Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
1. Have you noticed all of the speculation about the Bucs' coaching search? Sorry Buccaneer Magazine and BucMag.com haven't contributed too much to the guessing game - because that's all that it is at this point. You can check out the local Tampa papers for the candidate de jour, but if this coaching search goes on too long they'll have mentioned every assistant coach in the NFL and college head coach.
General manager Rich McKay, who is master of the smoke screen, and the Glazer family are the only ones really in the know, and since we haven't spoken directly to them since their press conferences a couple of weeks ago, we're all in this guessing game together. Instead of guessing who Tony Dungy's replacement will be, let's just wait a couple of days or a week and find out when McKay and the Glazers want us to.
Instead of telling you who will be the next head coach of the Buccaneers, I'll tell you who I don't want to see as Tampa Bay's new leader - Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. CNNSI.com reported on Saturday that Lewis was the front-runner and was expected to be named the coach this week. Yawn!
Marvin Lewis? Let's see, low-key defensive-minded coach, African-American coach in his early forties with no prior head coaching experience. And why did the Bucs fire Dungy?
The main problem with the Bucs is on offense and Lewis wasn't exposed to an explosive offense in Baltimore - even with an offensive genius like Brian Billick as head coach - because of their personnel. In fact, Lewis won a Super Bowl with almost zero offense with the Trent Dilfer-led Ravens - a team which relied on a once-in-a-lifetime defense. That's even more scary.
The Bucs have staved off overtures from the Indianapolis Colts and others to keep Monte Kiffin and the defensive staff in Tampa Bay. If Lewis comes and Kiffin and Co. are staying in Tampa too, exactly what will Lewis bring to the table, especially if the Bucs keep Kiffin's defense?
What if Lewis plans to implement his own defense which features two mammoth defensive tackles and a stud middle linebacker, which are three key players the Bucs just don't have on their roster. Neither Jamie Duncan nor Nate Webster are Pro Bowl caliber middle 'backers and former first-round picks Anthony McFarland and Warren Sapp are too small to play a two-gap scheme. Expect a long re-building process.
The Bucs need to get an offensive-minded head coach - not a Dungy-clone like Lewis or even former Bucs linebackers coach Lovie Smith, who is the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator. Lewis would do nothing to inspire the masses nor the Bucs' offensive players.
2. If I was involved in the Bucs' coaching search, I would do everything I could to get Jon Gruden out of Oakland. Everybody has a price, even Al Davis.
The first thing I would do would be to offer Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp to the Raiders and possibly a second-round pick in this year's draft, and possibly next year's too. Sapp, who is coming off a disappointing six-sack season, will be 30 this year and one has to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank. Sapp's special gift is his quickness, but how special will No. 99 be when he loses his quickness?
We keep hearing more and more reports about how the Bucs' locker room is in disarray because of Sapp's presence. Ask any former Buc, or even a current Buc off the record and they'll tell you that's true. Dungy was recently quoted as saying that he actually didn't know much about his locker room in Tampa Bay, which is another story altogether.
When is McKay going to wise up and realize that the deficient chemistry on this team is neutralizing the team's superior talent? The loud-mouth Sapp, who comes across as a jerk to most, appears to be the root of the problem. After seeing how a team full of no-names like the New England Patriots got to the Super Bowl and won it due to complete togetherness and a team-oriented philosophy, the Bucs would be wise to follow suit and cut out the cancer.
The Raiders defense isn't top notch and is now in disarray due to the one-year suspension of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darrell Russell. Sapp would be a perfect fit in Oakland for a variety of reasons, and coupled with a draft pick or two, would be adequate compensation for Gruden, who is an offensive whiz and a proven motivator.
Anthony McFarland, a future Pro Bowler, could be moved from nose tackle to under tackle to replace Sapp and the Bucs could easily find another nose tackle to fill in for Booger. I don't think Sapp would be missed as much as some would think.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that the best first-round draft pick he ever spent was on Super Bowl-winning head coach Bill Belichick. Kraft had to send a No. 1 pick to the New York Jets as compensation for Belichick a couple of years ago. Could you imagine McKay saying that in a year or two about Gruden after winning the NFC title?
Sapp for Gruden makes sense, Rich, offer it to Davis and pull the trigger.
