A new hope for the faithful
I’m tired of writing doom & gloom. I really am, before the season I wrote an article entitled "Canary in Coal Mine" about how Mark Dominik’s failure to draft offensive linemen could throw the Bucs season away if injuries to the starters crippled our ability to play offense. Then week 2 I’d seen enough of Schiano; I called that one "How to lead like a Mule", Schiano has consistently shuffled his personnel, played his own QB, moved his OC upstairs, and even brought back Tiquan Underwood (again).
What he hasn’t changed is what should be painfully obvious to anyone who's not a mule: he hasn’t changed up his leadership style. His current method has utterly failed to maximize his organizations talents – nothing more need be said and any good leader should make that change. I’d also always been a Freeman fence-sitter painfully aware of his flaws and hopeful for his talent. I’m tired of writing doom and gloom; not that the 2013 edition of the Bucs has given me much opportunity to write otherwise, so I offer this blueprint of how to fix the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Three years from a Super Bowl
I know right now that seems the largest of pipe dreams but it is true. This team is going to be one of the most talented teams ever in position to draft a true franchise QB. The wait for Schiano to be fired ticks upward faster than the US debt clock and the hope for competent coaching could soon be realized. As for Mark Dominik, he’s done a good job managing a roster from season to season but not in strategically building a championship contender and his failure to address Schiano’s obvious flaws means that just like a certain talented but inconsistent QB he once drafted – it’s time for him to go. For those who believe Dom has done a great job of cap management, check out part two of this article on the Bucs' cap situation in 3 seasons. So here are some simple options towards turning around our favorite set of marauding pirates and the first step in the Three-Year Championship Plan:
Best GM Choices:
1. Dennis Hickey - Currently director of Player Personnel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hickey was previously the Director of College Scouting. Hickey has been with Tampa Bay for 18 years now and would bring a host of experience and knowledge to the team. He’s assisted with drafts going back to 2007 and by all accounts was one of the key people pushing to pickup LeGarette Blount on waivers. Before anyone scoffs at the idea of promoting from within, consider Rich McKay was a longtime assistant internally before being promoted and the teams he was around in the 1980s were down-right wretched.
2. Eric DeCosta – Currently Assistant General Manager of the Baltimore Ravens. No one is really sure what it might take to get DeCosta to lead the Ravens and some teams can’t even get him to come in for an interview. He’s apparently the highest paid assistant GM in the league, making more than some actual GMs. He’s been with the Ravens for 17 years and actually is in line to be Ozzie Newsome’s successor. It would take a great opportunity and a colossal package to lure him but he’s been on almost every team’s short list for the past 6 seasons. His draft resume as director of scouting for Baltimore reads like a whose who of Pro-Bowlers Terrell Suggs, Haloti Nagta, Ben Grubbs, LeRon Mclain, Marshall Yanda, Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson, Jason Brown, and of course Joe Flacco.
3. Ruston Webster – Executive VP & General Manager of the Tennessee Titans. Ruston actually worked in Tampa’s front office during the Tony Dungy years but was broomed as part of the move that brought in Bruce Allen as our General Manager. He then ended up in Seattle where he ended up as Interim General Manager in 2009. He’s currently got the top spot in Tennessee which he’s held the past two seasons. His draft record is fairly meh but it's in very limited quantity at this point and I think some of that was being saddled with a really poor Seattle scouting department at the time.
4. Brian Gaine – Assistant General Manager of the Miami Dolphins. Gaine is known for being a very strategic thinker in terms of conducting the draft and evaluation process. Gaine spent time in Dallas’s front office before he was brought over to the Dolphins by his mentor Bill Parcells. Gaine interviewed, but did not get the NY Jets GM job this past off-season and is widely known for his ideas of drafting N+2 -- drafting for what you will need in two seasons as opposed to this season. The theory being that rookies tend to take time to develop so look at your roster advance your contracts and age out two seasons and add value to those positions rather than your most glaring holes.
Best Coaching Staffs
While firing the average to above average GM is necessitated by the record, terminating the contract of the worst coach in professional football is of paramount importance. Schiano must go given the talent on the roster and its incredibly inept performance. Bottom line, he has a top 10 roster, and bottom three result. While I would be tempted to "perp walk" Schiano’s firing by making him clean out his office in front of cameras, in order to build a culture capable of going from top five pick to Super Bowl in three seasons Schiano’s firing must be handled with class. Tampa can search for a replacement who can do the following things:
- · Restore the trust of the players; build a culture of execution and exceptionalism.
- · Innovate on offense.
- · Be introspective. Schiano given enough time his methods will prevail; his failure to change his leadership approach and recognize his own shortcomings are what need to change.
- · Understand the modern NFL and that halftime adjustments are critical.
- · Make his system fit the players.
- · Change the mindset from "draft good player" to "draft and develop good player".
(I’ve shortened this for length a bit by putting the coaching staff together rather than head coach and defensive coordinator; please keep in mind the NFL does not approve of lateral moves, such as a current offensive coordinator taking a position as offensive coordinator on the same team, so really you are looking for an assistant who’s ready to move up – unless your talking about individual candidates).
1. HC: Ken Whisenhunt OC: Frank Reich DC: Rocky Seto
I’ve never really understood Wisenhunt’s firing in Arizona, I have no idea how teams expect you to win with John Skelton or Ryan Lindley as your quarterbacks. Trying to score points in the NFL with a substandard QB is like trying to kayak upstream in Niagara Falls. Wisenhunt was a good head coach who did not have control over personnel, he fought his front office to play Kurt Warner as opposed to 1st round draft pick Matt Leinhart. He took the once moribund Cardinals to the Super Bowl and nearly won it.
