'Gap year' pays off for former Bears coach Lovie Smith

'Gap year' pays off for former Bears coach Lovie Smith
January 7, 2014, 12:30 pm
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Still being under a contract paying him $5 million in its final year certainly afforded Lovie Smith the chance to reassess life, professional and otherwise. And he did just that before taking the job as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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It’s an exercise the former Bears head coach recommends very highly rather than scurrying on to the next job.

“You knew that someday you would get that [you’re-fired] call,” Smith said Tuesday on “Pro Football Talk Live!” with Mike Florio. “That was a part of the plan. I just thought I could really improve myself and situation from staying out and buying more time to study the game and look at different [assistants] candidates.”

Smith watched high school games, college games and even went to one NFL game.

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“That year off, you have a chance to hit that ‘Stop” button in life and take a year to reassess what you believe in, who you are and all that, I highly recommend it.”

Florio was among those who suggested that the Buccaneers hire Smith in-season to replace Greg Schiano. And there were other opportunities open to Smith.

But Smith’s self-assessment process was in process, including looking at some of his base beliefs for NFL football.

“Your core system in what you believe is always tested and that’s what happened with me in Chicago,” Smith said. “I came in with a way in mind that we were going to win football games, and I believed in that: physical running, attack on the offensive side with the capability of big plays, a defense that played hard every down and that relied on takeaways. And putting a big emphasis on special teams, having a special returner that can change the game…”

Smith’s core system did produce a winning (81-63) level of performance and he said that his philosophy overall would remain the same.

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“There are some things we need to do a lot better. Offensively we weren’t as good in Chicago as I wanted to be, even though we had an efficient offense that played to the strength of what we were as a defensive team.”

Smith was not a fan of Jay Cutler but he pointed to not putting together a consistently successful offensive line following the successes in 2005-2006 as the top problem on that side of the ball. Indeed, going through Josh Beekman, Gabe Carimi, Frank Omiyale, Orlando Pace, Chilo Rachal, J’Marcus Webb, Chris Williams and others did not make for a dependable offense.

“Your foundation has to be based on what you have up front,” Smith said. “Solid core on our offensive line in Chicago and special players on defense.”

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Smith had his struggles solving the Chicago quarterback position. He has Mike Glennon, the Bucs’ 2013 third-round draft choice, in place and the team went 4-9 with him as its starter.

“Right now as I talk about Mike, what we saw, initial reaction to Mike Glennon, he’s our starting quarterback right now,” Smith said. “We’ll see where it takes us.”