TAMPA — Within a five-month span, Lovie Smith and Evan Dietrich-Smith have forged a classic connection.
The new head coach of the Buccaneers and Tampa Bay’s free-agent center share a passion for vintage automobiles and physical football.
Dietrich-Smith, who signed with the Bucs from Green Bay in March, just purchased his first classic car, a 1957 Bel Air that caught his eye at a Clearwater showroom. The next thing he knew, Dietrich-Smith was tooling down the road, attracting gawkers.
“It’s a black cherry show-stopper for sure,’’ he said. “You roll by somebody and you can see their reaction. Usually, they just go, ‘Wow.’ I was driving to work this morning, trying to figure out how to put the lights on.’’
When Dietrich-Smith noticed a few old-school vehicles in the team parking lot earlier this month, he learned one of them belonged to the man behind the wheel at One Buc Place.
Smith has been to known to collect old Mustangs, and he quickly became aware of a new oldie but goodie out back.
“I love everything about Evan,’’ Smith said. “He and I both love classic cars. He’s got a great ’57 Chevy in the parking lot that I can’t wait to see.’’
Growing up in Salinas, California, Dietrich-Smith developed an appreciation for vintage automobiles.
“I’ve always liked cars, but my family was never really into them and didn’t spend the money on them,’’ he said. “My Bel Air is a really sweet car, but I’m no (classic car collector) Jay Leno at this point.’’
Dietrich-Smith earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 2010 Packers, and he started all 16 games for Green Bay last season. As the anchor of an overhauled offensive line in Tampa, he has quickly earned the respect of his new teammates.
“Evan’s a hard worker, a guy who’s got a little fire to him,’’ said right tackle Demar Dotson, the only returning starter up front. “He likes to talk and get the team fired up, so he’s an animated guy. He kind of reminds me of Jeff Faine, a smart guy who knows how to play the game. He’s got a good football IQ.”
In 2013, Dietrich-Smith helped open holes for Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, who set franchise rookie rushing records for yards (1,178) and touchdowns (11) en route to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
“He knows what’s going on,’’ Smith said. “Of course, Evan has to be a coach on the field. He’s got great football knowledge, a leader of our football team. He’s used to that, too, coming from a good program in Green Bay. We need guys like that to help us get to that point.”
Tampa Bay’s offensive line has struggled for consistency heading into Saturday’s preseason matchup at Buffalo, but Dietrich-Smith sees progress.
“Once we get the five guys solidified, I think that will definitely help as far as gelling and being able to move forward in that process,’’ he said. “I think we’re taking steps in the right direction, that’s for sure. We just started learning how to communicate with each other non-verbally. You kind of just say one word and the guy just knows what you mean.’’
One day this season, Smith and Dietrich-Smith could find themselves stopped for a light, side-by-side on the streets of Tampa — Smith in his sky-blue ’67 Mustang and his center cruising in a vintage black cherry Bel Air.
“I’m working on the radio channels,’’ Dietrich-Smith said. “But to tell you the truth, the darned car’s so loud, you can’t hear the music.’’