Nobody stays on message like Lovie Smith

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Lovie Smith could have been a politician. He fields questions from the media like a creature of Washington, DC.

In other words, he doesn’t say much, but when he does, “everything is fine,” no matter the circumstances. The Buccaneers’ head coach has mastered the art of message discipline.

If his teams are underperforming, expect Smith to say some things “need fixing,” but the long-range plan is still on course. If his quarterback is underperforming, the QB needs to work on things, “but (fill in the blank) is our quarterback.” Until he’s not.

He is a gentleman and a man of faith, which reveals his parents hit the mark when they named him. In case you were wondering, Lovie is indeed his real name.

A soft-spoken man, Smith’s career has produced some solid, noisy defenses. He is credited with helping develop the vaunted, but outdated, “Tampa 2” defense during his days as the Bucs Linebackers Coach under Tony Dungy from 1996-2000.

After a stint as the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator, Smith came into the spotlight as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. Chicago fans well remember Smith’s disciplined daily message of good-natured optimism. When things were tough, “everything’s fine” was Smith’s message.

With a championship defense, the Bears were a legitimate contender for a Super Bowl title in 2006. Former Florida Gator Rex Grossman was Chicago’s quarterback and had a few days where the defense had to be good.

In one classic Monday night game at Arizona, Grossman had six turnovers. Smith’s Bears became the first NFL team to erase a 20-point deficit without scoring an offensive touchdown. The defense and special teams had three.

Cardinals’ Coach Dennis Green had the all-time post-game meltdown with his “The Bears were who we thought they were” rant. He did not mean it as a compliment.

As Grossman continued to struggle with turnovers throughout the season, Smith was asked about Grossman’s status every week and after nearly every practice. “Rex is our quarterback” was the consistent answer.

Lovie’s tendency to embrace the status quo frustrates many, but he’s sometimes right. After Grossman, Smith was happy to stay with Kyle Orton as the Bears quarterback and leader of a playoff-caliber team. Bears’ General Manager Jerry Angelo was not.

Angelo gave up a ton to get Jay Cutler from Denver, just one of the things leading to Angelo’s demise. Angelo’s replacement, Phil Emery, fired Smith following a 10-6 season in 2012.

If Cutler helped get Smith fired from Chicago, Smith’s longevity in Tampa Bay will be proportional to the level of success of Jameis Winston, the official first-string quarterback.

The Bucs and the fans rightfully expect significant improvement on last year’s 2-14 record. Maybe not a winning season, but tripling last year’s win total with a rookie quarterback would make a lot of people happy.

Winston displayed an accurate arm at Florida State, but did throw some perplexing interceptions last season. Now he’s throwing against bigger and faster defensive secondaries.

Jameis is also not the most elusive scrambler. With bigger and faster linemen and linebackers, he is going to get sacked (unless he uncorks some ill-advised throws).

With all of that being said, Winston will do some great things for this team. He will also frustrate fans and coaches from time to time.

It will be at this point where Smith will say “Jameis is our quarterback” over and over again.

He stayed on message defending the former Gator Grossman nearly a decade ago. Expect the same for the former Seminole Winston.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.