Frank Reich is currently the QB coach in San Diego after spending several years as WR’s coach in several organizations and a long time backup to Jim Kelly in Buffalo. He’s well traveled and versed in several offensive philosophies and would be the type of guy who could adjust his offense around the talents of his players. Rocky Seto is a very young but underrated defensive mind in the NFL. He’s currently the assistant defensive coordinator in Seattle and in charge of preparing the secondary to defense the passing game. He was a USC assistant prior to that and is fond of press man coverage and A gap blitzing with the MLB.
2. HC: Lovie Smith OC: Mike Bloomgren DC: Rod Marinelli
Some familiar names here indeed. Lovie Smith was of course a long time Bucs assistant under Tony Dungy, Rams defensive coordinator, and winning head coach of the Chicago Bears. One had better hope Lovie doesn’t take the USC job. As for concerns about his Tampa 2 style not playing well with our current personnel, I tend to disagree because he’s not been playing strict Tampa 2 for a considerable length of time. His last few years in Chicago Lovie was using more man and more single high safety particularly as Brian Urlacher got slower and could no longer cover the middle of the field.
Lovie became enamored with the Stanford Cardinal offense and it probably fits his mindset. It consists of power formations and deep vertical routes. He’d need to find two tight ends but Bloomgren who is the current OC at Stanford would be a good fit, though several other former Stanford coordinators would also fit the bill. Marinelli is currently the assistant DC in Dallas and was Tampa’s line coach a number of years. He was also Smith's DC in Chicago last season and should be an easy choice.
3. HC: Aaron Kromer OC: Joe Lombardi DC: Dave Wannstedt
Aaron Kromer is currently the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears before being in the offensive line coach for the New Orleans Saints. Kromer is perhaps best known for going a paltry 2-4 as Saints interim coach which I think is an unfair judgment against him. The Saints were dealing with Bounty Gate and several player defections. Kromer did a good job preparing his team that they didn’t prevail in his short tenure is hardly his fault and he’s learned from some of the best in the business.
Joe Lombardi is currently the Saints Offensive Quarterback coach since 2009, Lombardi has actually worked both sides of the ball and would bring a depth of knowledge to the offensive coordinator position. Dave Wannstedt is currently our special teams coach but is an old hand and players coach, while he’s failed repeatedly as a head coach people often forget some of the good defenses he’s put together (Dave has actually spent more time as a HC than DC): 1986-1988 Miami Hurricanes, 1989-1992 Dallas Cowboys, 1999 Miami Dolphins, 2012 Buffalo Bills. His defensive style would match Tampa’s personnel and I believe he suffers from the Peter Principle: he does such a good job as a DC he’s been promoted to HC too often. He lacks that skill but as a defensive coordinator he might just fit the bill.
4. HC: Greg Roman OC: Eric Studesville DC: Leslie Frazier
Roman is the current Offensive Coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and has drawn praise for his development of Colin Kaepernick and ability to tailor an offense towards his strengths. If he gets a head coaching job Roman will complete an epic 180 on his coaching career. Roman was once broomed as an offensive assistant when Brian Billick was fired as head coach of the Ravens and he ended up as the head coach of a high school team. A year later he was snapped up by Stanford University where he helped develop Andrew Luck between 2009 and 2010. Roman left with Harbaugh to become the 49ers offensive coordinator and designed systems to help Colin Kapernick and Alex Smith achieve the maximum of their ability.
Eric Studesville has never been a quarterbacks coach but has been a long time running backs coach and his list of developed players include Tiki Barber, Willis McGhee, Fred Jackson, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman. Perhaps his time to move up has come. Leslie Frazier is "sort of" a cheat here but seems likely to take the fall for GM Rick Spielman in Minnesota. Frazier was a renowned defensive coordinator and advocate of a modified Tampa two style Frazier maybe best suited as a defensive coordinator and could tailor his scheme to match our defensive talent.
Current Bucs Assistants who should be retained: Bob Bostad as offensive line coach instantly comes to mind. Even though Mark Dominik hasn’t drafted a single offensive lineman whose currently on the roster in his five year tenure Borstad has assisted the development of Demar Dotson and done a very good job of fielding units even in the face of injury. Bryan Cox should be retained. Somehow he and Robb Smith the linebackers coach have been able to get two linebackers (David and Foster) who were not known for blitzing to make consistent movement into the backfield. Special teams assistant Phil Galiano is also a possibility for retention.
Summary of Packages: All of these candidates are innovators with a history of success at one level or another. All would fit in well to Tampa and the blend of skills would bring added diversity and could take advantage of not only the talents on the roster, but those who might be added later. As you’ve noticed from the above list I’ve stuck with 43 defense bases, not that Tampa couldn’t change but our defensive personnel package is built around a 43. In order to change we would need a multi-season adjustment in personnel, you’d be saying goodbye to Lavonte David who is vastly undersized as a 34 OLB, moving Gerald McCoy to DE which would blunt his pass rush ability, waving most of the defensive end depth and be short 3 impact linebackers. Far beyond that, our offense, which has scored fewer points than the Jaguars, is where we need to change streams. For that reason I feel fairly safe assuming that the "best fit" for the defense going forward would be as a 43 package and that our offense needs huge upgrade.
This concludes Part One where we fix the "top half" of the organization in a blue print that will take Tampa from this moribund weekly embarrassment to a SuperBowl winner in 3 seasons. Join me for part II of the series where we dig deep into how to create a Super Bowl winning roster. Why we start at the QB position and what other problems we may have as we navigate from moribund cellar dweller to Lomdardi jubilation.