When Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden presented the award to Wharton High's Richard Wood, he wasn't sure who should be signing autographs for who
Richard "Batman" Wood played linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976 through 1984, racking up 855 career tackles, third-most in franchise history. During the latter stage of Wood's playing career, Jim Gruden worked on the coaching staff and in the personnel department for the Buccaneers. His son, Jon, become a huge fan of the team, emulating its players in backyard games with his brother.
And so it felt odd for Jon Gruden on Wednesday when he presented Wood, Head Coach at Wharton High School, with the Buccaneers' "Coach of the Week" award.
At a ceremony following the team's morning practice, on the fields at One Buccaneer Place, Coach Gruden presented Coach Wood with a framed "Coach of the Week" certificate, signed by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, General Manager Rich McKay and Coach Gruden, along with a "Coach of the Week" hat and a signed football.
The customary signing of the football was a little awkward for Gruden. As he told no one in particular, "You want me to sign a ball for him? Heck, I should be asking for his autograph."
When Coach Gruden did finally sign the ball he wrote, "Jon Gruden – Your Biggest Fan".
Wood, who spent countless hours at One Buc Place a few decades ago, felt natural back in his old haunt, even finding a few remaining friends.
"I've kept in touch with a lot of the guys and I always see the coaches around," said Coach Wood. "It brings back a lot of memories, a lot of great memories. The best part is being around the players and the coaches and everyone around here that I know."
While keeping the memories of his former team alive, Coach Wood has also been helping to develop the next crop of Buccaneers at Wharton High School. Coach Wood has led his Wildcats program to a 7-1 record this year and seen his team outscore its opponents by a 280-48 margin. The Wildcats are tied for 10th in the Florida Sports Writers Association football poll of Class 5A schools and thus the former Buccaneer was a perfect choice for this week's award.
"It's a great honor," said Wood. "For somebody to even think about me is great, but it's a team effort. I have great coaches and a great support staff. My players put in the hard work and for me to be here and accept it for all of them is just an honor.
"I think I bring the element of toughness. The kids can tell because I don't change, I'm the same way every day and I expect the same type of work from them that I expect from myself."
In 1979, Wood, who was known as a tough player, as well, helped the Bucs reach the NFC Championship Game in just their fourth season, largely on the strength of the league's top-rated defense. Coach Wood noted some parallels between that squad and the current group of Buccaneers, who also lead the NFL in defense.
"I see some similarities between this team and our (1979) team," said Coach Wood. "I see great unity, the guys are close and you can see that. It's just going to take a little time. This is the first year that Jon is here and the team is doing great right now. A team wins with the elimination of mistakes and people that can't stand losing. I know these guys don't want to lose and they are just going to continue to work hard."
In addition to the certificate, hat, ball, and chance to reminisce with some old friends, Coach Wood will also receive a $1,000 donation to his Wildcat football program.
If you know a coach that you feel is deserving of being the Buccaneers "Coach of the Week" please click here and submit his or her name, school, county and reason he or she should be selected.
Several factors are taken into account when selecting the Buccaneers Coach of the Week recipient, including the coach's impact on his team, school and community. The program is designed to recognize high school coaches who transform, through their hard work and dedication to young people, the best available athletes into high-potential football players.
All schools in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota are eligible regardless of size, league or division.