The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on a three-game losing streak, likely to extend to a four-game losing streak on Sunday and end the season with a disappointing 6-10 record. The defense has barely progressed from last season despite some major overhauls, and despite the fact that Lovie Smith took a more active hand in coaching that side of the ball. And while the offense is much better, how much credit can we really give a defensive head coach for that turnaround?
That's a pretty good case for firing Lovie Smith, and we can make it even better by pinning personnel failures and in-game decisions on him and talking about the easy schedule this year. But the reality is that Lovie Smith is exceedingly unlikely to get fired. Here's why.
No reporter believes he's about to be fired
Every year there are many, many rumors about coaches getting fired. And usually you'll see reports saying that the head coach is losing his players, that the front office is doubting his skills, or that the owners may make a move if things continue to worsen weeks before the head coach is actually let go. But it's been remarkably quiet around Lovie Smith, and not a single reporter I know is even entertaining the thought that Lovie Smith is about to be fired.
Now, this is not foolproof by any means. Reporters get things wrong and no one quite knows what the Glazers, the Bucs' owners, are thinking at any given moment. They're far too closed-off for that -- which is how you could have respected national reporters like Peter King claiming that Greg Schiano is likely to be retained mere hours before he's fired, or how no one saw Jon Gruden losing his job coming.
But the fact that no one in the know actually feels it makes sense to get rid of Lovie Smith is a very strong indication that he's not going anywhere.
It's not about the record, but the future
The Glazers have never let themselves be guided by a team's record in deciding whether a coach needed to be fired. Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy were fired after 9-7 seasons, while Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano lost their jobs after 4-12 seasons. The key component there wasn't wins, but perspective for the future: the Glazers felt that those coaches weren't going to make the team better anymore.
Sure, Lovie Smith has a worse record with the Bucs than any of the four coaches the Bucs have fired. At the same time, there are more reasons to feel optimistic about his team than there were about at least Morris' and Schiano's Bucs, where there was clear evidence of locker room dysfunction and regression from the season before. This time, the Bucs actually have perspective. Not just because of the offensive improvement and Jameis Winston, but because the defense's biggest problem isn't really scheme but talent. The Bucs will hope, reasonably, that adding talent will turn this team into a contender.
Blowing up things yet again is expensive
The Glazers have to pay Lovie Smith for two more years, and they're also still paying Greg Schiano. But more than that, if they sign a new head coach they're almost certainly going to have shell out for yet another free agency class, watch him say goodbye to some veterans that are still playing well but don't fit whatever scheme they're bringing in, and they're going to watch Jameis Winston deal with a new offensive scheme in his second year in the NFL -- unless they make Dirk Koetter the head coach, or get whoever they hire to retain Koetter. At that point, why not just keep Lovie Smith instead?
Certainly just doing what you've been doing without contemplating whether it's working isn't a model for success. But neither is blowing things up before they've actually had time to build. Of course, there's no reason why Lovie Smith couldn't already have had success. Plenty of other coaches have engineered short turnarounds, and Smith's personnel decisions are part of the reason why the Bucs haven't been able to do so. That's not all his fault, but Smith and Jason Licht continually emphasize that all personnel decisions are made collaboratively -- and so they both get the blame.
But are the Bucs really willing to take another gamble on another head coach to see if this time, blowing up the roster will work more quickly than it did the previous three times?