The Buccaneers’ somewhat surprising termination of Lovie Smith is a little less of a shock, now that some rumors are shaking out: it seems like it has less to do with Smith (though his mediocre record and unsuccessful personnel moves didn’t do him any favors) and more with Bucs ownership’s love of current offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who appears to be the heir apparent to the job.
A series of reports says the Glazers and Bucs players, especially Jameis Winston, are big fans of Koetter’s, but things started moving more quickly than the team planned. Koetter has been linked to both the Eagles’ and Dolphins’ head-coach openings, and yesterday Miami requested to interview him. Miami may have had an inside track; VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum used to be Koetter’s agent. The Buccaneers clearly believed they were in danger of losing Koetter and, this line of thinking goes, decided to keep him by promoting him. That meant Lovie had to go, and fast.
It emerged this morning that Smith was fired in a phone call last night, but Pro Football Talk fleshes out some backstory that makes it sound a little less cold.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, ownership had planned to meet with Smith in person on Thursday. But within the process of communicating the planned meeting to Smith by phone, Smith sensed that something was going on. One thing led to another, and it became clear that the meeting would be the last one he conducted with ownership.
At that point, Smith said he didn’t need to have a meeting. So the termination became official by phone.
That sounds somewhat innocuous—there’s no good way to fire someone—but GM Jason Licht’s version of events hints that it might still have been ugly.
Licht said at a presser today that Koetter is a “very strong candidate” for the job—but the team is obligated to allow him to meet with other teams first.