Assistant Head Coach Herman Edwards, rumored to be in consideration for several NFL coaching vacancies, could add to the unusual amount of coaching staff maneuvers for the Buccaneers
Tony Dungy hasn't had to work the phones like this since January of 1996. Hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sixth head coach on the 22nd of that month, Dungy immediately began putting together his staff, and had a full complement of assistants within a few weeks.
Between that winter and the beginning of the 2000 season, there were only two departures from the group Dungy put together in those few weeks. Offensive Assistant Coach Ricky Porter left to take a similar position with the Denver Broncos after the 1996 season, and Ricky Thomas was brought in to fill the vacancy (he was later promoted to tight ends coach). After the 1999 campaign, the Buccaneers chose not to renew Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula's contract, and Les Steckel came aboard to take his place.
Now, however, the Bucs' coaching staff has been thrust into a transition period that Dungy hasn't had to deal with in awhile. Linebackers Coach Lovie Smith left his post to become the defensive coordinator in St. Louis. Steckel was dismissed. Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach Herman Edwards appears to be a strong candidate for several head coaching positions around the league and has reportedly been connected with openings in New York and Detroit. Also, the offensive assistant position once again must be filled after Wendell Avery was relieved of his duties in early November.
As you would suspect, Dungy isn't thrilled by the need for even a small overhaul, but neither is he surprised nor overly concerned.
"You knew it was coming, especially on defense," said Dungy. "We've been fortunate enough to have the same group for five years, and they've been very good during that time. Eventually, other teams were going to start coming after them.
"We value continuity, but this is something that you have to deal with. You want you guys to have opportunities to advance."
Like every head coach in the league, Dungy has a network of contacts in the profession and can round up candidates for an assistant position fairly quickly.
"You have in mind guys that you would like to get if you ever have an opening," he said. "But the thing is, you don't know who's going to be available when it happens. We'll have to look at who's available, but I try to be open-minded about it. Sometimes, you find some guys that you didn't know, and it can end up being better for everyone."
In a way, the Bucs' current situation is not unlike the free agent departures that often affect an NFL team's playoff roster when it has hit a level of sustained success. Stars are born on such teams, salary demands escalate and rising players sometimes have to leave to find a team that can fit them under its cap. Likewise, the Bucs' success has shed good light on the work of such coaches as Smith and Edwards, allowing their careers to advance beyond Tampa Bay.
Most observers agree that the turning point in the Buccaneers' 21-3 Wild Card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was DE Hugh Douglas' second-quarter sack of QB Shaun King. Douglas blindsided King, popping the ball loose and giving Philly possession at the Buccaneers' 15 after Mike Mamula's recovery.
Perhaps the real turning point, however, came four snaps later. On third-and-goal from the Bucs' five, QB Donovan McNabb took a snap, dropped back briefly, then sprinted up the middle for the touchdown. Had McNabb been stopped shy of the end zone, the Eagles likely would have settled for a game-tying field goal.
It does, of course, seem quite likely that a team will net a touchdown when it gains possession on its opponent's 15-yard line. However, that was certainly no sure thing against the Buccaneers during the 2000 regular season.
One overlooked but truly remarkable statistic concerning the Tampa Bay defense is how consistently it was able to turn aside the advantage of a short field. On 31 occasions during the Bucs' 16 regular-season games, the opposing offense began a possession in Tampa Bay territory. Astoundingly, only six of those possessions resulted in touchdowns.
Further, only 10 more netted even a field goal for the Bucs' opponents. That means on almost exactly half of the possessions that started out in or almost in 'scoring territory', the Tampa Bay defense sent the opposition away empty-handed.
There were three occasions during the regular season in which the Bucs' foes began a possession inside the Tampa Bay red zone, as Philadelphia did in the playoffs. Not one of those three possessions resulted in a touchdown; two ended in field goals and one in no points whatsoever.
Buccaneer fans will be reliving for years their team's 38-35 Monday night win over St. Louis on December 18, one of the most thrilling contests in franchise history.
Here's one way to do so.
Two of the most outstanding performers in that game were wired for sound by NFL Films. Buccaneer All-Pro outside linebacker Derrick Brooks wore a microphone as he roamed the field that evening, racking up eight tackles and a pass defensed. One of his main targets, St. Louis All-Pro RB Marshall Faulk, was also miked up; between the two of them, the tumultuous ups and downs of that game are clearly evident.
Fans may hear what Brooks and Faulk had to say during the heat of battle by visiting the NFL Films web site and clicking on the upper lefthand link bearing pictures from the Monday night game.