3. There are some reports that have suggested that McKay wants Lewis, but the Glazers want McKay to exhaust all possibilities on the Gruden front. If that's true, I'll explain what those reports mean. McKay, like all general managers, has an ego, although his doesn't appear to be as flamboyant or as public as other personnel men around the league.
Let's face it, general managers are only praised by the media for their successes on draft day, in free agency and when they hire head coaches. They don't get lauded for signing contracts for charter planes or hotel accommodations or the catering companies for training camp. McKay was credited for "discovering" Dungy and taking a chance on an unproven African-American defensive guru. The gamble paid off as the Bucs ended their futility and made the playoffs four out of Dungy's six years.
If McKay were to bring in an established coach like Norv Turner or Gruden and the Bucs were to get to the Super Bowl, either man would get the accolades for taking the Bucs to the next level - not necessarily McKay. But "discovering" an unproven head coach like Pittsburgh's Mike Mularkey, New England's Charlie Weis or even Lewis, would give McKay a lot more credit in the long run.
Besides, McKay, who was almost forced out by Bill Parcells a few weeks ago, wants to retain as much power as he can when it comes to personnel decisions, and coaches like Lewis or Mularky would be puppets, where a coach like Gruden could be troublesome in the future if he wanted more power within the Bucs' organization. Believe it or not, McKay, not Al Davis, could be the one blocking a possible trade for Gruden.
Is McKay all about the glory? No, but his ego may be a tad bigger than you think. To prove this point, let's look at the Bucs' recent No. 1 draft picks. McKay has his faults and one of them is his penchant to be married to his draft picks. The Bucs hung on to first-round busts like Charles McRae and Eric Curry way too long, even though those weren't necessarily McKay's picks.
But McKay has hung on to some of his own first-round draft picks like receiver Reidel Anthony way too long, and a quick glance back at his No. 1 picks since 1996 is really enlightening. In '96, the Bucs drafted defensive linemen Regan Upshaw and Marcus Jones. Upshaw was traded away three years later and Jones had a couple of good years sandwiched between being placed on the expansion draft list for Cleveland (1999) and Houston (2001).
In 1997, McKay drafted diminutive running back Warrick Dunn, partly due to his character and the way he interviewed with the team before the draft. The team bypassed drafting future Hall of Fame running back Corey Dillon due to his supposed questionable character, even though Dillon had superior physical talents.
Dunn has had some moderate success in Tampa Bay, but just isn't a feature back in the NFL. Spending a first-round draft pick on a player who has turned out to be a third-down back isn't too wise in hindsight. Drafting a Florida receiver like Anthony who is not physical, shies away from contact and won't fight for the ball wasn't a wise move in hindsight, either.
In 1998, the Bucs traded down out of the first round and into the second round where the team took a slightly more talented Florida receiver in Jacquez Green, who like Anthony, isn't physical and doesn't fight for the ball. Cornerback Brian Kelly, who was the Bucs' other second-round pick in '98, isn't the playmaker Tampa Bay envisioned. Kelly has one interception in the last 34 games, including two playoff games.
McKay's draft in 1999 was pretty stellar, starting with nose tackle Anthony McFarland in the first round. Quarterback Shaun King and field goal kicker Martin Gramatica were wise picks in the second- and third-round picks, and nabbing free safety Dexter Jackson in the fourth round was a good move, too. The year 2000 brought the trade for Keyshawn Johnson with two first-round picks, and in 2001, left tackle Kenyatta Walker showed enough good stuff in his rookie season that makes you think he won't be a bust.
But the amazing thing about McKay's top draft picks from 1996-98 is that only one of his six picks from those years - Jones - could remain with the team when the 2002 season starts. Dunn, Anthony, Green and Kelly are all free agents and none appears to be a lock to return. Perhaps all of the "A" grades we in the media have dished out for McKay's drafts were a bit too high in hindsight.
McKay seems unwilling to part with a first-round draft pick for Gruden, but given how the Bucs' first-round picks have panned out over the years, maybe they should make a trade for a proven head coach. The trade for a proven wide receiver like Keyshawn Johnson worked out extremely well, and that was for two No. 1 picks.
4. I talked earlier about wide receivers Anthony and Green and how neither player lived up to their billing as a top pick by the Buccaneers. I remember in the spring of 2000 when the Bucs brought in some free agent quarterbacks and wide receivers for a joint workout. Danny Wuerffel and Alex Van Pelt were among the passers and David Patten and Willie Jackson were among the receivers. No one from that workout was signed by the Bucs.
