Lovie Smith

Lovie Smith To Coach University Of Illinois

Lovie Smith is the new coach of the Fighting Illini, the University of Illinois has announced. Smith will take over the program on a contract that will pay him $21MM over six years, per the team’s press release. Smith’s contract at Illinois is back-loaded so the Buccaneers will save $4MM and still owe him $6MM after his firing, Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times tweetsLovie Smith (vertical)

I am extremely excited to be named head coach of the Fighting Illini,” Smith said. “Josh approached me about this possibility, and I immediately seized on the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men who are part of the program today and in the future. I take this responsibility very seriously and can’t wait to get a staff in place to start our move to make Illinois a contender for Big Ten titles. We will play an exciting brand of football that will make our fans, alumni, student body and members of the University community extremely proud.”

In January, the Buccaneers fired Smith, a move that surprised many. Smith’s Bucs went 6-10 in 2015 but after he survived the calendar year, most observers assumed that his job was safe. Ultimately, the Bucs did not want to lose hot head coaching candidate Dirk Koetter to another team, so they fired Smith and elevated Koetter in his place.

As the press release notes, Smith is now the second coach to go straight from head coach in the NFL to head coach at Champaign-Urbana after John Mackovic made the move in 1988, going from the Chiefs to the Fighting Illini.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Notes: Lovie, Bucs, Mankins, Norman

Former Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith is expected to become the new head coach at the University of Illinois, according to Ryan Baker of CBS Chicago (Twitter link). Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports has also confirmed the likely hire. Smith’s move back to the state of Illinois — where he coached the Bears for nine seasons — has repercussions in Tampa Bay, as Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports (Twitter link) that Smith’s contract with the Bucs contained offset language pertaining to any football job, not just those in the NFL. Therefore, Tampa is likely to going to recoup some of the $10MM it owes to Smith under the terms of his old deal.

Let’s take a look at more out from Tampa Bay and the NFL’s other South division clubs…

  • Free agent offensive lineman Nate Chandler was released by the Panthers earlier this week, but he’s now getting attention from another NFC South team, as Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Buccaneers are interested in Chandler. As Auman writes, Tampa’s interest in Chandler — who can play both tackle and guard — could be a sign that the club expects veteran Logan Mankins to retire. Mankins hasn’t yet made a final decision, per Auman, but he will let the Bucs know his choice before free agency starts.
  • Panthers cornerback Josh Norman isn’t going to accept a long-term deal that he considers to be below his market value, and he’s fine with playing out the season on the franchise tag, writes Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. Norman won’t accept a hometown discount, as he tells Jones, but he dispensed with any notion that he would hold out of training camp in an attempt to spur Carolina into offering more money.
  • Safety Earl Wolff, who signed a futures contract with the Jaguars in January, was abducted by a group of armed men in Fayetteville, North Carolina on February 23, according to Thomas Pope of the Fayetteville Observer. Wolff was released unharmed, and one of alleged kidnappers was arrested on Wednesday.

NFC North Notes: Megatron, Bears, Packers

Ron Rivera‘s path to the Panthers emerged when he and Lovie Smith ended a contentious relationship in three seasons working together in Chicago. The former Bears coach didn’t renew the former Bears defensive coordinator’s contract after the duo helped the Bears to Super Bowl XLI during the 2006 season, largely due to philosophical and personal differences, Austin Murphy of SI.com reports.

Smith preferred then-Buccaneers assistant head coach Rod Marinelli for the job upon being hired as Bears coach in 2004, but, per Murphy, Rivera was mandated by then-Chicago GM Jerry Angelo.

The former Bears player under blitz-happy Buddy Ryan, Rivera wanted a blitz-heavy scheme, whereas Smith was a Tampa-2 proponent. Murphy also asserts Rivera’s eight interviews for head-coaching positions while employed as Bears DC were potentially seen as disloyal by Smith.

When Rivera became the Chargers’ linebackers coach in 2007 after Smith denied him a fourth season running the Bears’ defense, he and Smith were on bad terms, a Bears source told Murphy. The 54-year-old Rivera served three years as San Diego’s DC before accepting Carolina’s top coaching job.

Here are some more items from the NFC North on the eve of Super Bowl 50.

