On Tuesday morning, as was first reported on Buccaneers.com, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers terminated the employment of Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel, who had held that position for one year. It was a difficult decision for Head Coach Tony Dungy, and one that hit the Tampa Bay public without much warning.
At noon on Tuesday, Dungy addressed an assemblage of media to discuss Steckel's termination, the thought process leading up to the decision and how the team would go about filling the vacancy. In the process, Dungy discussed where the potential candidates would come from, whether he expects the offense to be more 'wide open' in 2001, if the team is panicking about its Super Bowl hopes and whether Steckel is being positioned as a scapegoat for the team's failure to reach its professed goals in 2000.
Dungy's answers to those questions and much more follow.
Dungy's opening thoughts:
"We're announcing that we're making a change on offense. It's a tough decision, but looking at where we want to go in the future…that's basically what the decision was based on. Les Steckel did an outstanding job here. We got a lot of things done, moved the ball and scored, and that's what you want to do on offense.
"Les is a very good coach. He's a very good friend of mine, so this is difficult to do. I just thought that the fit of where we were trying to go, the direction we wanted to go in and what we wanted to do just wasn't quite there. I thought we could make it a little bit better by making a change, and that's what we're going to do.
"We don't have anyone in mind right now. We are going to consider everyone. We're going to consider staying with what we're doing and filling it from within. We're also going to look at people from the outside, so I don't have any definite timetable or definite idea of who's going to do it. But we hope to get the right man and proceed on from here."
In what direction do you want the offense to go?
"We want to continue along the lines of where we were going. We want to use Mike and Warrick, we want to use our receivers, we want to open up the offense and we want to do it in a way that I'm comfortable with. But we want to build on what we started this year. Les has to take a lot of credit for getting us started in that direction."
Did the manner of Keyshawn Johnson's use figure in the decision?
"No. It wasn't a specific thing about any one particular game, it wasn't the playoff game, it wasn't how this guy got the ball or what happened with Mike and Warrick. It's really just a fit with what I wanted to do. So, no, I would not be critical of Les in that regard."
Was this decision made by management?
"No, this was my decision all the way."
Does the possibility of teaching the players a third offensive in three years give you pause?
"Yes, that is something that I'm thinking about and trying to decide the best way to go. I really do not want to go to a third system in three years. It's something that we may do or we may not. We're going to talk through it with the rest of the staff and think through that. That would be one negative of going outside (the organization)."
Could a member of the current offensive staff be promoted to the coordinator position?
"That would be the other option, yes."
Did any of the current players approach you about changing the offense?
"No, and it's not something where we consulted any of the players. I'm not sure what their feelings are on it. This is strictly a decision that I thought about during the week off after the season was over. I just came to the conclusion that this is what we should do."
What was Les Steckel's reaction to the decision?
"Well, he's very disappointed in not being able to finish the job that he started. He did a good job and it's difficult. Any time that it doesn't go the way you want it, it's disappointing, and I'm sure he's disappointed."
Was it fair to dismiss Steckel after only one year of attempting to implement his system?
"I don't know the answer to that question, whether it's fair or not. And, obviously, we were going to be better next year than the year before. Again, this is not a results-oriented decision. I said all year that we got some things done on offense. We moved the ball, we scored, which is what offense is all about. We scored more than we have at any time in the history of the franchise. I know the offense is going to be better. It's hard to explain, but it wasn't a decision based on (the thought) that we wouldn't score more and we wouldn't get more efficient in this offense next year."
Was there one aspect of the team's performance that led to this decision?
"It's something that is never going to be able to be explained. It's not something that you're able to say in one word or two words. It's just the way it fit, and it's basically my decision. But it wasn't any one incident, one game, one situation. It's just the way I feel we need to go to get better in the future."
Does the rapid turnover in the position over the last few years make this job any less appealing to potential takers?
