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Monday, January 23, 2012
Bucs' search approaching crunch time

By Pat Yasinskas

I’ve been saying all along the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been wise to move slowly in their coaching search.

They promised an exhaustive search and they’re coming through on that. It appeared to be ending Sunday night when the Bucs reportedly were working out a contract to bring in Oregon coach Chip Kelly. But that changed Monday morning when the news broke that Kelly had decided to pull out and stay at Oregon.

The Bucs have interviewed at least eight other known candidates and only one of them, Joe Philbin who wound up with the Miami job, is off the market. It’s possible the Bucs could want to interview some more candidates that have been tied up with the postseason and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell could be one of them.

But the Bucs are approaching a point where continuing to be exhaustive can be counterproductive. The week of Senior Bowl practices starts Monday in Mobile, Ala. It’s not imperative the Bucs have their new coach there to see the college prospects. The scouting department can handle that.

However, the Bucs are getting close to running the risk of putting their new coach at a big disadvantage. For those who haven’t been to the Senior Bowl, let me describe it a bit.

Sure, it’s about the players. This is the first real step in beginning to determine where they’ll be ranked on draft boards. But the Senior Bowl is more than that. It’s also a convention for coaches and there’s as much networking going on there as there is at a job fair.

When John Fox was about to get the Carolina job back in 2002, I watched him on the sidelines during Senior Bowl practices. Coach after coach walked up to him and handed him their business card or a piece of paper with their name on it.

Later in the week, I sat with Fox and his agent in the Mobile airport, waiting for a flight to Charlotte. As we talked, Fox pulled out the stack of cards, he had received. I’m guessing the total amount of cards was somewhere around 200. A day or two later, Fox was hired and there’s no doubt he called some of the numbers on those cards as he filled out his staff.

Cards are being handed out in Mobile right now as teams with new coaches try to fill their staffs and other teams try to patch holes on existing staffs and the supply of coaches without jobs is going to dwindle very soon.

The Bucs, Raiders and Colts currently still have vacancies for head coaches. If the Bucs don’t hire a coach soon, he’s not going to have a deep pool of candidates to hire as assistants. Putting together a strong staff is one of the most important things a coach does.

Former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris hired an initial staff that included Jeff Jagodzinski as offensive coordinator and Jim Bates as defensive coordinator. Jagodzinski was fired before the end of Morris' first preseason and Bates was gone by the middle of that season. One of the knocks on Morris in league circles was he didn't have a very good group of assistant coaches.

The Bucs have pledged to learn from past mistakes. But, if they don't hire a coach soon, they may once again end up with a group of assistants that's less than stellar.