A look back at Lovie Smith's Previous Choices
Lovie Smith is many things: an All-American linebacker and Safety from tiny Tulsa. A co-creator with Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy of what would eventually be such a good zone defense that it was renamed "Tampa 2" . A Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator, a Super Bowl-appearing head coach in Chicago, a coach who's won more than 2/3rds of his lifetime challenges, and a stable guy. One thing he's never been accused of is being an offensive mastermind. Make no mistake his future and that of the Buccaneers begins is inexorably linked to whom he hires as offensive coordinator.
The biggest thing that scares me, so far coach Smith hasn't done a great job selecting them. How much control he had of that process during his later days in Chicago was a factor of perennial debate, in fact even before he was hired as Tampa's Head Coach its pretty apparent that Jerry Angelo in Chicago exerted significant pressure on the process. Coach Smith's first choice in 2010 to replace fired OC Ron Turner was reportedly Stanford offensive coordinator David Shaw. This worked out great for Shaw who would be Stanford coach two years later when Harbaugh took over the 49ers. Things worked out much less well for the Bears who hired Mike Martz and promptly got erratic Jay Cutler beat to a pulp after a season and a half. The Bears hires under Lovie Smith were down right bad:
Terry Shea(2004) - Congratulations, you've become the head coach of the Semi-Pro Boston Brawlers. Your NFL career was much less impressive, in fact 2004 would be your only year as an offensive coordinator. By 2008 you were out of the league and permanently in semi-pro where your nonsensical combination of HB draws and quick outs might work better. It was a real flame out to a career that had flourished when coaching Trent Green to record-setting years in Kansas City (yes they used to have a great offense). You came highly recommended from Dick Vermeil but you were clearly "the weakest link".
Ron Turner (2005-2009) - Turner suffered from a lack of talent at quarterback with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. Thta's never healthy for ones career but Turner actually wasn't bad from 2005-2008. This is also where Lovie Smith partly gets his reputation as a conservative coach from. Turner came from Dallas and loved to pound the ball and throw play-action passes (just not deep ones). His other problem was that he routinely failed to adjust to teams stacking the box. He didn't have much to work with but during his tenure his offenses ranked 26th, 2nd, 18th, 14th and 19th in scoring offense. Not the stuff of legends but not horrid given the QB talent. However with the arrival of Jay Cutler ground and pound was over.
Mike Martz (2010-mid 2011) - Yikes. The Bears went back to trying to pluck someone from the Dick Vermeil tree and it blew up in Jay Cutler's face. Repeatedly. This is the most scrutinized of the Chicago hires because Cutler took more hits than King Hippo from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. Martz wanted Cutler to release the ball faster, while Cutler wanted more blockers and apparently said "Tell him I said F-#$ him" in reference to Martz during a game. The Bears did and turned to another disaster.
Mike Tice (Mid 2011-2012) - The Bears had Jay Cutler , traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery but had the WORST offensive line in football. Gabe Carimi started at right tackle, J'Marcus Webb played left tackle. Multiple deformed creators from the black lagoon played guard and only center Roberto Graza was worthwhile. The Bears finished 17th and 16th in points per game and Lovie Smith ended up on the unemployment line in spite of a 10-6 record.
Will history repeat itself?
I see more than a few parallels between Shea and Tedford. Not on the field. but in Coach Smith's desire to start a new job with a bright-minded offensive coordinator running a high-scoring scheme. When it failed Lovie Smith fell back on what defensive coordinators feel safe with: ground-and-pound, play-action pass. His 2005 draft backed this up grabbing Cedric Benson (who busted in Chicago) and waiting till the 4th round to get insurance QB Kyle Orton(Yes this is the Aaron Rodgers draft). The plan in Chicago had been Rex Grossman passing to, well, no one in particular, Devin Hester, and great defense. He didn't start out with this plan.
Cognitively It's apparent Coach Smith desires an explosive offense. He built a great defense with Tony Dungy in Tampa only to see Jon Gruden come in and engineer 20+ points per game to win a Super Bowl. He won with the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, he tried to hire rising star Terry O'Shea, but when met with adversity the first time in Chicago he returned to ground and pound. This past season he went with Jeff Tedford and the Cal double-tight spread. The question now is: has Lovie Smith learned from his mistake in Chicago or will he "turtle under" and return to ground-and-pound?
Where dowe get offensive coordinators? First off almost every offensive coordinator ever hired has a connection to either the head coach, GM , or owner of the team. Like nearly every assistant they've either worked with them before or been recommended for the job by someone they have worked for before. Lovie Smith was recommended Shea by Dick Vermeil, Ron Turner had a relationship with Jerry Angelo, Mike Martz had coached with Smith before, Mike Tice had previously worked with Rusty Tillman.