"Yes, that is a tough thing. That's not something you want and, as most of you know, that is the biggest proponent of continuity. I don't like to change. I've kind of violated my rule two years in a row. Hopefully, we'll get through that and we'll get the right person in the job."
Will the new offensive coordinator be allowed to 'open up' the offense?
"We're going to look at how we attack. We hope to do what we can do efficiently. There's maybe a misconception that I don't want to throw the ball, I don't want to be 'open'. We want to throw the ball, we want to throw it well. We think we have some people that we can throw the ball well with. We want to run it and that's one of the, not 'problems', but unique situations that we have. We have two guys that really need to get the ball and that can do something with the ball, so all of those things are what we've got to factor in. But, yes, I'm looking at how I can be more helpful to this offense, and what we can do as well."
What is your directive for an offensive coordinator?
"Move the ball and score touchdowns. And hopefully don't fumble and don't throw interceptions. That's really the guidelines and what I'm concerned about. That's basically it. It sounds simplistic and I'm not trying to be funny, but I don't have a set agenda of what we can and can't do. I think we've got some good playmakers and we've got some good offensive linemen. We've got to be efficient and use them."
Can you be comfortable on a team with a 'wide open' offense?
"I was with Denny Green (in Minnesota) and we threw the ball a lot. We had Warren Moon and we threw the ball well. We were very efficient doing it and I was very comfortable with that. I don't think there's any one particular way that you have to move the ball. You have to be sound fundamentally and you have to do some things right, just like defensively you don't have to blitz, you don't have to play a 4-3, you don't have to play a 3-4. You have to do what you do well. So, yes, to say that we shouldn't be wide open…we want to be good and we want to be efficient."
Does this decision indicate some panic in the team's desire to get to the Super Bowl?
"I don't think it's panic, no, but there is a sense of urgency. It's a sense that we have a direction that we want to go, that I want to go, and hopefully we're going to get closer to that and get there. As I say, I'm not one that's a proponent of change, but you have to do what you think is best for the team and best to get where you want to go."
Did players' comments at the end of the season have any bearing on the decision?
"No, not at all. Not at all. When you don't win as much as you want, everybody is critical. So the fact that we had some players say things, that you guys (the media) said things, that fans say things doesn't enter into it at all."
What is your timetable on filling the position?
"I don't really have a timetable. Obviously, the faster you get things in place, the faster you can move. I have not spoken to anyone about the job itself yet. We're going to move at a pace as quick as we can, but when that's going to be, I don't know."
Did the postseason experience in Philadelphia prompt you to think about this move?
"No, I try not to make rash, emotional decisions. I try to think through it. I think the worst thing you can do is react right after a loss, especially a playoff loss, because it's very disappointing. It's something that I just began to think about over the week that we had off, and I came to the conclusion yesterday that that's what I wanted to do."
Do you have much input in the offensive coordinator's weekly planning or do you remain mostly hands-off?
"I'm probably more of a hands-off guy, but I'm in the meetings and I'm there all the time."
Will Tampa Bay Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen get a shot at the position?
"He will be one of the people considered, yes."
Is Les being made a scapegoat for the team's failure to reach the Super Bowl?
"I think that's totally wrong. Les and I talked about that, and that's the way it's going to be perceived. There's probably nothing we can do about it. But this is not a move to point to a scapegoat; it's not a fault-finding thing. Again, Les did a good job. It sounds funny, me saying that, but he did. It's just that the direction that I felt we needed to go and that I wanted to go, personally, was a little different."
Will candidates for the position be told that they need to work with the players currently on the roster?
"That's what we're going to have to look at. We've got some pieces in place, and as I talk to people that will be a question that will be on my mind. How does this person see us using the pieces we have? How do you see yourself using Shaun King, Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, Dave Moore, on and on. This is the puzzle that we have, how are we going to put that together?"
Will the team listen to candidates who want to change the quarterback, or other positions?
"That's not something that we're interested in, right now, someone to come in with a system but it needs this piece and this piece and this part. We've got a playoff team and we want to make it better."