Pictures from Mike Smith's first season as the Buccaneers' Defensive Coordinator.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the best defense isn't a good offense, it's a new, multi-year agreement with Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. Either way, the franchise is now set to reap the rewards of a proactive approach.
Smith's multi-year agreement was officially announced by the team on Friday afternoon, ending concerns that he would leave after a single season in Tampa to take one of the NFL's open head coaching positions. Smith had interviewed for the openings in Jacksonville and San Diego (now Los Angeles); the Jaguars eventually retained interim coach Doug Marrone, and Smith chose to remove his name for consideration for the Chargers job and any additional opportunities.
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"I am excited about what we are building here in Tampa Bay and would like to thank the Glazer family, Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter for showing faith in what we are doing on the defensive side of the ball," said Smith. "I think we grew quite a bit as a defense this past season and I look forward to working with my staff and our players to continue building upon what we have started. While I did have a chance to speak with a few organizations about head coaching opportunities earlier this offseason, it became very clear to me that I am in an ideal situation here with the Buccaneers. For the next couple years, I am fully committed and focused on my role with Dirk and the organization and will not be pursuing head coaching opportunities during this time."
Koetter, who announced the hiring of Smith last January on the same day he took over as the Buccaneers' head coach, was obviously thrilled to see his long-time coaching peer remain onboard as the Buccaneers attempt to build on a promising 9-7 campaign in 2016.
The Buccaneers' final snap counts for the 2016 season, according to Football Outsiders.
"Mike Smith is quite simply one of the best coaches I have had the opportunity to work with and I am thrilled to know that he has committed to remain with us for the foreseeable future," said Koetter. "In addition to being a great teacher on the field and in the meeting rooms, Mike has consistently been able to get the most out of his players and that was never more evident than this past season. The growth and exceptional play of our defense in the second half of the season played a major factor in our success and Mike, along with the rest of the defensive staff, deserves much of that credit. I can't say enough about the job he did this past season and I am excited to have him leading our defense for years to come."
Tampa Bay's defense affected a remarkable turnaround in the second half of the 2016 campaign, Smith's first with the team, and is now set to continue its rise with its leadership still in place. The Bucs' vastly improved defense – the team finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed over the last eight weeks of the season – fueled a five-game winning streak and a playoff run that only fell short on a tiebreaker between the Buccaneers and the 9-7 Detroit Lions.
While the Buccaneers did not announce Smith's extension until Friday, the good news was reported by several sources on Thursday evening, and met with glee from players and fans alike.
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Overall, the Buccaneers finished the 2016 season ranked 15th in points allowed per game and 23rd in yards allowed per game. Tampa Bay also led the NFL with a 34.4% third-down rate allowed and forced 29 turnovers to rank third in the league. However, those numbers fail to reflect how dominant Smith's defense was down the stretch after the players had become more comfortable in his system.
Over the final eight weeks of the 2016 season, the Buccaneers' defense ranked fourth in points allowed per game (17.1), 13th in yards allowed per game (337.0), third in third-down percentage allowed (31.9), 1st in interceptions (13), tied for fifth in sacks (21), second in opponent passer rating (82.9) and first in takeaways (18).
Koetter and Smith have worked together in two other NFL stops. Koetter, who had served as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator in 2015 before becoming the team's head coach, held the coordinator position for three seasons (2012-14) in Atlanta under Smith, who was the Falcons' head coach from 2008-14. Smith's Atlanta teams made the playoffs in four of his first five seasons and posted a winning record in each of those five campaigns. That represented the longest run of sustained success in the Falcons' 50-year franchise history.
Koetter and Smith also worked together for the Jaguars in 2007, with the former coordinating the offense and the latter coordinating the defense. Smith left the next season to take over in Atlanta.
Smith's coaching career began in 1982 as a graduate assistant at San Diego State. He spent 17 years in the college ranks, much of it at Tennessee Tech, before jumping to the NFL in 1999 with the Baltimore Ravens. After four seasons in Baltimore coaching the linebackers and defensive line, Smith was named the Jaguars' defensive coordinator in 2003. After five seasons in that post and seven with the Falcons, he spent the 2015 season out of football before rejoining Koetter in Tampa.