TAMPA — With his two coordinators in place, Lovie Smith is eager to restore relevancy to a franchise that has gone six seasons without a postseason appearance.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ new head coach is looking forward to working with offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in turning around a club that finished in the NFC South basement six times in the past decade.
“I’m excited about Leslie Frazier,’’ Smith said Monday at his introductory news conference. “I had a chance to get to know Leslie first when we were both assistant coaches, and then lately of course having an opportunity to compete with him.’’
Frazier served as an NFL defensive coordinator with the Bengals (2003-04) and Vikings (2007-10) before Minnesota named him as its permanent head coach three years ago.
The 2004 Bengals finished third in the league by forcing 36 turnovers and during Smith’s nine-year tenure as head coach in Chicago, the Bears led the NFL with 310 takeaways.
The 2014 Bucs will face each of the four NFC North clubs and Frazier’s familiarity with the division looms as a potential advantage for Tampa Bay’s new regime.
“As I looked for a defensive coordinator, it just so happens we played in the NFC North division, too,’’ said Smith. “He knows it. He’s a great man and just a great leader. It was a no-brainer, really, to get him and for us to merge together. We always wanted to work together.’’
One of Smith’s closest friends is Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who coached that position on Tony Dungy’s staff in Tampa when Smith directed Bucs linebackers. Marinelli is still under contract on Jason Garrett’s staff in Dallas and Smith said the Bucs never asked Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for permission to speak to Marinelli.
Tedford lacks NFL experience, but helped develop an array of quarterbacks as offensive coordinator at Fresno State (Trent Dilfer) and Oregon (Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, A.J. Feeley) before being named head coach at Cal (Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller).
“Jeff’s a fresh guy,’’ said Smith. “He hasn’t coached in the NFL and he has fresh ideas coming through. When we started matching up what I believed in and what he believed in, I just think this is going to be a good deal.’’
During his year out of football, Smith had an opportunity to reach out to a lot of coaches for ideas and recommendations.
“For my offensive coordinator, I wanted to get a guy that had been a primary quarterback guru,’’ Smith said, “someone who knew the position in and out. My research led me to Jeff Tedford. We spent a couple of days together down in my basement in Chicago and kind of merged our philosophies ... and they weren’t off.’’
The knock on Smith in Chicago was the lack of a dynamic passing game.
The Bears averaged nine wins per year under Smith, including a Super Bowl appearance, but Chicago’s offenses were often pedestrian.
In the decade since Smith first became an NFL coach, the league has witnessed a significant rise in scoring. Pass attempts and touchdown throws are up significantly as new rules were instituted to protect defenseless players and open things up further for the passing game.
“I don’t think it has changed an awful lot,’’ Smith said. “I think you still have to play football the same way. You need balance. Everyone assumes you’ve got to throw 50 times a game and if our passing yards are up there, we’ll be OK. That’s not how it is.’’
ROSTER ADDITIONS: The Bucs signed 12 players as free agents for the 2014 season, incuding Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Also signed were: WR Tommy Streeter, guard Jason Foster, tackles Emett Cleary and Jace Daniels, defensive tackles Everett Dawkins and David Hunter, cornerbacks Marc Anthony and Bobby Felder, kicker Patrick Murray, punter Jacob Schum and long snapper Patrick Scales.