TAMPA — On a muggy October afternoon in 2007, Jacksonville assistants Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith entered the visitor’s locker room at Raymond James Stadium and finalized their preparations to help the Jaguars beat the Bucs.
Times, and fortunes, have changed markedly.
On Friday, in his new role as Tampa Bay’s head coach, Koetter proudly announced the hiring of Smith as defensive coordinator. The long-time associates will work together for the third time, Smith tasked with running the Bucs defense.
“Essentially, Dirk will let Mike be the head coach of our defense,’’ Bucs general manager Jason Licht said after Koetter’s emotional introductory news conference. “Dirk wants to be involved in certain aspects of it, he’s got his finger on certain things, but probably less than he would had it been anyone else but Mike.’’
The Jaguars edged the Bucs 24-23 that day in 2007, with Koetter serving as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator and Smith overseeing a defense that forced Jeff Garcia into three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
Jacksonville went 11-5 and made the playoffs that season, with Koetter and Smith achieving individual success. The offense ranked sixth in scoring and seventh in yardage, while the Jaguars were 10th in scoring defense and 12th in total defense.
A powerful bond between the assistants was formed that year before Smith left in 2008 to become head coach of the Falcons. That season, with Gregg Williams replacing Smith in Jacksonville, the Jaguars went 5-11 with the NFL’s No. 21 scoring defense.
“I’ve never seen anybody like Mike Smith before,” Koetter said Friday. “We were never as good when we lost Mike Smith in Jacksonville.”
In 2012, Smith hired Koetter for a three-year stint as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator that ended with Smith’s dismissal and Koetter’s move to Lovie Smith’s staff in Tampa.
Smith sat out the 2015 season before interviewing this month for head coaching jobs with the Dolphins and Giants.
“I know he has a history of winning,’’ Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said Friday. “Atlanta was a very good team while he was there. I like his hair. I love his style of coaching, how excited he gets. We’ll see. It’s going to be fun.’’
In seven years with the Falcons, Smith won 66 games and led Atlanta to four playoff berths.
“When I worked with Mike in Jacksonville, the hallmark of those defenses were how thoroughly prepared they were,’’ Koetter said. “Mike’s attention to detail is second to none. He’s a good communicator, he’s a teacher.’’
Tampa Bay’s defense has much to learn.
Smith, 56, inherits a unit that allowed an average of 30 points during a four-game tailspin after Tampa Bay had excited its fan base by reaching the 6-6 mark. Koetter indicated Friday that the Bucs are likely to remain a 4-3 base defense under Smith’s direction.
“Mike Smith is an exceptional leader of men,’’ Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay said. “He has a high level of integrity. Dirk knows Mike and he trusts Mike. I’m sorry to see him in the NFC South, but I’m very happy that Mike Smith is back in the NFL.’’
Tampa Bay will feature an overhauled defensive staff under Smith.
According to reports by Fox Sports’ Alex Marvez, Bengals assistant Jay Hayes will be the defensive line coach in place of Joe Cullen, who was hired by the Ravens, and Dolphins assistant Mark Duffner will coach the linebackers in place of Hardy Nickerson.
Cullen and Nickerson had been the only defensive assistants retained when Lovie Smith was fired.
Marvez also reported that Tampa Bay will add Titans special teams coach Nate Kaczor.