Jim Bates built a highly-ranked defense in Miami that could echo in Tampa given the team's emerging defensive personnel
For the last dozen years – and even in the franchise's brief era of success three decades ago – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were known for their aggressive, stifling, high-energy defense. That's a trademark the team is eager to keep.
And that is exactly why the Buccaneers named Jim Bates their new defensive coordinator on Thursday.
Bates has a track record – and, perhaps more importantly, a coaching make-up – that suggests he can guide the Bucs to similarly lofty heights. That's why he was specifically targeted by the Bucs' new management and why the team is thrilled to have him as a new anchor on the coaching staff.
Among Bates' most recent stops in the NFL are coordinator stints at Green Bay and Miami that showed his ability to rapidly build a successful defense. With the Packers in 2005, Bates took a defense that had ranked 25th in the NFL in 2004 and remodeled it into the league's seventh-best crew.
As the defensive coordinator in Miami from 2000-04, Bates constructed a unit that ranked in the top 10 in each of his five seasons at the helm. Bates departed Miami after leading the Dolphins' defense to successive rankings of sixth, fifth, third, 10th and eighth; after he left, Miami's defense fell to 18th in 2005.
Described as energetic, affable and intensely smart, Bates has been an NFL defensive coordinator in Atlanta (1994), Miami and Green Bay. He has also coached all three levels of the defensive – line, linebackers and secondary – directly and has been an assistant head coach (Dallas in 1998-99 and Denver in 2007) and an interim head coach (Miami, 2004). Before beginning his NFL career in Cleveland in 1991, Bates worked for 15 years on the collegiate level (1968; 1972-83; 1989-90) and even coached in the USFL during all three seasons of its existence (1984-86).
Bates has a history of connecting well with his charges – a "player's coach," in common parlance – and that should fit in well on Morris' staff. That is also a major strength of Morris and an aspect of leadership the team is working hard to emphasize.
Perhaps Bates' most noteworthy stop was in Miami at the beginning of this decade. The Dolphins peaked at third in the NFL's defensive rankings in 2002, the same year Tampa Bay's defense finished first and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title. The Dolphins made the playoffs during Bates' first two seasons in Miami and had a winning record in each season except 2004.
Under his tutelage, eight Miami defenders earned a total of 19 Pro Bowl berths, highlighted by repeat Honolulu visits for linebacker Zach Thomas, defensive end Jason Taylor and cornerback Patrick Surtain. Taylor became a star under Bates' watch, going to his first Pro Bowl in 2000 (and again in both 2002 and 2004) and racking up 64 total sacks over that five-year span to rank second in the NFL. Others who flourished under Bates included safety Brock Marion, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye and cornerback Sam Madison.
The Buccaneers believe Bates will be stepping into a situation ripe for the same sort of player development. There is the potential for Gaines Adams to be Bates' new Taylor; Barrett Ruud to provide everything Zach Thomas did; Tanard Jackson to be another version of Marion and Aqib Talib to develop as did Surtain. The combination of the Bucs young and emerging talent on defense and Bates' proven guidance will, the team believes, not only keep the defense in the NFL's upper echelon but even raise it back to its most effective levels of the 1999-2002 era.
Bates operates a 4-3 base defense and has much in common with those great Buccaneer defenses of the near past. The Dolphins were known for their attacking, swarming style on defense under Bates, and they were one of the best units in the league in terms of creating turnovers. During his time as defensive coordinator, the Dolphins averaged 42.4 sacks and 32.0 turnovers per season. For the sake of comparison, Tampa Bay's defense has averaged 33.6 sacks and 28.4 takeaways over the past five years. The NFL average last season was 32.4 sacks and 24.8 takeaways per team.
Bates' track record of success does not begin or end in Miami, however. As the defensive line coach with Cleveland in 1992-93 (his second and third years in the NFL), Bates helped the Browns pass-rushers rack up 96 sacks, the third-highest total in the league in that span. In his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, Bates led a struggling Falcons team to a tie for eighth in the league in takeaways (33). In four seasons on the Cowboys' staff – two each in charge of the linebackers and the defensive line – Bates helped build one of the league's best rushing defenses, one that allowed just 95.7 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry in 1998-99.
After Bates left Miami in 2004 – but not before he was chosen as the Dolphins' interim head coach after the dismissal of Dave Wannstedt – he immediately stepped into the coordinator's post in Green Bay. The results were just as immediate. In 2005 the Packers finished seventh in overall defense and first in pass defense, allowing a per-game passing yardage total of 167.5 that was the team's lowest in 27 years.
A head coaching change in Green Bay kept Bates' stay with the Packers to one year, but he returned to the league in 2007 as the Denver Broncos' Assistant Head Coach/Defense. The Broncos also promoted Bob Slowik to defensive coordinator that year and Bates did not have full control over a unit that finished 29th in the NFL. He chose to leave the Broncos after the season.
Bates is the father of Jeremy Bates, USC's new quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach for offense and a former Buccaneers' staffer himself. Bates severed as a quality control coach on Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl-winning staff and was later promoted to assistant quarterbacks coach.
The elder Bates began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Tennessee, in 1968. He later had stops at Southern Mississippi, Villanova, Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas Tech. After working for three seasons in the USFL with the San Antonio Gunslingers (for whom he was the head coach in 1985) and the Arizona Outlaws, Bates returned to the collegiate level at Tennessee in 1989 and then Florida in 1990.
After making the leap to the NFL in 1991 as the Browns' linebackers coach, he took over Cleveland's line for the following two seasons. Bates then went on to coach for Atlanta (defensive coordinator, 1994), Cleveland (secondary, 1995), Dallas (linebackers, 1996-97; assistant head coach/defensive line, 1998-99), Miami (defensive coordinator, 2000-03; defensive coordinator/interim head coach, 2004), Green Bay (defensive coordinator, 2005) and Denver (assistant head coach/defense, 2007).