By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on Lovie Smith to transform them into a championship contender.
The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs in six years and haven’t won a postseason game since a Super Bowl run in 2002 produced the franchise’s only NFL title.
The Glazer family that owns the team expects the drought to end with the hiring of Smith, a one-time Bucs assistant who was formally introduced Monday as the 10th head coach in club history.
Smith coached the Chicago Bears for nine seasons from 2004 to 2012, winning 81 games, three division championships, two NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl berth.
And, he’s confident he can lead the Bucs back among the league’s elite.
“It’s time for us to become a relevant team again,” Smith said.
Smith replaces Greg Schiano, fired last week after compiling an 11-21 record over the past two years, including a 4-12 finish that included an 0-8 start this season.
“We focused on finding a strong leader with a proven and established track record. We searched for a man who not only would command respect among his players, but stand tall as a symbol for our team,” Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said during a news conference at the team’s training facility.
“It was easy. Not because we knew Lovie from his previous time here, but because he fit our criteria perfectly,” Glazer added. “It was obvious he was the right man at the right time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Smith served as Tampa Bay’s linebackers coach under Tony Dungy from 1996 to 2000, then spent four seasons as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams before landing his first job as a head coach in Chicago.
The 55-year-old led the Bears to the Super Bowl during the 2006 season, losing to the Dungy-led Indianapolis Colts.
He said will forever be grateful to Dungy for giving him his first job in the NFL and allowing him to be part of a staff that laid the foundation for what would become a dominant Super Bowl-winning defense.
“There was a certain brand of football you expected from us every week,” Smith said. “We have gotten away from that a little bit, but it’s time for us to become relevant again.”
And, he believes many of the pieces are already in place in Tampa Bay, including All-Pros Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.
The Bucs ranked 17th in the NFL in total defense this season, but were dead last in passing and total offense with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon making 13 starts.
Smith said he expects to have a balanced offense based on a power running game built around running back Doug Martin. He’s impressed with what he’s seen of Glennon and envisions a productive rushing attack creating opportunities to throw the ball downfield to receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
“I really like the foundation that’s here in place for us to make a quick climb,” Smith said.
One of the coach’s first orders of business after agreeing to a five-year contract was hiring former California coach Jeff Tedford as offensive coordinator. Leslie Frazier, fired last week after three-plus seasons as coach of the Minnesota Vikings, is Tampa Bay’s new defensive coordinator.