TAMPA — Knowing the danger he would face should he encounter a band of howler monkeys, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith carried a machete with him just about everywhere he went during a vacation to Costa Rica last year.
When the seemingly inevitable confrontation came, though, Smith kept the machete in its sheath and simply used a broom to shoo away the monkeys that had ventured into the villa he and his wife rented for their stay.
A broom instead of a machete — that is so Lovie.
Soft-spoken yet stern, Smith has mastered the ability, his former players say, to get his message across and achieve his objectives without resorting to the harsh style so many of his rival coaches lean on.
He never swears and seldom raises his voice, but don't let that deceive you. As he did in Costa Rica, Smith always arms himself with a verbal machete and says he'll cut a player up with it if he has to.
“If a guy wants to raise up a little bit, I can raise up a little bit,'' Smith said shortly after he was introduced as the Bucs' new coach on Monday. “But most of the time, I've found, guys just want a stern teacher to teach them.''
This method did not necessarily come naturally to Smith. He adopted it from former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, who pulled Smith out of the college coaching ranks and made him the Bucs' linebackers coach in 1996.
But it wasn't just Dungy who taught Smith the value of this quiet approach to coaching. Smith learned while working with players such as Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp that a controlled approach works best.
“If a guy does something wrong, you confront him immediately,'' Smith said. “And when you do, it can go a couple different ways. But I've learned that all these guys really want is for you to coach them and they'll do anything you ask. So, I never got into a confrontation with any of those guys. That's something I've never had to do in my life.
“Normally, you don't have to if you establish what you are right away with them. You just look guys in (the eyes) and you let them know you're trying. How many times did you confront your teachers, the ones you really believed in? How many times did you say, 'Hey, I've got a better way of doing it.'
“My guess is, you didn't do that, and I think we've got a good staff (of assistant coaches) here and it's not going to have to come to that here. But if it does, if somebody wants to go in that direction, we'll go.''
Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon finished his rookie season ranked 26th in the league in completion percentage (59.4), 24th in passing yards (2,608) and 21st in passer rating (83.9).
As modest as those numbers are, they're enough, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said, to warrant Glennon getting at least another year as the Bucs' starting quarterback. That is not McShay's call to make, obviously, but McShay said before the BCS Championship Game last week that Glennon showed enough promise to warrant the Bucs targeting positions other than quarterback early in the 2014 draft.
“It makes sense to me to go in a different direction than QB, and I wouldn't have said that two months ago,'' McShay told the Tribune's Joey Johnston. “I think Mike Glennon has shown improvement and there's promise there.''
So, what would McShay target if he were with the Bucs? He said offensive tackle has been an issue, which it certainly was down the stretch last year, and he believes the pass rush clearly needs a dynamic edge rusher.
The problem is, the best edge rusher in the draft, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, will almost certainly be gone by the time the Bucs pick at No. 7 overall. Not to worry, though, McShay said.
“There are two really, really good pass rushers in this draft — Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr, who is really more of an outside linebacker but could be a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme,” McShay said.
Smith will run a one-gap, 4-3 scheme in Tampa. And if he's willing to tweak that scheme just a bit, Barr could prove to be a good fit for the Bucs.
“There are a lot of variables and questions, but I do think you have to give Glennon a chance based on what he has shown so far,'' McShay said. “That gives them an opportunity to fill another hole.''