Former special teams ace Kenny Gant is back with the Buccaneers, this time as a coaching intern
Somebody must have chummed the waters in Tampa Bay, because the Shark is back.
Those who don't remember the Shark probably did not attend any Tampa Bay Buccaneer games between 1995 and 1997. If you were in the house at the same time that Kenny Gant was, chances are you will remember him, as he made it a mission to get the fans involved in every kickoff and return. Once the ball was kicked, Gant then got himself heavily involved in the play, patrolling the field on special teams like a one-man wrecking crew.
Gant, who earned his nickname thanks to the trademark Shark Dance he performed while with the Dallas Cowboys, was one of the NFL's top special teams players of the 1990s. He finished an eight-year career with 103 kick-coverage tackles and a pair of Super Bowl rings. Even though he did periodically play defense over that span (163 career tackles, seven interceptions), Gant was first and foremost a wedge-busting maniac on special teams.
That's why he's back in Tampa, to try to impart some of his special-teams prowess to the Bucs' current players. Gant's last year in the NFL was in 1997 and he has split the time since between business management and low profile regional professional football. He is eager to return to the NFL, and will attempt to start that process as a coaching intern with the Buccaneers this summer.
"I'll work through camp and the first couple of games or so and see what happens," said Gant, who will be an assistant to Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano. The Bucs have annual coaching internships through the Minority Coaching Fellowship programs, but rarely is one of the positions filled by a figure with such a familiar name. How did Gant end up in this position?
"This came up almost a year ago," he said. "I was trying to see where I was at as far as playing again, but I had kind of lost my desire to be out on the field. I played in the RFL (Regional Football League), won another championship, got another ring, but it just wasn't there for me when I walked away. So I asked about this.
"I also got interested because of Bill Bates; he's the assistant special teams coach out in Dallas (and another famous special-teamer of the '90s) and I thought that was very interesting. This gets me back into football, and I love the game, so this is kind of like the opportunity of a lifetime."
Gant is new to coaching and will be learning on the job along with the players. However, he can immediately begin working on attitude.
"That's what special teams is all about," said Gant. "You can't be soft on that. You start the game on special teams. That's why, when I played, I always said I was a starter. Someone would say, 'You're a starter?' and I'd say, 'Yeah, I am a starter because I'm on the kickoff return and kickoff team, and we start the game.'
"That's the attitude you've got to have. And have fun. You have to have an attitude and have fun at the same time. You can go a long way. As you can see, my career lasted eight years, and I can think of one game I started at defensive back (nine, actually). I stayed around a long time on special teams. You've got to have those one, two or three guys that have just got their heart full of it and will stick around for awhile. If I can pick one of them out here, it's going to help this team tremendously. Even though we have a lot of weapons, a special teams guy turn a game around real quick."
Head Coach Tony Dungy arrived in Tampa in 1996, Gant's second year with the Bucs, and saw the benefit of his services for most of two seasons. Now he thinks Gant can be an asset on the sideline as well.
"We've always had two intern coaches," said Dungy, "but we just thought with Kenny wanting to see if coaching was something he wanted to get into, it would be a great opportunity to help him and help the special teams. So he's going to be with us through training camp. Kevin Sumlin is going to work with the offense, he's from Purdue, and Brad Sherrod is going to work with the defense, he's from Duke."
All three interns were with the team for the beginning of the rookies' pre-camp on Wednesday, and Gant got most of his action early on, when the team focused on kickoff returns. He roamed ceaselessly, offering some advice but mostly soaking up Marciano's methods.
"I was feeling it out," said Gant of his first day on the field. "I got a chance to work with the 'flyers,' what I did most of the time on the punt team, where you get the double team. You know how tough that is, but there's only one way to go. You've got to win. You don't want to lose out here. That's the main advice I can give them on that one. During the week, I'll get more familiar with it, get back into what I used to do."
Gant is taking this new opportunity seriously. In fact, it even invaded his dreams the other night.
"I had a dream last week that we were in a game and we were returning a kickoff," he said. "I was actually on the field running beside the guy returning the kick, wearing khakis and a coaching shirt. I saw him break and I knew he was gone, and I was just running to give him a hug."
Gant knows, of course, that the Buccaneers have never had a kickoff return for a touchdown in 24 years of regular-season play. Being on Tampa Bay's sideline when that historic event finally occurs would be a dream come true in more than one way.