In perhaps the most surprising coaching change of the year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have opted to fire Lovie Smith after just two seasons at the helm.
Tampa Bay released a statement shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday night in which the club's Co-Chairman Joel Glazer said he wished the team were more successful over the last couple of years.
"After careful consideration, we informed Lovie that we have decided to make a change," the statement reads. "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."
The Buccaneers went 8-24 under Smith, though they showed promise this year with a 6-10 finish -- a four-game improvement over 2014. It's worth noting, though, that they lost their final four games of the season.
Despite the Bucs' poor finish, the move to dump Smith, 57, just two years into his four-year contract is surprising. Smith's replacement will be the fourth head coach in Tampa Bay since 2008, a fact that linebacker Lavonte David pointed out on Twitter.
When asked at Thursday's press conference about the reasons for the sudden firing, GM Jason Licht noted several factors and specifically referenced the team's poor record over the past two seasons.
"When you have eight wins in two years and three home wins in two years, you've been patient enough," he said.
The most notable development in Tampa Bay this season was the development of No. 1 pick Jameis Winston, who posted an 84.2 quarterback rating and led the Bucs on three game-winning drives. Winston's presence should make this an attractive opening. However, former Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik says he expects the team to find its replacement in-house and promote offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
With Lovie Smith fired I would expect Dirk Koetter to be named head coach within the week. They still will interview a few other candidates.— Mark Dominik (@MarkdominikESPN) January 7, 2016
Licht confirmed during Thursday's media session that Koetter is "a strong candidate" for the head coaching job. He noted that the team would cast a wide net during its search and didn't rule out any type of candidate, stating they simply want "the best football coach." Licht also told reporters that he would maintain control of the 53-man roster during the process of hiring a coach.
Smith has been an NFL coach for 11 seasons, including nine years in Chicago. He's posted a career record of 89-87 and led the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance in 2005. The Buccaneers haven't returned to the playoffs since 2007 and won their only championship in 2002.
On Thursday, the team also decided to part ways with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, as well as cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd, safeties coach Mikal Smith and defensive assistant coach Larry Marmie. Like Smith, all of them had just finished their second season in Tampa.
Bucs have informed DC Leslie Frazier his option will not be picked up for 2016.— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) January 7, 2016
This season, the Bucs improved in yards allowed per game, ranking 10th in the league in total defense. But they still gave up an average of 26.1 points and notably struggled in late-game situations.