The coordinator has to be available: not under contract currently with a team. Most teams (though not all) grant interviews for assistants who are current assistant coaches who want to become coordinators. However, the Packers are fairly notorious for refusing such permission as are some other teams. So let's look at the possible offensive coordinators.
Carl Smith, QB coach, Seattle Seahawks
Carl Smith does just about everything Lovie Smith wants to do on offense: play physical at the point of attack, run zone reads, and call high-percentage passes. The problem here is Seattle. Darrell Bevell, the Seahawks' current offensive coordinator, is likely to be an NFL head coach either this offseason or the next and has been interviewing for the top job at several spots over the last two years. Seattle isn't likely to give Smith permission to interview for an Offensive Coordinator position until Bevell is clearly coming back. Smith is their plan B when Bevell gets promoted and is likely to be retained at all costs.
Aaron Kromer or Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator and head coach, Chicago Bears
Oh how the mighty have fallen. A year ago these two were predicted to do great things in Chicago together. Kromer's emphasis on trench warfare and Trestman's out-of-the-box thinking combined to give the Bears more offensive Pro Bowlers than they had had in any season during the Super Bowl era. However, Trestman has no direct ties to the decision-makers in Tampa. More importantly, Trestman didn't spend 5 seasons in Canada because he couldn't get an NFL OC job. He likes running things his way. In addition he won back-to-back Grey Cups winning 4 division titles and making the playoffs all 5 seasons.
Kromer is likely to be the Judas goat for what has transpired in Chicago. I applaud his honesty and he's worked in Tampa before. However, leaking information about your starting QB (no matter how accurate) to the press is a huge no-no. How is any head coach expected to stand in front of his locker room and with a straight face tell his players that matters should be settled in-house? It'll happen again for Kromer, who was himself a head coaching candidate the past two seasons, but he has to pay a price first.
Alex Van Pelt, QB coach, Green Bay Packers
Van Pelt is under contract with Green Bay. While he's coached with the Bucs before, the answer will simply be no, Green Bay refuses almost all of these.
Clyde Christensen, QB coach, Indianapolis Colts
Plenty of history with Lovie Smith under Tony Dungy, but likely to be veto'd by ownership even if Smith was inclined to go that direction. Which, based on Clyde's work since and offensive strategy seems unlikely.
Not Likely But Possible
Rod Chudzinski, special assistant, Indianapolis Colts
"Chud" to me is more likely to return to Carolina if they sneak into the post-season, which might be doubly bad news for us. On the other hand, Ron Rivera got his start as a defensive coordinator under Lovie Smith in Chicago and his contract wasn't renewed after 3 seasons in Chicago.
Wherever Chud goes (and his personality apparently has him changing jobs often) tight ends seem to emerge. In college he coached Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow. In San Diego he fed Antonio Gates while running LaDanian Tomlinson. Back in Cleveland he reunited with Kellen Winslow and ran Jamal Lewis, while getting Derek Anderson to the Pro Bowl. In Carolina he worked Greg Olsen and Carolina's backfield-by-committee. Chud has never coached more than two seasons at any one place in his pro career. He's got some personality issues.
Maybe Lovie Smith is desperate enough to tolerate the mercurial offensive guru. Will Chudzinski be interested in the Tampa job (giving up some substantial money the Browns owe him) and how long would he be here?
Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama
Monte Kiffin and Lovie Smith were reportedly never close. Plus, I'm not sure Kiffin would want to leave a premiere program like Alabama which could lead to a college head-coaching job, even for him. However, after his tenure at Tennessee, it may well be too big a bridge to get another major college job. There are also more than a few reasons not to care for Kiffin. I don't particularly like him and I don't think most people do.
What is equally true however is that Kiffin scores and he scores in different ways. The only ingredient Kiffin needs is an intelligent QB because all of his offenses are heavy on verbiage. The only two places he hasn't had offensive success: being saddled with Jamarcus Russell and (of his own making) working two freshman QBs at USC after Matt Barkley left.
A Kiffin offense would look for mismatches. Kiffin takes his best receiver and by formation isolates him. His ground game shows similar tendencies as he isolates his running back against the defense's most inefficient front-seven tackler. Of all the offensive coordinators in this section, no one is better at scouting and isolating opponent's weaknesses than is Lane Kiffin.
Freddie Kitchens, QB coach, Arizona Cardinals
Replacing Tedford with another coach who recently had heart surgery (in 2013) might seem a bit foolish but Kitchens' surgery was the result of a genetic condition which has now been fixed. His heart may have been genetically bad, but he's got a big one. The former Crimson Tide QB is widely considered a favorite among players, fellow coaches and front office personnel, and he's one of the rare NFL assistants to have a long-running community charity.
