TAMPA — The orange throwback Buccaneers baseball cap James Gaynor wears to work most days was a perfect match for the reflective orange safety vest he wore while repairing a South Tampa road Thursday morning.
“I've been a Bucs fan since 1990, and I've always worn this hat with pride — through the good and the bad,'' said Gaynor, a city of Tampa utility technician. “But today, I'm really happy to be wearing it.
“Today is a good day for the Bucs.''
That was largely the sentiment expressed by not only by Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans but former players and coaches regarding the hiring of Lovie Smith as the 10th head coach in team history.
The Bucs made the hiring official Thursday after finalizing a five-year contract with Smith, a former Bucs linebackers coach and Bears head coach who will be introduced Monday at 2 p.m. at a news conference at One Buc Place.
“Today is an exciting day for the Buccaneer organization and the entire Tampa Bay community as we welcome back Lovie Smith,'' Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a statement.
“We knew from the start of our search that he was the ideal man to lead our team into a new era of Buccaneer football. Lovie is an accomplished and very well-respected head coach who has enjoyed success at every level of his 30-year career.”
Smith replaces Greg Schiano , who was fired Monday after going 4-12 in 2013 and 11-21 overall during two years at the helm.
The Bucs remain in need of a general manager to replace Mark Dominik, who was also fired Monday.
There was no word Thursday from the Glazer family that owns the team regarding the GM search, but ESPN reported Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard is a leading candidate.
The team's decision to hire Smith before the general manager is an indication it believed it had to move fast to secure his services.
Indeed, Smith interviewed last week with the Houston Texans and there were reports this week the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins were seeking interviews with him, as well.
Former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber wasn't surprised by all the interest in Smith. Barber came to the Bucs in 1997, one year after Smith was hired as a member of formercoach Tony Dungy's first staff, and thnks Smith is the right hire for Tampa Bay.
“After all the drama that happened here in the last few years, the Bucs needed a guy like Lovie,'' Barber said. “He's drama-free and he gets more out of his guys than most coaches I've seen in this league. He's a winner.''
Endorsements of that nature poured in from all corners of the NFL on Thursday, when former Bucs linebacker Hardy Nickerson took to Twitter and called the move a “Great hire by the Bucs,'' while Bears linebacker Lance Briggs wrote “The NFL is better with (Smith) in it.''
At least one Bucs player thinks he'll be better with Smith in charge. Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers wrote Thursday on Twitter that he's excited to have Smith on board because he hopes he “can bring my potential out and COACH me.''
The Bucs, of course, hope Smith can bring stability to a franchise that is coming off its fourth losing season in five years and has missed the playoff each of the past six years.
After spending five years (1996-2000) under Dungy as the Bucs linebackers coach, Smith became the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in 2001. The Rams went to the Super Bowl that year and made another playoff appearance in 2003 before Smith moved to Chicago.
In nine season with the Bears, Smith was 81-63 during the regular season, plus 3-3 in the playoffs, and became the third-winningest head coach in franchise history.
Smith's record with the Bears included three division titles, two NFC Championship game appearances (2006 and 2010) and a berth in Super Bowl XLI in 2006, where the Bears lost to Dungy's Indianapolis Colts.
“It's a great hire for the Bucs because Lovie has an ability to relate to everybody and get his message across in a way that the guys respect,'' said Dungy, who hired Smith out of the college ranks in 1996. “It was neat to see him develop as a coach during his time here.''
Some of the best players in Bucs' history, including linebacker and 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate Derrick Brooks, developed under Smith's tutelage.
“I definitely learned a lot from Lovie, but I think he also learned a lot from me during that time about earning a player's trust and how to revolve your teaching around a certain player's skill set,'' Brooks said.
“I think that's what allowed him to make the changes in his coaching style to where he became able to coach players with special talents and was able to take better take advantage of those talents.''
A Dungy disciple who took the zone-based Tampa 2 scheme to the Midwest, Smith is well versed in the defensive side of the ball. His Bears defense was traditionally one of the best in the league.
Under his direction, the Bears defense allowed the third-lowest opponent passer rating, the fourth-fewest points per game and the fifth-fewest passing touchdowns and had the second-most interceptions in the league during the span of his tenure.
The Bears under Smith also had some of their best offensive teams, recording 427 points (third in franchise history) in 2006 and 3,666 passing yards (second in franchise history) in 2009.
But offensive successes were too few and far between for Bears general manager Phil Emery, who cited offensive inconsistency as his reason for firing Smith following their 10-6 run in 2010.
Smith went through four offensive coordinators during his nine years in Chicago, where the Bears offense ranked among the top 15 in the NFL only once during that span.
One of Smith's former offensive coordinators, Ron Turner, said Smith will do well in Tampa Bay.
“Lovie is a very good coach,'' said Turner, who was the Bucs' quarterback coach during Schiano's first season in Tampa. “I was surprised to see Greg go, but Lovie is a good choice. He's a great communicator, a good teacher and a good motivator.''