PRIORITY ONE: SETTLE THE COACHING STAFF — QUICKLY.
WHAT I SAID THEN?
This looked like it was going to be a tall order just a few days ago. On Monday, head coach Jon Gruden gave his assistants about five minutes of his time and told them if they wanted to remain in Tampa Bay they should make an appointment with general manager Bruce Allen.
There is potential for two dozen members of the coaching staff to depart as free agents if their contracts are not extended. The Bucs are usually reticent to allow assistants to leave before their contracts expire. But the sheer number of assistants not under contract is disconcerting, especially after the jobs some of them did this year.
There is movement already. Offensive coordinator and line coach Bill Muir, wide receivers coach Richard Mann and special teams coach Richard Bisaccia have already re-upped. Offensive line assistant Aaron Kromer sounds as if he's not far behind. Running backs coach Art Valero has already accepted a job with the St. Louis Rams.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has an offer from the Bucs, but as USC head coach Pete Carroll continues talks with the Atlanta Falcons, Kiffin's name is coming up as a potential defensive coordinator for the Falcons. Stay tuned.
All of this could lead to a couple of issues. First, there's Gruden's contract, which is only good through the 2008 season. That could scare off some potential assistant coaches that won't want to be a part of a mass firing if Gruden isn't asked back beyond 2008.
The other is the offseason draft prep. The assistant coaches, supposedly, have a lot of input into the evaluation process and too many new assistants could signal a shift in the Bucs' draft paradigm. That could means the scouts will have more say in which players make the Bucs' final draft board and the scouting directors will get less input from the coaches, who supposedly know what type of players the team needs.
Without a coach like Kiffin, for example, how are the guys in the war room supposed to know who to evaluate? If it's Kiffin, you stick with looking for players that fit the Cover 2 scheme. But if Kiffin were to leave, a new coordinator might change the types of players his defense needs, creating a new set of parameters for scouts who have evaluated players using one set of parameters for months.
The Buccaneers need to get their staff settled and fast. The Senior Bowl is less than two weeks away and the Scouting Combine is in late February. There are issues that can only be settled with a full staff.
Unless you trust Gruden to make all the decisions?
WHAT I SAY NOW?
After my story in January, the Buccaneers moved swiftly to re-sign Kiffin and fill their open positions.
Keeping Kiffin was, undoubtedly, important. Players come and go, but Kiffin's magic in guiding the defense is undeniable, and the job he did last year was one of his best. He guided a unit that had plenty of question marks entering training camp to a No. 2 NFL ranking. Kudos to the Bucs for recognizing that and getting a deal done by the Senior Bowl.
So which coaches left? Well, along with Valero (who earned pariah status at the Senior Bowl after his comments about Gruden), the Bucs lost secondary assistant Jimmy Lake, who is now the defensive backs coach in Detroit. They also lost Kromer, who signed on with New Orleans. Quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett also left.
But for a staff that had plenty of coaches looking for new deals, there was little turnover. The Bucs chose not to fill Lake's position and tapped a former Bucs lineman, George Yarno, to fill Kromer's role, which was as an assistant to Muir.
There were two big moves. First, the Bucs signed Greg Olson, who was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis for two years and broke into the NFL in 2001 as Jeff Garcia's quarterbacks coach in San Francisco. Olson has a delicate task. First, he must keep Garcia playing at a high level. Second, he must prepare Brian Griese to take over the position in 2009, as it appears that's where the Bucs are headed. Third, he must mentor and prepare Josh Johnson, their fifth-round pick, to be the starter in two or three years. Fourth, he must do all of this with Gruden, most likely, in his ear. Not an easy gig.
Second, the Bucs had Bisaccia, their long-time special teams coach, take over Valero's job as running backs coach. It should be noted that Bisaccia handled the same double-duty while an assistant at both Mississippi and Clemson. He'll also have help. Tim Berbenich was elevated from offensive quality control coach to Bisaccia's assistant at running backs and Dwayne Stukes was moved from coaches assistant to special teams quality control coach.
Among Bisaccia's college pupils was New Orleans back Deuce McAllister. It will be interesting, though, to see how Bisaccia handles his new duties. Will special teams suffer? Will the running game get better? Can he keep molding Earnest Graham into a top-tier back, as Valero was doing a year ago? Plus, Bisaccia should be a weekly staple for interviews with the media because of his new duties, as Valero was last year. Can he handle the extra attention?
Overall, the Buccaneers did a fine job of maintaining continuity and adding staff that should contribute quickly. And they did it all by the Super Bowl.
Why was signing running back Earnest Graham to a contract extension so important for the Buccaneers, now and in the future? Just click here to find out.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald.