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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Smith’s history of winning wins over Bucs, fans

— They ran at the ice-cream truck like school kids who heard the jingle. Only it was the NFL and these were Buccaneers eating slushies and snow cones.

“First time I ever had an ice cream truck drive up after practice,” Tampa Bay safety Major Wright said. “Not even in Little League.”

Leave it to Lovie.

The Bucs finished minicamp the other day. Now there’s nothing between them and training camp but some time off, which in the case of the head coach means unloading boxes at his new home, the one that doesn’t have a basement.

If the Bucs turn it around this season, they’ll be putting Lovie Smith’s basement in Chicago behind a glass wall, like in a museum.

So this is where 8-8 all began ...

Lovie is thinking bigger than that, a lot bigger, like don’t you dare come to Raymond James Stadium looking past his ball team. He has built a staff, overhauled this team, convulsive changes. He hand-picked a starting quarterback. He hand-picked a lot. Throw in the draft. And the new logo and uniforms.

“All these things were positive steps, they really were, and they’re going to pay off,” Smith said. “There’s parity in the league. Nothing stays the same. I like that saying, ‘Nothing stays the same.’ And for us, we don’t want it to stay the same, it can’t stay the same. It’s our time. We’ve given. It’s time for us to take.”

Forget the ice cream.

There’s trust.

Trust in Lovie.

His players trust the track record. They trust the man.

“I think if you talk with most players, they’re going to tell you trust means everything,” Smith said. “As a coach, you’re not going to put anyone on the field you don’t trust or have anyone on your football team you don’t trust when they’re away from football. They just want you to give them the truth, and be real, always.”

Even fans are giving Lovie the benefit of the doubt for now. They might remember last season’s 4-12, and wonder about this and that, from quarterback on down, but they come back for Lovie.

There’s some trust. Two scoops, in fact.

“Look at his history,” said Wright, who played for Smith in Chicago. “He has a history of winning, a history of treating men like men, telling it like it is.”

“Trust is real big,” said Bucs cornerback D.J. Moore, who also played for Smith in Chicago. “When you don’t believe your coach, it spreads throughout a team. When Lovie tells you something, it’s the truth.”

That doesn’t mean it will be all snow cones.

Smith has an exacting eye. Details are everything.

“I had a game against Dallas,” Moore said with a grin. “I had like 13 tackles, a pass deflected, an interception … I got a D-minus grade. It’s just everything. Lovie wants your technique and your feet just right. Every time.”

Smith smiled at hearing that.

“Even though he got those tackles, it’s just not that,” he said. “It’s everything we’re teaching. How many tackles? Thirteen? There were probably 50 plays. What about those other plays? If I see something, I’m going to point it out. We’re going to be consistent with everybody. Each week we get a grade. Each week, everybody is going to know what the standard is.”

That’s Lovie, too.

It’s time for a break.

“I’m going on this vacation to a great place we heard about: Tampa, Florida,” Smith said with a smile. “People here have been unbelievable. They believe in our team, in our plan. I’m pumped up. You might say well, yeah, Lovie, there are a couple of positions I want to see. Yeah, I want to see them, too. But I think we’re going to like what we’re going to see. We know what it takes to get back to the top, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

If it sounds like an ice cream truck jingle, so be it.

“This isn’t a 4-12 football team,” Lovie Smith said. “You have to trust me on that.”

There’s that word again.

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