TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired coach Lovie Smith on Wednesday night.
Smith went 6-10 this season and 8-24 over two years in charge of the team. The announcement came as a surprise to many because Smith’s job was not considered to be in danger.
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“This decision was difficult on a variety of levels,” Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement. “I am disappointed that we were not more successful these past few seasons, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to give our fans the winning team they deserve. ‘’
General manager Jason Licht will oversee the search for a new coach.
Smith led the Chicago Bears to the NFC title in 2006, when they lost to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. He was 84-66 in nine seasons with Chicago.
The Bucs showed some improvement this season with No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston at quarterback and revitalized running back Doug Martin. But they lost their final four games after pulling into position to compete for a wild-card playoff berth.
For the first time, the Bucs ranked in the top 10 in total offense and defense. But finishing No. 5 offensively and No. 10 defensively was deceptive. The Bucs struggled to get the ball into the end zone, ranking 20th in points. They were 26th in scoring defense, allowing 24 or more 10 times.
The Bucs gained over 500 yards twice and averaged a team-record 375.9 yards per game. Martin finished second to Adrian Peterson for the NFL rushing title, and Mike Evans had another big year receiving with 74 receptions for 1,206 yards, but only three TDs.
Earlier this week, Smith reiterated his belief that the team is headed in the right direction.
“Our football team isn’t a finished product yet, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re in pretty good shape going forward with [Winston] leading us, on and off the field,” Smith said.
But the Bucs will move ahead without Smith, the team’s third coach since Jon Gruden was fired after the 2008 season. Gruden led Tampa Bay to its only Super Bowl win; none of his successors had an overall winning record in Tampa.
Tampa Bay cornerback Johnthan Banks was sitting courtside Wednesday night at alma mater Mississippi State’s home basketball game against Texas A&M when he learned Smith had been fired. Banks starred at his phone constantly for a few minutes before abruptly walking out of the gym.
“I’m just not ready to talk about it,” Banks said.