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“How he treats his players, and just being a player’s coach and his whole philosophy, he’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” McCoy added. “I’ve talked to a bunch of people who’ve said I’m going to love playing for this guy.”

The Bucs, going through their third coaching change in five years, haven’t made the playoffs since 2007. They haven’t won a playoff game since their 2002 Super Bowl run under Gruden.

Smith inherits a better situation than either of his two predecessors, Raheem Morris and Schiano, who took over a team that dropped its final 10 games under Morris in 2011.

Tampa Bay was 17th in the NFL in total defense this season, making significant strides following the acquisition of cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson last spring.

But the offense was a major disappointment, sinking to the bottom of the league ranking after finishing in the top 10 in 2012, when Josh Freeman became Tampa Bay’s first 4,000-yard passer.

Schiano’s grip on his job began to slip away with the messy benching and subsequent release of Freeman. In addition to not receiving any compensation for the former first-round draft pick, the Bucs suffered a public relations hit amid allegations that Schiano or someone else in the organization leaked confidential information about Freeman’s voluntary involvement in the NFL drug testing program.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was among those reaching out to congratulate Smith. He served a stint as Chicago’s defensive coordinator, while Smith was with the Bears.

He exchanged text messages with his former boss, who in turn wished the Panthers good luck in the playoffs. As members of the NFC South, their teams will face each other twice a year.

“They are a good football team and I always felt like they are a good football team,” Rivera said. “He has been to the big stage and knows what it takes. I think he makes their football team better already.”

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte contributed to this report.

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AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org