Lovie Smith spent a year away from football after the Chicago Bears fired him. It was enough time for Smith to reflect on the good and bad decisions he made as a head coach. Smith knew exactly what he was going to do if he received a second opportunity.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Smith after firing Greg Schiano in 2014. Smith examined the roster, and it did not take him long to realize the players Schiano and former general manager Mark Dominik assembled were not the athletes he believed would succeed in his system.
In Smith’s mind, there was only one alternative: get rid of them.
And he has done it with ease.
Smith kicked off his attempt to restructure Tampa Bay by releasing two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph prior to free agency. Joseph did not play well in 2013, and his release saved $6 million in salary cap space.
The revamping continued when Tampa Bay signed defensive end Michael Johnson and tight end Brandon Myers, two necessary additions, during free agency. Johnson should improve Tampa Bay’s pass rush, but Myers will likely replace Luke Stocker, who has struggled to stay healthy.
If those were Smith’s only moves, most NFL observers would have applauded his first-year efforts.
However, three more transactions proved Smith has a vision for his team and is not scared to hurt anybody's feelings in the process of building a winner.
Tampa Bay signed former Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner, which paved the way for Smith to release Darrelle Revis on Wednesday. Revis is one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, but Smith did not believe he was worth $16 million this season.
In fact, Smith took a non-direct shot at Revis on Wednesday.
Some NFL observers question Smith’s decision to release Revis, but the move does make sense.
The Cover 2 defense is a zone scheme and does not require an elite man-to-man cornerback, which is Revis’ specialty. Former Buc Ronde Barber is the ideal cornerback for that system, but was never viewed as the NFL’s top defensive back in any year he played. The other cornerbacks that excelled in Cover 2 coverage under Smith -- as Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator and Chicago's head coach -- have been Donnie Abraham (Bucs), Charles Tillman (Bears) and Nathan Vasher (Bears).
Another reason Smith’s decision made sense is because Revis complained to Schiano about playing in a zone system last year. Revis’ criticism about Schiano’s use of him became public, and it is easy to understand why Smith did not want a potential headache. The last thing Smith, who is trying to establish himself in Tampa Bay, needs is a star player undermining him behind the scenes.
Smith’s final act of supremacy was signing former Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown on Wednesday. Mike Glennon emerged as Tampa Bay’s starter last season, but Smith informed reporters McCown was his quarterback of choice.
Smith was known for being rigid in Chicago, and that side of him has not mellowed in Tampa Bay. To be fair, Smith may not get a chance to coach another NFL team if he fails in Tampa Bay, so there is nothing wrong with assembling "your" team. In fact, it is something every first-year coach attempts to do.
Of course, few coaches have been more aggressive, or unsympathetic, as Smith so quickly into their tenure.
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- Lovie Smith
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