Seven years ago, the Buccaneers provided the NFL with a surprise firing, dumping coach Jon Gruden and G.M. Bruce Allen and replacing them immediately with Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik, respectively. This time, the Bucs have moved on only from the head coach, without an immediate announcement.
So what will the Buccaneers do next? Here’s a look at potential candidates.
1. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Praised for his work with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston but not yet noticed by the broader hiring cycle, the Bucs could be considering another in-house elevation, like Morris in 2009. A minority candidate, Morris was eligible to be hired instantly. Koetter, who is white, can’t be promoted until at least one minority candidate is interviewed, under the Rooney Rule.
2. Jaguars assistant head coach/offensive line Doug Marrone.
It was believed that the Saints would hire Marrone, if Sean Payton ended up elsewhere. With Payton staying put, Marrone is now in play. If that’s the guy the Bucs want, the delayed decision on firing Smith makes sense.
3. Former Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
He became available Monday, and so far no other team has pursued him. It’s possible that, between Tuesday and Wednesday, the Bucs learned that he’d be interested. Which would explain the Wednesday night decision to clear the decks.
4. Alabama coach Nick Saban.
By saying in August that he’d still be coaching the Dolphins if the team had signed Drew Brees in 2006, Saban dropped a strong hint that he’d be willing to return to the NFL if his next team has a franchise quarterback. In Jameis Winston, Saban would get a young franchise quarterback he once tried to recruit to Alabama.
The only glitch with Saban would be a desire to run the show, which would require G.M. Jason Licht to take a step back. It’s possible Licht already has signed off on that approach, as evidenced by the fact that he’s still employed.
5. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.
Appearing last year on PFT Live, Fisher (pictured with Winston) said he had gotten calls from NFL teams. While he previously wasn’t interested, a reunion with Winston may get Fisher’s attention.
6. Former Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
Presumed to be a candidate for the Titans job (who are likely to promote interim coach Mike Mularkey), Kelly’s system could work well with Winston, who is as smart as expected and far more athletic than his measurables would have suggested. A year after Kelly tried to get Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, Kelly could end up coaching Winston, who was the first pick.
7. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
He’s reportedly interested in the Tennessee job, for obvious reasons; the Titans have a potentially great quarterback. The Bucs do, too, and it’s possible that the Bucs have been made aware that McDaniels would be interested in working with Jameis Winston.
8. A current coach with another team.
It’s highly unlikely the Saints would do an about-face and trade Sean Payton to Tampa after Payton made it clear he’s staying put, especially since the teams are in the same division. But what if the Bucs have taken a shine to a head coach currently employed by another team, who in turn would be intrigued by the prospect of working with Jameis Winston?
The Buccaneers gave up a pair of first-round picks, a pair of second-round picks, and $8 million to get Jon Gruden from the Raiders 14 years ago. What if the Bucs think they could lure someone like John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Bill O’Brien, or Jay Gruden to Tampa?
9. Other college coaches.
Whether Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly, Jim Harbaugh, or someone else, the Bucs could try to make a splash with someone other than Saban or Fisher.
10. Former NFL coaches.
Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren lead the pack of former NFL coaches looking for another shot. Other possibilities include Bill Cowher, Brian Billick, and Herm Edwards. Or how about a return by Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy? (Dungy has consistently said he’s done coaching.)
Whatever the Buccaneers do, chances are they didn’t dump Lovie Smith without having a plan to replace him. While they’ll surely embark on a full-blown search, plenty of coaching searches begin with the ending point in sight. In this case, the timing makes it seem like the Bucs know exactly what they plan to do next.