Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith are combining forces once again.
During a press conference at One Buccaneer Place Friday, in which Koetter was introduced as the Bucs 11th head coach in franchise history, Koetter announced Smith has agreed to join him as the Bucs new defensive coordinator.
It also marks the third time that Koetter and Smith have landed in the same NFL location, always as coordinators or head coaches. In the previous two stops, that pairing immediately helped produce a playoff team.
The two coaches first intersected in Jacksonville in 2007. That was the last year of Smith's very successful four-year run as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator; in 2008, he would be hired by the Atlanta Falcons as their head coach. Koetter began a five-year stint as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator in '07, and he and Smith helped the Jaguars record an 11-5 record and a Wild Card playoff win. Jacksonville ranked sixth in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense that season.
In 2012, Smith brought Koetter to Atlanta to be his offensive coordinator, and the Falcons soared to a 13-3 record before suffering a narrow loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. Like the '07 Jaguars, Atlanta was strong on both sides of the ball that season, ranking seventh in scoring offense and fifth in scoring defense. Smith and Koetter remained together for two more seasons before the Falcons dismissed that staff following the 2014 campaign.
The Buccaneers will look to Smith to improve a defense that ranked 26th in the league in points allowed in 2015 and had particular struggles slowing down opposing quarterbacks and getting off the field on third down. He does inherit a crew that has several key pieces in place on the depth chart, including four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and weakside linebacker Lavonte David. In both Jacksonville and Atlanta, Smith based his defenses around a 4-3 front, as have the Buccaneers for the past quarter-century.
Though the Falcons, plagued by injuries, fell below .500 during his last two seasons at the helm, Smith found immediate success in Atlanta and presided over the greatest run of success in the franchise's five-decade history. During Smith's first five years as head coach, Atlanta went 56-24 with five winning seasons and four playoff berths. That .700 winning percentage over that span was second only to New England's mark of .750 (60-20). Though the Falcons of that era were known for such offensive stars as Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones, Atlanta also finished in the top five in scoring defense twice in those five years and among the top 14 four times.
Smith was named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year in 2008 and he earned the same honor from The Sporting News in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
When Smith arrived in Jacksonville to start his first run as an NFL defensive coordinator, the Jaguars were coming off three straight seasons in which they won seven or fewer games. Over the next five years, the Jaguars would go a combined 45-35 and earn two playoff berths. Smith's defenses would rank in the top 10 in points allowed for four straight years (2004-07), peaking at number four in 2006. Jacksonville never fell below 12th in yards allowed during Smith's time in charge, also peaking at number two in 2006 but also finishing sixth in both 2003 and 2005.
During those five years combined (2003-07), Jacksonville's defense ranked fourth in the NFL in points per game allowed (18.2), fourth in yards per game allowed (300.1), eighth in interceptions (90) and 15th in sacks (180). Smith coached three defensive players who earned a total of six Pro Bowl berths during his tenure with the Jaguars: defensive tackle Marcus Stroud (2003, 2004, 2005), defensive tackle John Henderson (2004, 2006) and cornerback Rashean Mathis (2006).
After 17 years on the collegiate level, Smith first jumped to the NFL in 1999, as he was hired by new Baltimore Ravens' Head Coach Brian Billick, first as a defensive assistant/defensive line coach. Smith was later promoted to linebackers coach in 2002. During his time in Baltimore, Smith worked with such rising defensive stars as Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Adalius Thomas. He also won a championship ring when the Ravens defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV at the end of the 2000 campaign. That game, coincidentally, was played in Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers' home.
Smith's career as a college coach began at San Diego State in 1982, first as a graduate assistant and then as the linebackers coach from 1983-85. He later made stops at Morehead State (1986) and Tennessee Tech (1987-98). He was the Golden Eagles' defensive coordinator for his last three seasons at Tennessee Tech. Smith also played football at East Tennessee State and had a brief stint in the Canadian Football League in 1982.