Turning to the gridiron Kitchens may be a little young, but holds ties to Jason Licht and coached under Nick Saban, Bill Parcells, Ken Whisenhunt, and Bruce Arians. It's hard to say what Kitchens' offense would look like given his lineage and he honestly may need more seasoning (having only been QBs coach for two seasons prior to being TEs coach) but he's reportedly a West Coast Offense fan. Kitchens probably wouldn't be the organization's first choice, but if spurned by their initial choice Kitchens is unlikely to say no.
Joe Philbin, head coach, Miami Dolphins
The sense out of Miami is that Philbin is on the hot seat with ownership for failing to make the playoffs during his tenure there, in addition to the Ritchie Incognito-Jonathan Martin dysfunction of last season. I think the Dolphins have a vastly overestimated opinion of Ryan Tannehill (who spent his first two college years as a WR) and I have been impressed with the job he's done getting him to play QB at an NFL level. Philbin is incredibly well-regarded across all coaching circles, having spent 9 seasons as an offensive assistant with the Packers including five as an offensive coordinator.
Personality-wise he would appeal to Lovie Smith: soft-spoken, praise-in-public-criticize-in-private, and an unyielding disciplinarian. Philbin is unlikely to instantly get another head coaching offer, rightly or wrongly. While he's well-regarded in coaching circles, the organizational dysfunction that befell the Dolphins in 2013 will probably prevent him from being seriously considered. A Philbin offense would be very much like the Packers offense: zone run-blocking focused around a single back, seam routes and tight timing routes with more than a few to the back shoulder.
Brad Childress, senior offensive assistant, Kansas City Chiefs
Just don't let Childress pick his own players. Childress holds ties to Jason Licht from their time together with the Eagles as well as DC Leslie Frazier. Childress started out under Andy Reid and after the Vikings head coaching job and a cup of coffee under Chud as the Browns OC (he left with Chud) has come full circle to being back on Andy Reid's staff.
Childress' history comes with major pluses and minuses. He is not a player developer or evaluator, and when allowed to select his own QBs he's performed poorly. When working with McNabb and Favre he's excelled. Childress is a much better chess player in terms of weekly strategy than he is a "coach" in the sense of developing his talent. That's fine, as long as the other assistants are stronger in development. Childress would make a good deal of sense. The offense would welcome spread concepts. It's his area of expertise and something he excels at: lots of bunch formations, lots of screen plays to wideouts, and on the ground more than a few trap and draw plays.
Ken Zampese, QB coach, Cincinnati Bengals
Zampese is one of the longest-tenured assistant coaches in the NFL, having served as Bengals QB Coach since the beginning of the Marvin Lewis era in 2003. This has the benefit of making Zampese also one of the highest-paid assistants in the NFL not at the coordinator level. The quarterbacks Zampese has coached at the NFL level read like a who's who of modern NFL QBing: Brett Farve, Matt Hasselback, Aaron Brooks, Kurt Warner, Trent Green, Marc Bulger, Jon Kitna, Carson Palmer, and Andy Dalton. Nine quarterbacks who all have at least a 3,000-yard season, among other accolades.
Zampese is the son of legendary Ernie Zampese of the famed "Air Coryell" era in San Diego. He's interviewed multiple times for offensive coordinator positions over the past several years (including in Cincinnati when Jay Gruden left) but has yet to be offered a position. The obvious takeaway is he probably isn't a great interview. Combine that with a hefty coordinator paycheck and he's largely been passed over.
A Zampese offense is mostly a blitz-beater. He's at his best with a cerebral QB who can step off and beat a blitz package by locating the hot receiver. He's also tied with the same Air Coryell concepts of his father (and to a lesser degree Mike Martz). Zampese relies on short, efficient passing and YAC created by intentionally overloading one side of the field.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Roman was once a super-hot name in head coaching circles but the struggles of the 49ers offense to remain consistent over the past two seasons have quieted some of those. On the other hand the 49ers don't (save for Vernon Davis for about a season and a half) have an offensive weapon that scares other teams. Roman is not a hot name to replace Harbaugh at season's end inside the organization either.
Roman is tied to Stanford where Lovie has tried to hire from before and no doubt the two have crossed paths at a number of conferences. More than that, Roman got his NFL start as an offensive assistant with Carolina at the same time a young Jason Licht was breaking into the league. If Roman doesn't believe he's seriously being considered to be 49ers coach and that Mangini is, he may well look for greener pastures and the 49ers maybe looking to reset. If a certain Oregon Duck is the #1 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, don't be surprised to see a fair amount of read-option sprinkled into an otherwise pro route set, backed up by a steady diet of intermediate routes.