  • The Bears should let Matt Forte walk while re-signing Alshon Jeffery and Zach Miller, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap notes in his analysis of the Bears’ cap situation. Also advising the Bears to orchestrate an extension with Kyle Long after they pick up the tackle’s fifth-year option, Fitzgerald recommends the Bears cut Martellus Bennett and gauge Lamarr Houston‘s trade value. Bennett would save Chicago $5.2MM, and Houston, entering his seventh season, will net the Bears $4MM in cap savings if released. Brought in to play in a 4-3 scheme, Houston graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 62-ranked edge defender as an outside linebacker in Vic Fangio‘s 3-4.
  • Calvin Johnson‘s impromptu retirement could be a negotiating ploy a la Adrian Peterson‘s trade request last year, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes. The Lions will need to know Johnson’s official intentions on his future by March 9, when his $16MM base salary and $24MM cap number are configured into Detroit’s 2016 salary cap. Florio speculates Johnson could have threatened to retire to force the Lions to appreciate his presence rather than insist he renegotiate that massive cap figure. Peterson ended up receiving additional guaranteed money, instead of the Vikings potentially attempting at reducing his salary, Florio offers.
  • Randall Cobb‘s punctured lung sustained against the Cardinals could have been an effect of him being mic’d up by NFL Films, the slot receiver and the Packers medical staff theorize (via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). “I punctured a lung. I didn’t break a rib and I didn’t fracture a rib. It’s really abnormal for that to happen,” Cobb told radio host Bill Michaels in San Francisco. “But I was mic’d up for the game. I landed flush on my back. The battery pack was on my shoulder pads and I landed flush on my back and we think that possibly could be it but there’s no way of proving it.” Cobb, who left the divisional playoff game after injuring himself on a spectacular catch that ended up being nullified by penalty, will enter the season season of the four-year deal he signed last March.
  • Casey Hayward hired the same agent, David Mulugheta, used by fellow Packers DBs Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Quinten Rollins, Rand Getlin of ESPN.com reports (Twitter links). Hayward is one of Green Bay’s top free agents.

Extra Points: Dolphins, H. Jackson, Bucs, Texans

Before hiring Adam Gase as their head coach Saturday, the Dolphins considered several other candidates. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald passes along some interesting information on a handful of those names.

The Dolphins interviewed ex-Falcons head coach Mike Smith, but they felt he lacked “some of the gravitas” for the position. In Mike Shanahan‘s case, Miami’s bigwigs were worried that too many of the two-time Super Bowl winner’s potential assistants had jobs elsewhere, which would’ve negatively affected his ability to assemble a staff. They also had concern about whether Shanahan would be prone to complacency. The Dolphins discussed the idea of pursuing another two-time champion, Tom Coughlin, but they decided the soon-to-be 70-year-old was too advanced in age to factor into their long-term plans. Dan Campbell, the Dolphins’ interim head coach for most of the 2015-16 campaign, was the runner-up to Gase. The team simply didn’t think he was ready for the full-time job. Doug Marrone came in third place, largely because his plan for quarterback Ryan Tannehill wasn’t as enticing as Gase’s.

Tannehill didn’t have the belief of ex-head coach Joe Philbin, Salguero offers, but the Dolphins are confident the relationship between him and Gase will bear more fruit.

“We’re convinced you’ll see a different Ryan Tannehill next year,” a team source told Salguero. “That’s how much Adam will affect things around here.”

More from around the NFL:

  • Although a report Friday stated that Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is in the lead for the 49ers’ head coaching job, they’ll have serious competition for his services from the Browns, reports Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Jackson will enter his Sunday interview with the Browns viewing them and the 49ers on a level playing field, per Cabot, who notes that other teams with head coaching vacancies could join them in trying to land the 50-year-old. As our head coaching search tracker shows, the only other current opening that Jackson has been connected to is the Giants’, though they haven’t requested a meeting with him at this time.
  • Dirk Koetter isn’t the prohibitive favorite to land the Buccaneers’ head coaching job, and they didn’t fire Lovie Smith because they were worried about losing Koetter, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The Bucs canned Smith because their ownership was fed up with his ability (or lack thereof) to build a quality coaching staff, his struggles with repairing their defense, and his uninspiring work when it came to putting together the 53-man roster. General manager Jason Licht believes the team will find a capable replacement for Smith. “It’s an excellent situation,” he said. “I’ve already been shown from the interest we’ve received that people want to come to Tampa and coach.”
  • After quarterback Brian Hoyer‘s five-turnover performance in the Texans’ 30-0 wild-card round loss to Kansas City on Saturday, Houston could look for a better option under center this offseason. With that in mind, Mike Sando of ESPN.com examined which roads the Texans might take in the coming months (Insider required). Draft-bound Penn State signal caller Christian Hackenberg, whom Texans coach Bill O’Brien recruited when he was at the helm of the Nittany Lions, is an obvious option. Otherwise, Sando lists Colin Kaepernick and free agent-to-be Sam Bradford as possible fits for the Texans.

