In a shocking move to most people, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Lovie Smith in just his second season on the job. Smith was 8-24 in his stint in Tampa.
"After careful consideration, we informed Lovie that we have decided to make a change," Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement on Wednesday night. "I want to thank Lovie for his hard work and dedication to the Buccaneers during his time here."
While the Buccaneers finished 6-10 in 2015, most people felt like the team was on the upswing. Smith did lose his final four games as head coach in 2015, but because of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and the NFL's fifth-ranked offense, the team’s arrow was pointing up.
Tampa Bay hired Smith in 2014 in part to bring stability to an organization that hasn’t had any since Jon Gruden was the head coach from 2002-08. When Smith's replacement is named, he will be the fourth head coach the team has hired since 2009.
So who are the names to look at when it comes to the Bucs' head coaching job?
For the Bucs to make a surprising move just days after Black Monday, the team must have a plan in mind for its next head coach. That plan could be to promote the current offensive coordinator, Koetter.
According to NFL Media National Insider Ian Rapoport, Koetter appears to be the front-runner to land the Buccaneers job after the stunning move to fire Smith. Rapoport says Tampa will "go through the process," but the eventual target seems to be an obvious choice.
Reportedly, Koetter also has been drawing interest from the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers for their head coaching vacancies. Koetter has been a head coach at the collegiate level at Boise State and Arizona State, but never in the NFL. He has been an offensive coordinator since 2007 when the Jacksonville Jaguars hired him.
In his first season in Jacksonville, the Jaguars set franchise records for total points scored and yards gained while helping the team to an 11-5 record. Koetter's best success came from 2012-14 as the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. He helped quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense come up one game shy from reaching the Super Bowl before losing to the 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game.
It makes sense that the Bucs would name Koetter the head coach as they wouldn’t want Winston to have to learn a second offensive system in only his second season in the league.
If for some reason Koetter didn’t get hired by the Bucs, Gase could be a guy the team could look at. Gase is a hot candidate in a lot of circles and he has improved offenses during his time with the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears.
Jay Cutler enjoyed one of the best statistical seasons of his career under Gase, as he finished 16th in the league in passer rating with a career-high 92.3 rating. Cutler also had his second-highest completion percentage (64.4) and threw 21 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
During Gase's two-year run as the Broncos' offensive coordinator, the team had one of the best units in the NFL. In his first season, Peyton Manning won MVP honors after throwing for an NFL-record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. The Broncos also set the single-season mark with 606 points that season, which ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
If Tampa Bay wanted to think outside of the box, the team could decide to hire Kelly, who was just fired as the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach.
Philadelphia cut ties with Kelly reportedly after team chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie wanted to take away his hand-picked head coach’s personnel power and Kelly refused. While Kelly's personnel decisions didn't turn out so well, the head coach did enjoy success in his first two seasons in the NFL.
Kelly posted back-to-back 10-6 campaigns, with the Eagles making the playoffs in 2013. In 2015, the team recorded their second losing season at 7-9 (6-9 under Kelly) since 2005. Philadelphia was 4-4 at one point with a chance to make a run at another NFC East title before losing five of its next eight games.
Kelly is probably a long shot, but someone the Buccaneers could consider.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)