Greg Olson (center, facing out) inherited a promising situation when he became the Bucs' offensive coordinator shortly before the regular season
It was Thursday, September 3, just 10 days before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were to kick off the 2009 season against the Dallas Cowboys.
The morning sun shined through the window of Greg Olson's office at One Buccaneer Place. Just days before, Byron Leftwich had been named the team's starting quarterback and his competitor for that job, Luke McCown, had trade talks swirling around him. There was also the matter of Josh Freeman, the Bucs' prized rookie; even though he wouldn't be the starter, the Bucs wanted a plan in place for his development during the season. Olson, the Buccaneers' quarterbacks coach, had work to do.
As he began sifting through paperwork, Olson heard a knock at the door. Buccaneers' General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris quietly walked into the office and sat down.
"They told me their plan, which they were going to execute later that morning," Olson said.
Morris and Dominik explained that they were going to relieve Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski of his duties. And they wanted Olson to assume control of the offense.
"I was shocked, more so than anything else," said Olson. "It's hard to get really excited to know that someone that you have been working with for six months is about to lose his job. It's difficult. It's a very hard business. You obviously felt for the guy."
Now, Olson had more than paperwork in front of him. He had a game plan to construct. The Buccaneers had the Houston Texans coming in town the following day for the preseason finale, than the Cowboys following nine days later.
But this wasn't the first time Olson was put in charge of an NFL offense at short notice. He started the 2004 season as the quarterbacks coach of the Detroit Lions. The team was struggling under Head Coach Steve Mariucci, with just five wins before Week 15. That week, the Lions fired Mariucci, as well as the offensive line coach and the tight ends coach. The offensive coordinator was demoted to tight ends coach and the playcalling duties were placed on Olson's shoulders for the final three games. Olson lost 30 pounds because of the stress.
"It was a much more difficult situation [than the Buccaneers]," Olson said. "The head coach had been fired so the team was in disarray. We probably lost about 240 man hours in a week. We lost a lot of help. It became really two others and myself."
The following year, Olson was named offensive coordinator. He left Detroit in 2006 and landed the offensive coordinator job under new Head Coach Scott Linehan with the St. Louis Rams. He spent two years in St. Louis before joining the Buccaneers in 2008. In 2006, he directed a Rams attack that finished sixth in the NFL and had just the fourth-ever combination of a 4,000-yard passer (Marc Bulger), a 1,500-yard rusher (Steven Jackson) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce).
Olson inherited another deep group of weapons when he took over the Buccaneers' offense, especially in the backfield with running backs Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham. And, though it came as a surprise, the transition to coordinator this time around was less stressful than the end of the 2004 season in Detroit.
"This is a much easier situation," he said. "Raheem is still the head coach. There is direction here. The season hadn't started yet so we hadn't won or lost any games. We were on a losing streak there in Detroit when it happened. I felt at that time players had already started to lose hope. When they start to lose hope, that makes it a really difficult situation. I believe the players here have a great attitude right now. There is a lot of hope in the building for a really successful season. As long as you can hang on and get the players to believe in what you are selling them and believe in what you are doing then eventually it will pay off for you. Then you have a chance of accomplishing things."
Two days after he was named coordinator, Olson and the Buccaneers traded McCown to the Jaguars for an undisclosed draft pick. The lineup was set and Olson began installing more plays into the offense, with the home opener just eight days away.
The Buccaneers fell to the Cowboys that Sunday, 34-21, but showed considerable promise on offense. The offense tallied 450 total yards and recorded 26 first downs. With 174 yards on the ground and 276 through the air, the Bucs surpassed 150 rushing yards and 250 passing yards in the same game for just the seventh time in team history. Both Williams and Ward had at least 62 yards and a touchdown, and 10 different players caught a pass. It was a good and varied start, but Olson's efforts to add more options to the offense will continue each week.
"You look at how you can attack the defense and I didn't feel like we had enough bullets in our gun," he said. "We need more bullets; we need different ways to attack. You need additional plays. That's what we're doing right now.
Of course, the Buccaneers fell two touchdowns shy of winning, and they did encounter some problems finishing drives in the red zone. Olson's goal isn't to break any yardage records, so he knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
"We have to score more points," said Olson. "I will always preach that to our players. Our job on every series is to go out there and score points. It doesn't matter what's happening on the other side of the ball. Our detail needs to be better and our execution needs to be better. I'm never happy with losing, I will never come away saying, â€˜I was pleased with how we lost.' With the overall mechanics of the new staff in place, it probably went as smooth as can be as far as that part goes. The players were in tune, the offensive coaching staff was in tune, we just have to execute a little bit better."
Olson and the offense face another daunting task this week: the Buffalo Bills. The Buccaneers will travel to Buffalo for the first time in franchise history. Buffalo is coming off a close Monday night loss to the Patriots in which its defense played quite well for the first three quarters. Olson has spent the week devising a new game plan.
"I still believe that we have to establish the run," he said. "We will do whatever we have to do to score. You have to be adaptable in the National Football League. A lot of it will depend upon on how the game is going. Certainly, I'm going to run the football. I'm going to rely on the running game and our strong offensive line. I'm going to force Buffalo to add players to the box and hopefully open up the passing game that way. If they decide their plan is to completely stop the run, we will do something else but I always like to establish the run."