Coach Rumors: Giants, L. Smith, Bucs, Dolphins

Asked today on The Michael Kay Show if the Giants will consider Lovie Smith for their head coaching opening, team co-owner John Mara said he’s “certainly aware” the former Buccaneers head coach is available. According to Mara, he’ll talk to his fellow decision-makers about Smith, but he isn’t sure yet whether the club will try to bring him in (Twitter links via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News).

For now, New York is targeting highly-regarded assistants, having interviewed their own coordinators, as well as Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

Here are a few more coaching-related updates from around the NFL:

  • Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets that he would be “very surprised” if former Falcons head coach Mike Smith doesn’t emerge as a strong candidate for the Buccaneers‘ vacancy. Smith interviewed with the Dolphins this week and has been mentioned as possible candidate for the Titans as well.
  • According to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (Twitter link), the Dolphins would’ve been one of the teams – along with the Eagles – that had interest in John Harbaugh if he became available, but Harbaugh isn’t going anywhere. The Dolphins continued their head coaching search today by interviewing Dan Campbell and, per a team release, Doug Marrone.
  • The Jaguars will interview Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel for their defensive coordinator job, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). ESPN’s Vaughn McClure tweets that the meeting will take place on Tuesday.
  • As first reported by Alex Marvez of FOX Sports (Twitter links), linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald was fired by the Colts today. Indianapolis hired a new defensive coordinator this week, bringing in former Ravens linebackers coach Ted Monachino, so it looks like he has already started making changes to the unit.
  • Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Colts are interviewing John Benton (Dolphins), Pat Flaherty (Giants), and Chris Foerster (49ers) for their offensive line coach position, tweets Marvez.

Bucs Notes: Lovie Smith, Koetter, Licht

The Buccaneers’ firing of head coach Lovie Smith on Wednesday evening shocked the NFL world, but general manager Jason Licht explained today to reporters that he didn’t think the team had been impatient with Smith.

“I think when you have eight wins in two years, three home wins in two years, we’ve been patient enough,” Licht said, per Jenna Laine of Sports Talk Florida (Twitter link).

The Bucs GM made a few more comments of note during his session with reporters today, so let’s dive in and round up the highlights (all links go to Twitter)….

  • According to Licht (via Laine), Buccaneers ownership intended to meet with Smith today to discuss his future – or lack thereof – with the organization. However, Licht warned the head coach on Wednesday night about the impending meeting, and Smith opted to talk to ownership on the phone right away instead.
  • Licht called offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who is reportedly the frontrunner for the job, a “very strong” head coaching candidate, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. However, the GM added (link via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times) that Tampa Bay is obligated to allow Koetter to interview with other teams, and multiple teams have put in a request. According to our tracker, those suitors likely include the Dolphins, Eagles, and 49ers.
  • While Koetter is viewed as a top candidate, Licht said there has been a lot of interest already from outside candidates in the job, per Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. At the time, Licht hadn’t spoken to any candidates, though he said that the search process would begin immediately after the press conference, according to Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com.
  • One factor that any of the Buccaneers’ head coaching candidates will have to take into account: Licht now has control over the Bucs’ 53-man roster, though he doesn’t believe that will hold the team back from pursuing certain candidates (link via Laine).

Bucs Eyeing Dirk Koetter As Head Coach

10:24am: The Eagles will submit an official request to talk to Koetter as well, according to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports.com.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have already spoken with Koetter about taking over as head coach, but a formal interview has yet to take place, Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune tweets. That interview could take place today.