Yep. That was the same David Patten who caught a touchdown pass in Super Bowl and now has a championship ring. The same Patton who was Troy Brown's No. 2 receiver in New England.
Jackson didn't turn out to be a bad receiver, either. He's a complimentary receiver to New Orleans Pro Bowler Joe Horn, and either he or Patton would have been a much better receiver in Tampa Bay than either Anthony or Green. The Bucs have made an awful lot of good personnel moves over the recent years, but they blew it when it came to not signing either one of these receivers and being too married to Anthony and Green.
5. Although the Bucs need a complimentary wide receiver, possibly a starting guard and a more talented tight end in the upcoming draft, those needs could be superceded by the need of a true feature back in the draft if Dunn isn't re-signed. There is a growing contingency within the Bucs organization that Dunn should only be re-signed as a third-down back and not a feature back, but the Bucs' brass wants to get the input of their new head coach before cementing their opinions.
That third-down back stipulation won't come to fruition as Dunn has indicated that he does not want to share carries with Mike Alstott and wants to be a feature back. Dunn just doesn't seem too excited about the prospects of returning to the Buccaneers. Dunn expects a big contract, even though he has not produced a 100-yard rushing game in the Bucs' last 19 contests and had his 2001 season marred with injury.
If Dunn doesn't return, the Bucs' running back status is down to Alstott and Aaron Stecker. Alstott has his positives, but like Dunn, is not a complete feature back. Stecker is nothing more than a backup tailback.
There are some intriguing tailback prospects in this year's NFL Draft, including possible first-rounders like William Green (Boston College), T.J. Duckett (Michigan State) and DeShaun Foster (UCLA) and second-round backs like Clinton Portis (Miami) and Adrian Peterson (Georgia Southern). But in doing some of my prep work and film study for the NFL Draft, two backs who seem destined for the middle rounds and have grown on me are Verron Haynes (Georgia) and Chester Taylor (Toledo).
Haynes is just under 5-foot-10 and weighs 218 pounds. He's not a blazer in the 40-yard dash (4.65), but plays faster than he runs on a track surface. He's a chain-mover with his stocky, powerful frame and has a pretty high upside. Haynes was the Hula Bowl's leading rusher, rambling for 84 yards and a touchdown. Haynes could join Terrell Davis and Orlandis Gary as the latest of unheralded mid-round backs out of Georgia to go from obscurity to stardom. He averaged 163 yards per game over the last four games and rushed for 207 yards against Georgia Tech. Haynes finished the 2001 season with 823 yards, eight rushing touchdowns and a 5.4 average.
Taylor (Toledo) is a 5-foot-10, 205-pound back who always seemed to come up big in big games against big-name opponents - just ask Penn State and Marshall. With 4.65 speed, Taylor isn't a sprinter, but he does run with quickness and power. He slithers through holes and runs with a nice body lean. Taylor was the North MVP of the Hula Bowl with 61 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He had 1,620 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns and a 5.4 average as the Rockets' workhorse back last year.
I've only seen North Dakota State's Lamar Gordon play one time, and that was at the Senior Bowl, but he shows some real promise. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and dominated his small-school competition. But he didn't stand out at the Senior Bowl and what he will do at the next level remains a question mark.
With free agency offering little in the way of a decent starting tailback, the Bucs could pursue a trade on or before draft day to land a second-tier back who might be primed for a breakout season as ex-Baltimore Raven tailback Priest Holmes was in Kansas City.
Among the possibilities include Gary (Denver), Dominic Rhodes (Indianapolis), Shawn Bryson (Buffalo), Ricky Watters (Seattle), Thomas Jones (Arizona) and three from the Cincinnati Bengals where Brandon Bennett, Rudi Johnson and Curtis Keaton are log-jammed after Dillon. Bennett, Gary or Jones might be the most logical out of the bunch if the Bucs were to go this route, with my personal favorite being Bennett, who could probably be had for a third-rounder. Stay tuned.
Copyright 2002 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
This story is intended to be read only by subscribers to the Insiders Pass service of BucMag.com and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Insiders Pass content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Get more analysis, inside information and expert commentary from the Buccaneer Magazine staff by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe to Buccaneer Magazine.
Looking for the largest selection of Bucs merchandise on the internet? Check out BucsStore.com.