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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Fennelly: Lovie will bring Bucs stability, credibility

TAMPA — The Bucs have fallen in Lovie all over again.

Lovie Smith will return to the franchise he helped change once upon a time, as a linebackers coach under Tony Dungy, as the Tampa 2 began to grow and the laughter began to fade.

Smith will be the 10th head coach in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history.

With one large move, quick as can be, the Bucs reach back into their history in the name of their future.

It's Lovie.

Dungy, his former boss, is excited. Derrick Brooks, who worked under Lovie, who starred under Lovie, is excited.

I think Bucs fans should be excited — so long as Lovie brings an offense with him.

It's the only way the Glazers could have brought in a defensive-minded coach — if he was a bridge to the past.

Lovie Lee Smith, 55, once helped change the culture around old One Buc Place.

That phrase, changing the culture, has been thrown around a lot the past few years.

Back then, in 1996, it was beyond the real deal.

Back then, it was double-digit losses giving way to Bucs pride, Bucs winning — and certainly one of the great defenses in NFL history.

Dungy plucked Lovie Smith from the college ranks to give him his first NFL job, and Lovie made good on that decision for five seasons in Tampa — teaching, nurturing, caring, in his own measured way. He was every bit the Christian, a remarkable person.

The Bucs won when Lovie Smith was here, back when you knew, even as you walked the narrow, creaky corridors at old One Buc, that something special was taking place, something that would change this franchise.

Only it wasn't forever.

So here we are.

It needs to move forward again.

First, a step back into history.

Lovie Smith won when he left the Bucs, too.

He went to be the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, and the Rams went to another Super Bowl in 2001 behind a much-improved, Smith-coached defense.

Lovie Smith went to Chicago and won some big games in nine seasons there. He actually trotted out some good offenses, and the Bears went to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season, one for the history books, as Smith faced Dungy, the first two African-American head coaches in football's biggest game.

Lovie Smith lost that one. And he lost his job with the Bears after the 2012 season, after the Bears began the season 7-1 but failed to make the playoffs. In fact, the Bears were a playoff team in three of Lovie Smith's nine seasons as head coach.

And there were times he seemed to fall into the same trap Dungy did, and his offenses suffered for it.

His offensive coordinator in 2012 with the Bears, Mike Tice, didn't work out at all.

That has to be a concern, even now, for some fans and media.

What will Lovie's offense bring?

The Bucs were the worst offense in football in 2013.

What will Lovie bring?

Will he bring his own quarterback?

Will he bring Jay Cutler?

He will apparently bring Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator. Tedford developed more than his share of quarterbacks, including Trent Dilfer at Fresno State and Aaron Rodgers at Cal.

Lovie Smith? He will bring stability and credibility and integrity.

That's not to say Greg Schiano did not.

But Lovie Smith will evoke a time and place in Bucs history that has to touch suffering Bucs fans. It was the best of times. Yes, in many ways better than the year the Bucs won it all.

Because there had been so much losing before Tony Dungy arrived, and Lovie arrived with him.

It was all in front of the Bucs.

I'm not big on trying to reach back into the past, not as a general rule.

You can't recreate things exactly. There's always a chance you'll be let down. If you're having Tampa 2 dreams all over again, you might not truly get your wish. You can't just want the second coming of Dungy. Every dream turns out different.

But if you've had nightmares these past five seasons, or watched them on Sundays, Lovie Smith is a name and face, and a life, that will connect.

There's a way out here. There's a football town ready to believe that all over again, as it did all those years ago.

The Bucs have fallen in Lovie all over again.

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