In 2014, Lovie Smith, in his first year as Tampa Bay head coach, went 2-14. It was an awful year. In 2015, however, the Bucs finished 6-10. In fact, the six wins equalled the number of wins the Bucs had in the previous two years combined.
Nevertheless, Tampa Bay fired Smith in January.
“Normally (when) you come into a new situation, it takes awhile,” Smith said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I felt like we had made progress from year one to year two (and) had a lot of things in place. I felt our best season would be the third year. I thought I had commitment from ownership to do that, but things change along the way. When you’re the owner, you can do whatever you like. So I just moved on. Haven’t spent a whole lot of time really thinking about it.”
Especially not lately. That’s because Smith, 57, has become the head football coach at Illinois. Smith, who coached the Bears for nine seasons and led them to a Super Bowl appearance, hasn’t coached in college since 1995, when he was a defensive backs coach at Ohio State.
Still, the transition shouldn’t be too difficult for Smith, who coached and mentored 22-year-old Jameis Winston this past season in Tampa. Many people doubted whether Winston, whose off-field decision-making at Florida State could be described as, well, very poor, was ready for life in the NFL.
“First off, he wasn’t a problem at all,” Smith said. “Just really enjoyed my time with him. A lifetime family member, as I see him. But he’s a great player, has a great future ahead of him.”
Winston completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 4,042 yards and had 28 touchdowns (22 pass, six rush) and 15 interceptions last season. He played all 16 games and led Tampa Bay to a 6-6 start.
“What else could you do as a rookie quarterback?” Smith asked. “One of the better leaders I’ve been around – and that’s from just being with him one season. So the sky’s the limit for him. The Bucs are in great hands with Jameis leading them.”
Illinois, which has gone 17-32 over the last four years, is hoping to say the same about Smith.