Lovie Smith spent the past year watching lots of football, analyzing himself and preparing for his next job in the NFL.
"How many times in life do you get a chance to take a break and really evaluate everything that you've done and who you are as a man in every situation. That's what I was able to do," Smith said Monday after being formally introduced as the new coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, charged with the task of transforming a struggling team into a championship contender.
"From fending off wild monkeys in Costa Rica with my wife ... to just analyzing every situation that came up," in his first NFL head coaching stint with the Chicago Bears, he added. "I'm a football fan, and I think every time I saw something related to football it helped me, and I just put myself in those situations to make me a better football coach now."
Smith won 10 games in 2012 — his last season in Chicago — but was fired after missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
The Bucs haven't made the playoffs since 2007 and haven't won a postseason game since a Super Bowl run in 2002 produced the franchise's only NFL title.
The Glazer family that owns the team expects the drought to end with the hiring of Smith, a one-time Bucs assistant who coached the Bears from 2004 to 2012, winning 81 games and three division championships over nine seasons. Chicago appeared in two NFC title games and one Super Bowl under him.
And, he's confident he has what it takes to lead the Bucs back among the league's elite.
"When you get fired on 10-6, that's not saying that you don't know what you're doing. When you get fired, and your last three years are 12 wins and an NFC championship game, eight wins after you lose your quarterback when you're 7-3 and then 10-6, that's not saying let me change everything because you got this whole thing (wrong). So, we're just going to tweak, and then go from there."
Smith replaces Greg Schiano, fired last week after compiling an 11-21 record over the past two years, including a 4-12 finish that included an 0-8 start this season.
"We focused on finding a strong leader with a proven and established track record. We searched for a man who not only would command respect among his players, but stand tall as a symbol for our team," Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said during a news conference at the team's training facility.
"It was easy. Not because we knew Lovie from his previous time here, but because he fit our criteria perfectly," Glazer added. "It was obvious he was the right man at the right time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Smith served as Tampa Bay's linebackers coach under Tony Dungy from 1996 to 2000, then spent four seasons as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams before landing his first job as a head coach in Chicago.
The 55-year-old led the Bears to the Super Bowl during the 2006 season, losing to the Dungy-led Indianapolis Colts.
He said will forever be grateful to Dungy for giving him his first job in the NFL and allowing him to be part of a staff that laid the foundation for what would become a dominant Super Bowl-winning defense.
"There was a certain brand of football you expected from us every week," Smith said. "We have gotten away from that a little bit, but it's time for us to become relevant again."
And, he believes many of the pieces are already in place in Tampa Bay, including All-Pros Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.
The Bucs ranked 17th in the NFL in total defense this season, but were dead last in passing and total offense with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon making 13 starts.
Smith said he expects to have a balanced offense based on a power running game built around running back Doug Martin. He's impressed with what he's seen of Glennon and envisions a productive rushing attack creating opportunities to throw the ball downfield to receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
"I really like the foundation that's here in place for us to make a quick climb," Smith said.
One of the coach's first orders of business after agreeing to a five-year contract was hiring former California coach Jeff Tedford as offensive coordinator. Leslie Frazier, fired last week after three-plus seasons as coach of the Minnesota Vikings, is Tampa Bay's new defensive coordinator.
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