The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wasted little time replacing Greg Schiano, agreeing to terms with Lovie Smith on Wednesday to become their next head coach.
The team announced the contract was for five years and it is believed to be worth at least $25 million.
"Today is an exciting day for the Buccaneer organization, and the entire Tampa Bay community, as we welcome back Lovie Smith," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer. "Lovie is an accomplished and very well respected head coach who has enjoyed success at every level of his 30-year career. We knew from the start of our search that he was the ideal man to lead this team into this new era of Buccaneer football."
Smith, the longtime Chicago Bears coach who did not work in the NFL during the 2013 season, was on the Bucs' staff as a linebackers coach from 1996-2000 under then-head coach Tony Dungy. After spending three years as the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator, Smith was hired as Chicago's head coach in 2004 and compiled an 84-66 record over nine seasons, including leading the Bears to one Super Bowl appearance. He was fired following a 10-6 season in 2012 and replaced by Marc Trestman.
The Bucs moved quickly to hire Smith with five other NFL teams still having head coaching vacancies and the Detroit Lions eager to gain an audience with their former division nemesis.
"Congratulations to the Bucs. I think they made a very good choice in hiring Lovie Smith. Now I'm excited about watching the Bucs next year!" Dungy tweeted on Wednesday night.
Smith is expected to hire former University of California-Berkeley head coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator and recently-fired former Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier as his defensive coordinator.
The Bucs hired Smith before replacing fired general manager Mark Dominik, spurring speculation that longtime friend Chris Ballard, who is currently the Kansas City Chiefs' director of player personnel, could be joining him in Tampa Bay.
"Bucs got better tonight with Lovie Smith coming back as the new H/C. Words can't describe my excitement," former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks tweeted.
Schiano and Dominik were fired on Monday. Schiano posted an 11-21 record in two seasons with Tampa Bay.
Smith was hired by general manager Jerry Angelo for his first head-coaching job with the Bears. Angelo, who came to Chicago from the Buccaneers' scouting staff, is not considered a candidate. Marc Ross, the vice president of player evaluation for the New York Giants, is thought to be in the running along with Ballard, who worked under Smith with the Bears.
CBS Sports reported Dec. 30 that Smith and former Buccaneers team president Rich McKay could make up the new brass in Tampa, but McKay denied the possibility.
Smith is a respected defensive mind who has a decent core to work with in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and defensive backs Darrelle Revis, Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson. But the offense struggled throughout 2013. Quarterback Josh Freeman was released and rookie Mike Glennon showed glimpses of potential before struggling down the stretch behind a beat-up offensive line and with a third-string running back.
Glennon will at least face competition for the starting job, be it a rookie or a veteran. Josh McCown, the Bears' backup who played well in place of injured Jay Cutler this season, is a pending free agent whom Smith coached for two years. However, McCown, 34, has also said he has not decided whether he will return to the NFL next season.
The Glazer family, which owns the franchise, cleaned house for two main reasons: recent investments in free agents and the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis did not yield immediate or expected returns; and Schiano's team failed to show significant improvement in the second half of the season following a 0-8 start.
"The results over the past two years have not lived up to our standards and we believe the time has come to find a new direction," Bryan Glazer in a statement earlier in the week.
Tampa Bay owns the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. NFLDraftScout.com Analysts Rob Rang and Dane Brugler both project the Bucs to selected Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins in their current mock drafts.
"Big congrats to Lovie Smith. Wish him the best of luck in Tampa," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs tweeted Wednesday night. "NFL is better with him in it."