Lovie Smith had no delusions of grandeur when he arrived in Tampa Bay almost 12 months ago.
The first-year head coach knew what he was inheriting. The Buccaneers were 4-12 in 2013. They hadn't finished with a winning record since 2010. Things were bleak.
He just didn't expect them to be as bad as they've been.
Tampa Bay enters Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers with a 2-12 record. The Bucs are 10.5-point home underdogs against the Packers, and that may not be enough. They've lost games by 42 and 31 points this season.
"You go into every job the same way," Smith said. "You're expecting to win, and win right away. So I knew what our record was when I came here, but believe me, we didn't expect to have two wins at this time. Our expectations were a lot higher than that.
"We've had to deal with it, and not just me. Most of the guys we have here, we're not used to being in this situation, but life takes you there sometimes. For us, we won't be here long, but right now we'll deal with it and try to make the most of it."
Smith, especially, finds himself in an unfamiliar position.
Even after the Chicago Bears fired him as head coach in 2012, he'd led the team to a 10-6 record. Chicago only missed the playoffs that season when the Minnesota Vikings won a tiebreaker on account of a better division record.
In nine seasons with the Bears, Smith finished 81-63 in the regular season. He had only three losing seasons. After going 5-11 his first season, Chicago never won fewer than seven games under Smith.
Smith led the Bears to three NFC North titles and one conference championship. He's used to playoff races in December, not early preparations for the NFL Draft.
"I took over a team in Chicago with more wins, but it's still about changing the culture, getting your way of doing things established," Smith said. "You'd like to get that done in one year, but normally it doesn't work that way. So that's where we are right now. We really like the foundation. I like the foundation we've laid. When you're building a house, that house doesn't look as well when you just have a foundation in place. That's where we are.
"We see light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, we're going to win a lot of football games and we're just hoping that we can get a few at the end of the season going into 2015."
Smith would like to get things turned around this week when Green Bay – his old nemesis – visits Tampa Bay. It would be a shocking upset, but also a signature moment for a young team hoping to lay that foundation.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he isn't taking the Bucs lightly. He said he'll study old film of Smith in Chicago this week, along with Bucs games from this season.
There's plenty of familiarity for Smith, too. On Wednesday, he joked about playing Green Bay "100 or 200" times. He's never faced Green Bay with a 2-12 record, though.
"You always, of course, rely on your history, and we do have a history," Smith said. "Talking offensively, the Packers have a system and they're not going to change it. We have a system offensively too, so we're not going to change what we do. I think both of us know each other fairly well. Even though I'm with a different team now, scheme we'll be doing some similar things."
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