"I'm just excited to be here. This is like Christmas for me."
Those were Coach Buckner's first words as he met the Tampa Bay media at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday with a huge grin on his face. His ease and demeanor at the podium were immediately evident and he dove right in to his excitement about joining the Buccaneers.
"Really playing in this league and actually having a chance to play against the Tampa Bay Bucs – I'm talking about when they were at their heyday – and just seeing the excitement in this town, the fanbase, the tradition of being a great defensive team, which I sort of marveled at playing against them," Buckner said. "Then having the opportunity to come here and reset that foundation with some great young players, some stalwarts like Gerald McCoy [and] three of the most athletic linebackers you're going to find in the NFL. Having the chance to coach the guys that protect them – I had to jump at the chance."
When asked where to begin in making the Bucs' defensive line successful this season, Buckner didn't skip a beat.
"You start with Gerald McCoy, which is a great place to start," he said with another smile. "There are 31 other coaches who would love to have that type of piece in there."
Buckner laid out a lot of his philosophies in his first press conference as a Buccaneer, feeding inquiring minds left and right. Before getting into coaching, Buckner played in the NFL for 12 years after being drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1994 out of Clemson. It's an experience he is grateful for now that he is on the other side coaching.
"Use yourself as the good and the bad example, and the guys will respect that," Buckner said. "It will make you humanize yourself to them more easily. Thank God for that experience."
As he spoke, you could pick out little tidbits and talking points that surely come up in meeting rooms and on the sidelines when he is coaching his players. He spoke a lot about the mental component and offered insight into how he believes the mental aspect of the game affects the physical side.
"[…] you have so much time in the classroom, you want to constantly train that brain," Bucker said, revealing a little rhyme. "It is the strongest muscle in your body. You want to get things to become second nature, so you just repeat whether it's going to the board, talking technique, showing it, so when they see it physically, they just react to it."
Buckner is well-known and well-respected across the league – and not just by defensive linemen. He takes a very team-first approach to how he views the defensive line and their responsibilities and because of it has earned the respect of various defensive players from the staffs he has been a part of.
"I will stand up in front of the defense and tell the defensive line there in front of the secondary, 'Don't look crazy if they [the offense] complete a pass, you're closer to the ball then they [the secondary] are when the quarterback has the ball in his hand. Go make [the secondary's] job easier.'
"Our motto there in the D-line room was to make everyone else's job better. If it's rushing the passer, let's make those defensive backs' lives better. They have to run all over the field, you shouldn't want those to be tired after the game. Those guys respected that. I never pointed the finger and I never let our guys point the finger and say, 'Oh we need better coverage.' No, we need to get there faster. If Drew Brees is getting rid of the ball in 2.1 [seconds], we need to get there in 1.9. We need to put it on ourselves to wear that hat and I think those secondary guys respect that I was genuine. I wasn't doing it to kiss up to them. I was doing it to say that, 'If you're going to be the big guys, the big dogs out there, you need to wear the red hat every down, every snap no matter what phase of the game it is.'"
His charisma and enthusiasm permeate the room. It is evidence of the passion and joy he gets from coaching, by his own accord.
"Guys can change their whole history, their family timeline through this game," Buckner said. "You have a great, big platform through this game that you played for free as a kid in the park, but now you have this platform where you can touch people and you can change your whole life and your families' life and that's what I get out of coaching.
"I use the word coach lightly. I'm a teacher, a teacher of life. That means that I'm not just teaching life to my guys or my room. That's anyone I come in contact with."
Despite not being from the area, Buckner seemed to be in tune with what the fans love and appreciate about the Bucs. He preached about physical play and returning Tampa Bay's defensive line to that of the early 2000's teams. He hit the nail on the head with what he views his mission as.
"People are going to like what they like and this city longs for that type of defense because they saw what Sapp and them did by putting that trophy in there," he said. "We have to try to duplicate that."
With that, he launched into what he expects from his defensive line going into the 2018 season here in Tampa Bay:
"I'm a guy that believes in if you're a player in that defensive line room and you have that Buccaneer symbol on your helmet, there's something you bring to the table and you have to bring it every Sunday. It might not be as great as the next guy but as long as you bring 100 percent of what you've got, we can be successful […] We don't want other teams to say, 'When are the Bucs going to give us a day?' We want to them to know that when the Bucs step on the field, it's going to be a battle."
"We might not win them all, but your training room is going to look like we did."
And with that, he was met with greetings and handshakes from reporters when he stepped down from the podium. As he left the room, his passion for the game and infectious demeanor lingered, all signs pointing to the excitement and possibilities 2018 will bring for the Bucs' defensive line and its new coach.