Ron Middleton's special teams at Ole Miss were a big part of the Rebels' success
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have completed the construction of their 2004 coaching staff by hiring former Ole Miss assistant Ron Middleton to tutor the team's tight ends. That position opened when Art Valero, the Bucs' tight ends coach for the past two seasons, was named running backs coach. Middleton will also serve as Tampa Bay's assistant special teams coach, aiding Rich Bisaccia, with whom he previously worked at Mississippi.
Middleton, who served as an assistant with the Bucs' staff during the team's 2003 training camp as part of the NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship Program, was thrilled to return to the team on a full-time basis.
"I consider it an honor to be a part of (Head) Coach (Jon) Gruden's staff," said Middleton. "I admire him a lot. As I found during my internship this past summer, I just like his style and his intensity."
Said Gruden: "Ron will be an excellent addition to our staff after working extremely well with our team last summer at training camp. He has 10 years of experience as a tight end in this league and will serve as an excellent complement to our special teams."
At Mississippi, Middleton served as the Rebels' tight ends coach for three years, then stepped in as the running backs coach/special teams coordinator in 2002 after Bisaccia left that position to join the Buccaneers. Last year, Middleton helped kicker Jonathan Nichols capture the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's top collegiate kicker. Nichols, also an all-conference selection, connected on 24 of 28 field goal tries and all 45 of his extra point attempts en route to a school-record 117 points.
In addition, the Rebels led the SEC in kickoff return average (23.7) and punter Cody Ridgeway was a second-team All-SEC choice.
"The (Buccaneer) internship really, really helped me this past season here at Ole Miss," said Middleton. "Our special teams were really a cornerstone of the success we had here last year, and I directly relate that to my time in Tampa with Rich. I have a certain coaching style. The big question was, could my style translate to the pro game, and it felt natural. The biggest part for me was just affirming the fact for me that I could do this in the NFL.
"Everybody on that staff really made me feel at home and welcome, and tried to help me as much as they could. I really enjoyed my time there and I think it's a good fit for me to return to Tampa."
Middleton also coached tight ends, offensive tackles and special teams at Troy State from 1997-98. Before beginning his coaching career at Troy State, Middleton spent a decade playing tight end in the NFL.
His playing career began with the Atlanta Falcons, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn in 1986. After two years with the Falcons, Middleton played one season in Washington before jumping to the Cleveland Browns in 1989, then back to the Redskins in 1990. In 1989, he helped Cleveland reach the AFC Championship Game and in 1991 he was a member of the Super Bowl Champion Redskins.
Middleton finished his playing career in 1994 with the Los Angeles Rams. An outstanding blocker, he appeared in 115 NFL games and recorded 42 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He believes it was his tough and intense approach that helped him stay in the league for 10 years, and he hopes to impart that lesson on the Bucs' tight ends.
"You have to be physical," said Middleton. "Whether it's tight end, offensive line, running back, wide receiver or anything on the football field, the first thing is toughness. You've got to be a tough guy. I didn't win every battle (as a player), but one thing's for sure: I didn't give up on one play and I played through the whistle on every snap. That's the way I played and that's the way I coach, big-time effort and intensity."
At Auburn, Middleton earned multiple academic honor roll berths and was also the Tigers' offensive MVP in 1984 and 1985.
Valero's two seasons as the Bucs' tight ends coach helped produce outstanding results out of such players as Ken Dilger, Rickey Dudley, Todd Yoder, Will Heller and even Warren Sapp. Tampa Bay tight ends combined to catch 52 passes for 547 yards and five touchdowns in 2002, then another 42 pass for 408 yards and seven touchdowns in 2003.
Last season, when both Dilger and Dudley were out with injuries, Yoder and Heller, a pair of players who entered the league as undrafted free agents, combined to score three touchdowns in a 35-13 victory at Washington. In addition, Sapp, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle who hadn't played tight end since high school, caught four passes for 39 yards during the season, including touchdown receptions in wins at Atlanta and New Orleans.
Before joining the Buccaneers, Valero coached a variety of offensive positions on the collegiate level for more than two decades. He was an assistant head coach at three different stops – Idaho, Utah State and Louisville.
Middleton is the third coach added to the Bucs' staff this offseason. Previously, the team hired John Shoop to work with the quarterbacks and Kyle Shanahan to serve as an offensive quality control coach.