9:16am: The 49ers requested permission to interview Koetter on Tuesday and still haven’t gotten an answer back, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. That could be an indication that Koetter already has the Bucs job in the bag.

6:38am: The Buccaneers will conduct a head coaching search, but their next hire might already be down the hall. Even though the team will go through the process of combing through head coaching candidates, it appears that things are pointing towards a “coronation” of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. Koetter is in play as a candidate for the Dolphins vacancy and as Miami’s interest grew, Bucs ownership felt that it had to move quickly in order to keep its highly-coveted OC from jumping ship (link). Dirk Koetter (vertical)

[RELATED: Buccaneers Fire Lovie Smith]

As Pro Football Rumors’ 2016 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker shows, Koetter is among the baker’s dozen of known candidates for the Dolphins’ head coaching job. The two sides have yet to formally set a date for an interview, but Tampa Bay felt that things were heating up between their OC and South Florida’s other football franchise. Presumably, the Bucs are happy with the work Koetter has done with No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston and losing Koetter could be detrimental to his development.

Under Koetter’s guidance in 2015, the Bucs averaged 375.9 yards per game, good for 5th in the NFL. Tampa Bay also placed 5th in rushing yards per contest with 135.1 yards on the ground per game. With Koetter calling the plays, running back Doug Martin managed to get back to his old form while 2014 third-round pick Charles Sims made great contributions as a pass-catching option.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Fire Lovie Smith

9:40pm: Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter) hears that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will be a candidate for the head coaching job.

Former Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik (on Twitter) expects the club to name Koetter as its new head coach within the week, though he anticipates that they will still interview a few other candidates. Koetter has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Dolphins job.

9:24pm: The Buccaneers announced that they have fired coach Lovie Smith. The team issued a press release containing a short statement from Buccaneers Co-Chairman Joel Glazer:

After careful consideration, we informed Lovie that we have decided to make a change. I want to thank Lovie for his hard work and dedication to the Buccaneers during his time here. This decision was difficult on a variety of levels. I am disappointed that we were not more successful these past few seasons, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to give our fans the winning team they deserve. As we move forward, General Manager Jason Licht will oversee the process for finding our next head coach.” Lovie Smith (vertical)

[RELATED: PFR’s 2016 Head Coaching Tracker]

The news comes out of left field as there has been no chatter about Tampa Bay making a coaching change in recent weeks. Smith, 57, agreed to become the Bucs head coach two years ago after the team canned Greg Schiano. In fact, tomorrow marked the exact two year anniversary of Smith’s introductory press conference.

Things have not exactly gone as planned for Smith and the Bucs over the last two seasons. In 2014, Tampa Bay finished a dismal 2-14, putting them in the NFL’s cellar. In 2015, they used their No. 1 overall pick on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston showed flashes of promise in his rookie campaign but Tampa Bay didn’t become a contender overnight. After a 6-10 finish, Buccaneers ownership has decided to go in another direction at head coach.

Now, the Buccaneers join the Browns, Dolphins, Giants, Eagles, 49ers, and Titans as clubs who are looking for a new head coach in 2016. Prominent coaches looking for a promising landing spot could do a whole lot worse than the Bucs. Tampa Bay features last year’s No. 1 overall choice at quarterback, a talented young wide receiver in Mike Evans, and the No. 9 overall choice in the 2016 draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

La Canfora’s Latest: Peyton, Bowe, Lovie

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports published a number of stories that are worth a read this morning, so let’s dive right in:

  • The Broncos are off to a 2-0 start, but it has been a frustrating and heart-stopping couple of games, and things are not as rosy as the team’s record would indicate. Denver’s front office and coaching staff have been intent on establishing the running game in an effort to keep Peyton Manning upright and healthy and to prevent him from wearing down over the course of the season, as he did in 2014. Manning, meanwhile, would prefer to be in the shotgun and throwing as much as possible. As team and player search for some middle ground, there are differing opinions as to how the Broncos should handle their offense moving forward. Some scouts believe Manning is putting himself in danger as he tries to think and feel his way through Gary Kubiak‘s offense, and that it may be better to simply allow the future Hall-of-Famer to do what he does best. Others say that Manning himself is the problem, as his declining velocity, accuracy, and susceptibility to “phantom pressure” allow opposing teams to rush five players and deploy a single high safety in the defensive backfield. The problem has been worsened by the team’s poor offensive line play, and Denver’s next opponent, the Lions, is also likely to dial up a great deal of pressure on the quarterback. How the Broncos respond will go a long way in predicting their success for the remainder of the Manning era.
  • Browns wide receiver Dwayne Bowe played and practiced very sparingly in the preseason, and when he finally did get an extended look in the team’s fourth preseason game against reserve defensive backs, he was unable to make much of a statement. Per La Canfora, there are some members of the Browns coaching staff that would like to move on from Bowe immediately, even though he has yet to play a regular season snap for his new club. However, as Bowe is owed $9MM in guaranteed salary over the next two seasons, Cleveland has little choice but to hang onto Bowe and see what he can do. As Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets, Bowe did have a good week of practice this week and is active for today’s matchup against Tennessee.
  • Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith took over defensive play-calling duties this season after Tampa Bay’s defense floundered in 2014. However, his unit’s performance against the Titans last week was even worse than virtually anything he saw last season, and now Smith is under mounting pressure to at least deliver some reason for optimism moving forward. In 2014, the makeup of Smith’s coaching staff raised the eyebrows of other front offices in the league, as many believed that the group–which essentially operated without an offensive coordinator all season–lacked adequate NFL experience. Although the team has installed seasoned NFL coach Dirk Koetter as its offensive coordinator, skepticism regarding Smith’s staff remains. Smith, after all, took over play-calling duties from Leslie Frazier, a former head coach with a ton of coordinating experience, and as La Canfora writes, “it did not go unnoticed in coaching circles when esteemed defensive coach Rod Marinelli, one of Smith’s closest friends, opted to stay in Dallas as coordinator rather than join Smith’s staff in Tampa.” Although the team’s loss to Tennessee last week was just one game, it is fair to say that Smith’s club must start to make some strides if he wants to remain at the Tampa Bay helm in 2016 and beyond.
  • League commissioner Roger Goodell recently said that he is open to altering the way the league handles the discipline and appeals process for off-field matters, and the NFLPA has submitted a proposal that sets forth such an alteration. The proposal, which was submitted when the union filed a grievance with the CBA arbitrator early this year in response to the league’s new domestic violence conduct policy, calls for the creation of a new appeal position, and it would also prevent the commissioner from handling an appeal himself or from choosing someone else to handle it for him. There is no timetable for when the grievance might be resolved, and there will, as always, be extensive negotiating involved in these proposed changes to the appellate process. However, as La Canfora writes, “the growing groundswell among owners to redirect Goodell from being so intimately involved in the process is almost certain to result in changes at some point.”

Draft Notes: Bucs, Mariota, Browns, Steelers

The Buccaneers could take many different routes with the first-overall pick in this year’s draft, and head coach Lovie Smith indicated as much on Monday. Appearing on the NFL Network, Smith said his team could surprise the league by not selecting either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com):

“I can see why people would assume we’re gonna take a quarterback. There are two excellent quarterbacks that are available at the top and when you get a chance to draft someone like that, most of the time, people do. But there are other good players in the draft also. I think it’s a deep draft for defensive line. Like last year, there are a lot of great receivers that are coming out. I think, just overall, the amount of athletes coming into each incoming class, it’s pretty deep for players that can make an immediate impact.”

As Florio points out, Smith could be hinting that he’s willing to trade the pick.

Let’s take a look at some more assorted draft notes from around the league…

  • ESPN.com’s Eric Williams tweets that the Chargers will schedule a workout with Mariota.
  • Meanwhile, Browns general manager Ray Farmer told reporters that his team will also conduct a private workout with Mariota (via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com). Farmer indicated that he’s talked with other teams about moving up or down the draft board.
  • The Dolphins will work out Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson, according to ESPN.com’s James Walker. Grayson is projected to be drafted in the second round or later.
  • Maryland wideout Stefon Diggs is scheduled to visit the 49ers in April, reports Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. Diggs finished last season with 62 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Indiana running back Tevin Coleman will be busy in the coming weeks, as he has workouts scheduled with the Panthers, Cardinals, Chargers and Ravens, according to Wilson. The Heisman candidate previously met with the Lions.
  • After talking to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says he’d be “stunned” if Pittsburgh didn’t take a cornerback in the first round (Twitter link).