New Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates is a perfect fit with the team's energetic head coach, Raheem Morris
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' search for a new defensive coordinator began with Mark Dominik, Raheem Morris and supporting staff sitting down to make a list of names that intrigued them.
It ended with Jim Bates standing in front of a white board, Xs and Os flying and a conference room at One Buccaneer Place sparking with energy.
Bates wasn't a stranger when he walked into Buccaneers headquarters last week. His son, Jeremy Bates, had started with the Tampa Bay organization the same year and in the same position as did Morris, a pair of quality control coaches signing on in 2002. That led to what Dominik called a "small but nice relationship" between Morris and the elder Bates, back when the latter was defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and the former hadn't yet been revealed as a rising star in the NFL ranks.
But neither was Bates a shoo-in for the job. He had had conversations with Dominik prior to this meeting, but he had yet to step foot inside the new One Buc Place. There were other interesting names on the list and — as a reflection of the Glazer family's insistence on making well-researched, deliberate decisions — a willingness to take whatever time was needed to find the right man.
It soon became clear, however, that the "small but nice" relationship was based on a mutual passion for the game and some matching defensive philosophies. Morris, the 32-year-old first-time head coach, and Bates, the father of a 32-year-old NFL coach, found themselves to be two energetic birds of the same feather, and Dominik was excited by the sight.
"[Bates] got on the board and you just felt the energy flow off him and you got a very clear picture of what his thoughts were," said Dominik. "Raheem did a great job of talking through situation football and they hit it off. The more you listened to him, the more you got excited about him as our defensive coordinator."
Dominik knows that is important to Buccaneer rooters. Few fan bases have been more excited about their defensive leadership for a longer time than Tampa Bay fans. That started with Tony Dungy's arrival in 1996 and has continued through such top job-bound defensive coaches as Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris. And there at the helm, through all those years, was defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who may eventually be Canton-bound but more immediately has finally left the franchise for the University of Tennessee.
The Buccaneers didn't head off in search of another Kiffin, but they did want to find someone they believed could upheld the tradition of strong defense in Tampa, and maintain some its basic underpinnings.
"Monte's run a fantastic defense here over the years, obviously," said Dominik. "[Bates] has a history of top-10 defenses, [too]. He's an aggressive, attack the quarterback fundamentalist. I think you'll see a lot of disguising in his defense. He's got a good track record of creating turnovers. I think you're going to see a lot of things Buccaneer fans like to see in defense.
"If you go back and you look at what he did in Miami, and look at the production in terms of turnovers the defensive created; they were very good against the run; they were fundamentally sound. All of those things we grew accustomed to here in Tampa, Jim Bates has been doing that in other organizations and that's why we're excited to have him."
Like the Bucs, the Dolphins have a well-deserved reputation as a team that has traditionally been strong on defense. Still, in the franchise's 43-year history, there have been only two stretches in which the defense finished in the top 10 of the league's defensive rankings for a stretch of five straight years. One was from 1971-75, when there were 26 teams in the NFL and the Dolphins were in the Super Bowl three times. The other coincided exactly with the five years Bates was at the helm, 2000-04. This, too: Bates went to Green Bay in 2005 and helped the Packers finish seventh in the NFL in defense after they had been 25th the year before.
"He's been a consistent model of success as a defensive coordinator," said Dominik, noting that Bates career has also included stops as a position coach for every level of a defense. "And, really, throughout his career he's been one heck of a defensive coach who knows every position on the football field for the defensive side of the ball. That was really important, for myself and for Raheem, that we got a guy that's really well-versed in every aspect of the game."
As Morris bounced game situations off Bates in that One Buc conference room and the soon-to-be Bucs coach filled up the white board with ideas, Dominik saw more than formations and coverages and disguises. He saw a leader that he believed would connect as well with Buccaneer players as he had with Morris.
"He showed great knowledge of the game, great love of the game," said Dominik. "He's got a lot of passion in the way he coaches. We really thought the players would respond to him. Since we are accustomed to that, we felt like he was the perfect guy for the job."
Bates will keep the Buccaneers in a 4-3 base defense, as they have been since even before Kiffin's arrival. Dominik did not classify Bates as a "Cover Two" coach, but even before Kiffin's departure Tampa Bay's defenses had been mixing up their coverages quite a bit more in recent years. Bates' Miami teams did play a higher percentage of bump-and-run coverages than one has seen in Tampa over the years, but he's an expert at mixing his approaches and, just as importantly, making it difficult for the offense to decipher exactly what he's doing.
And Bates, Morris and Dominik all agree that the new coordinator's schemes can work with the players currently on hand. Tampa Bay has an intriguing defensive mix of very well-established veterans (Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, etc.) and a core of rising young contributors (Barrett Ruud, Tanard Jackson, Gaines Adams, Aqib Talib, etc.), and Bates has a plan for them all.
"Coach Bates did a great job of his pre-work," said Dominik. "I liked the way he talked about the players we currently have on this football team. We were excited about that.
"I got an eyeful and an earful of what Coach Bates is all about. He's a very sharp, very smart defensive coach. He knows all the positions. He's very well-versed in everything he's trying to coach. We're pretty excited."
Buccaneers fans should be, too.