New Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin says he is passionate about football
It was introductions all around on Thursday.
Jim, Joe and Mike, meet the crew at One Buccaneer Place. You'll fit right in as long as you … oh, let's see … keep sending linebackers to the Pro Bowl, keep ranking in the top 10 in pass defense every year, keep developing a precocious young quarterback into a winner.
No, the tasks set in front of new Quarterbacks Coach Jim Caldwell, Linebackers Coach Joe Barry and Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin aren't simple. On the other hand, the methods are clear. Head Coach Tony Dungy wants his assistants to be hands-on teachers, straightforward communicators and team players. He believes this trio of newcomers fits that description.
Caldwell, Barry and Tomlin were introduced at a joint press conference on Thursday afternoon. They will replace, respectively, Clyde Christensen, Lovie Smith and Herman Edwards. Christensen was promoted to offensive coordinator, Smith left to become the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator and Edwards is now head coach of the New York Jets. Those three were considered consummate teacher-coaches.
Dungy believes he has found dynamic replacements. "We think we got some excellent teachers, we got some guys that can really relate to our players and get them to play as well as they can play," said Dungy. "In going through the interview process, getting to meet them and spend time with them, I think they're the type of guys that we've had success with in the past."
Caldwell, actually, is the one of the three that fits the Bucs' previous hiring mold the least, considering his eight years as a head coach at Wake Forest. Still, while he might be considered the elder statesman of Thursday's group of three, he is clearly valued for the same ability to get his message through to the players.
"I've had 17 years of coaching on the offensive side of the ball, working with quarterbacks and receivers," said Caldwell. "One of the things that is certainly important is the ability to teach and understand and get a feel for the individual and see what they can grasp. You get an idea for what they can do, their strong suits, and try to work on that, and also try to improve their weaknesses."
Barry and Tomlin, on the other hand, are quite young, both under 30 and both in their first turn as an NFL position coach. Barry has one year with the 49ers under his belt but as a quality control coach; Tomlin has spent his first seven years on the job on the collegiate level. Both will be inheriting players that are, essentially, their contemporaries.
Caldwell's credentials are obvious, but what in the past of Barry and Tomlin convinced Dungy that they could take over for the highly successful duo of Smith and Edwards?
"Number one, I think they're exceptionally smart guys," said Dungy. "By the time we get out to mini-camp or training camp, I think they'll understand what we're doing. I think they'll get it across very well. I think they'll teach it. I think they're both very good, fundamental teachers, they're good communicators and they're going to bring some new ideas. I think they're going to help us.
"Many times, when you start over you do go back to what's very important to you, the things that you sometimes take for granted when you've had a staff together for five years. I think it will cause us to focus back on what's really important."
Barry does not expect his age to be an issue when the time comes to instruct his players.
"I really never had a problem with it so I've never had to think about it," he said. "It's going to be important for me to gain my players' trust, whether they be younger than me or older. I don't think a player necessarily looks at how old a coach is. He just looks to see if he's good and if he's going to help him get better. It's never been an issue. I've always been able to relate well to players, no matter how old they are."
Barry is confident in his ability to keep the Bucs' linebacking tradition strong because he believes he has the educational approach that Dungy desires.
"I feel like I can teach and I think that's something that's important to Coach Dungy and should be important to any coach on any staff," said Barry. "The ability to be able to teach the fundamentals of the position you coach – I think that's very important and that's something I know I can do and that have to do."
Barry, the son-in-law of Buccaneers Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli, has observed the inner workings of the Bucs' coaching staff on several occasions over the past five years. Tomlin, on the other hand, admits that he is not yet familiar with the Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin's system. He plans to take a crash-course in the defense over the coming weeks and hit the ground running when the players report for mini-camp. He is not concerned with trying to replace the highly-respected Edwards.
"I'm going to be Mike Tomlin and come to work every day and get after it," said Tomlin. "I'm going to coach with passion and study the game and that's all there is to it.
"I'm not a hard guy to figure out. I'm very motivated, highly passionate when it comes to football. I'll let my actions speak for themselves, and I'm not really concerned about that."
Like the others, Tomlin considers himself a teacher. ""I believe that all football players want to get better and I think everyone has aspects of their game that they want to work on," he said. "That's my job, to help them improve in all areas of the game.
Considering the diverse backgrounds of these three coaches, and the relatively low-profile names of Barry and Tomlin, it's clear that Dungy conducted a very thorough search in this, his first extensive overhaul of the coaching staff. While he values continuity above almost everything else, Dungy feels certain that he has chosen the men that will help the team continue to build on what Christensen, Smith and Edwards began.
"The great thing about this, from our standpoint, is that we got the people that we think our going to do the best job for us and are going to give us the best chance to win," he said. "That's what it's all about."