on a Wednesday night just to chat and see how you’re doing. So when they asked him to come in for a meeting today, he saw the writing on the wall and asked them to just go ahead and pull off the band-aid right then and there. Which they did. And Bucs fans had an excuse to stay up late on an otherwise dull Wednesday.
There’s been a lot of outcry nationally about this move. Most of which seems to come from people who both like Lovie as a person and who apparently have not watched a Bucs game in the last two years. The team was undisciplined (just look at the penalty numbers) and often looked unprepared. The pass defense was terrible; the run defense was solid mostly by the virtue of no offense needing to run because they could simply throw nearly at will. They were at .500 and in playoff contention at two different points this season, and both times proceeded to play with no fire or passion and squander their chances. You can say they have young players who are still learning, but things like discipline and preparedness and desire come from the coach. And Lovie’s consistently even keel never seemed to be lighting a fire under anyone.
Critics point to that playoff flirtation, and their four-win improvement from last season, as reasons why Lovie’s firing is so baffling. But they ignore an 0-4 finish to the season against mostly bad teams. They ignore a total disappearing act against the Panthers, somewhat assuaged by a meaningless second half rally in a game the Panthers no longer needed to win by that point. And those extra wins arguably came more from the offense’s heroics than anything Lovie did.
Which is why many think this move was made to keep offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter from jumping ship and setting back Jameis Winston’s development. If Lovie was an offensive coach, he might have stuck around. But since he’s a defensive specialist — and since his defense has been sub-par — it appears the Glazers weighed who was more important to the team’s future and came down on the side of Winston and Koetter.
Of course, the team is saying that nothing has been decided, that they’ll conduct a thorough search. So we could very well bring in an outside candidate. But then why risk losing Koetter and have pushed Lovie out the door for no reason? Unless it’s some kind of home run hire like a Bill Cowher (unlikely) or Jon Gruden (even more unlikely), I have to think Koetter’s the guy.
Still, as on board as I am with the move — let’s face it, 8-24 isn’t good no matter what small improvements you might think you see — this will be our fourth coach in seven years. We’re a Jameis Winston away from being the Cleveland Browns. You can say it’s good that ownership is willing to make a change they think is needed, but you can also say it’s insanity to be paying three coaches at the same time (we’re on the hook for Lovie’s salary and we’re still paying Greg Schiano). A lot of players — mostly on the defensive side — were expressing disbelief and outright frustration on Twitter last night. I hope yanking the band-aid off doesn’t mean the wounds will take longer to heal.