NFC South: Malcolm Glazer

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Back in the 1990s, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held a news conference to announce a contract extension for defensive tackle Warren Sapp. The plan was for owner Malcolm Glazer to crack a joke about how Sapp would need to produce sacks to justify his salary.

There was a problem: Glazer didn't know what a sack was. So before the news conference, a member of the team's public relations department had to explain some football terminology to the owner.

The truth is Glazer never was a football junkie like Jerry Jones or Al Davis. But that doesn't mean Glazer, who died Wednesday at 85, was a bad owner. Far from it. The Bucs scored a new stadium and won their only Super Bowl while on his watch. He might have been the best thing to ever happen to Tampa Bay sports.

I know that opinion won't be popular in Tampa Bay, where Glazer was not beloved by the fan base. But Glazer was a good owner. He didn't know football, but he knew business -- and that's evident in his body of work since buying the Bucs in 1995.

For those who didn't like Glazer as an owner, I ask you to think back to what the Bucs were before he bought the team. Under former owner Hugh Culverhouse, they were a laughingstock. People made fun of their "creamsicle" uniforms and years of double-digit losses. In those days, Culverhouse collected his share of television revenue, skimped on player payroll and made millions of dollars with a losing product.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Glazer
AP PhotoMalcolm Glazer helped the Bucs go from laughingstock to champions.
Then Glazer and his sons -- who are football junkies -- came along, and things started to change. It wasn't always pretty or perfect. There was a time when it looked like Glazer would move the Bucs if they didn't get a new stadium. But after a long battle, taxpayers footed the bill for what now is Raymond James Stadium.

That bill might be why Tampa Bay fans never really warmed up to Glazer. It's understandable; Glazer wasn't the warmest of people. He sued his own sisters, and there were stories about he was sued by tenants in the mobile home parks he owned.

The layer of trust between Glazer and Tampa Bay fans might have been forever fractured when the team moved into its new stadium. The team initially said a computer program was used for seating arrangements. But after some longtime 50-yard-line season-ticket holders wound up in the end zone, a former team executive revealed that a team of interns had been responsible for assigning seats, largely following the direction of the Glazers.

Yeah, there's no doubt Glazer had some warts, but those warts don't tell his full legacy. The story wouldn't be complete unless you looked at how Glazer turned the franchise around. He got his shiny new stadium, complete with a pirate ship. He changed the team's uniforms to pewter and red. He helped bring two Super Bowls to Tampa.

More than anything, though, Glazer's success can be traced to the moment he hired Tony Dungy to coach his team.

Relying on a defense led by Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks, the Bucs were in the playoffs by Dungy's second season. Soon, they were playoff regulars -- something fans couldn't even dream about back in the Culverhouse days. At Dungy's urging, the Bucs became active in the community, and the team enjoyed unprecedented popularity.

Glazer's decision to hire Dungy was significant in other ways, too: Dungy was the first African-American coach of an NFL team in the Deep South.

"I really appreciate what he did for Tony Dungy," ESPN analyst and former Tampa Bay assistant coach Herm Edwards said. "He gave Tony Dungy his first start as a head coach. That took a lot of nerve for an owner to do that."

But Glazer was a businessman, first and foremost. He could be ruthless, and that showed clearly when he fired Dungy after the 2001 season because the coach seemed unable to reach a Super Bowl.

Glazer and his sons then made a trade with the Oakland Raiders for coach Jon Gruden. In his first season, Gruden led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl victory. That would turn out to be Glazer's high-water mark as an owner. In subsequent years, Gruden's teams were competitive, but they never again got near a Super Bowl.

In the later Gruden years, Glazer's health deteriorated, and his sons, Joel, Bryan and Ed, took over the team's day-to-day operations. The Glazer brothers eventually fired Gruden. They hired Raheem Morris and then Greg Schiano, but neither of them worked out.

In January, they hired Lovie Smith. They spent freely in free agency, and things appear to be looking up. It's no coincidence that Smith was the linebackers coach on Dungy's first staff. In a lot of ways, the Glazer brothers are attempting to recreate what their father and Dungy built back in the 1990s.

Malcolm Glazer wasn't the greatest owner in sports history. But he led his team to its only period of sustained success, and he left behind a nice blueprint for his sons to follow as they try to rebuild the franchise.

The NFC South and Forbes' list

July, 16, 2012
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The most valuable sports franchise in the world is controlled by an NFC South owner. But it’s not an American football team.

Manchester United, owned by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer and his family, is worth $2.23 billion, according to Forbes’ annual list of the most valuable teams in the world of sports. Manchester United edged out No. 2 Real Madrid, which is worth $1.88 million.

Although the Buccaneers have struggled with home attendance in recent years, they didn’t fare badly when the list got into football teams. The Bucs are worth $981 million, which ranks them second in the NFC South and No. 29 on the overall list.

With an estimated value of $1 billion, the Carolina Panthers are the most valuable team in the NFC South (not just all professional sports teams). They’re No. 23 on the overall list. The New Orleans Saints are just behind them, coming in at $965 million, No. 31 on the list.

The Atlanta Falcons are No. 39 at $814 million. That’s a little surprising because Atlanta is the NFC South’s largest market. But this team may not climb out of last place in the division until it gets the new stadium it is seeking.

Forbes: Tom Benson a top 10 owner

November, 3, 2011
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Forbes put out its annual list of the 10 best and 10 worst owners in the NFL, and I’m thinking the NFC South didn’t get a real fair shake.

The division got one owner on each list, and I’m not sure I agree with either selection.

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson came in at No. 8 on the best list. There’s no question Benson’s reputation with fans has improved in recent years. That’s largely because the Saints have been successful, the Super Bowl is coming back to New Orleans in 2013, and the Saints have committed to stay for the long haul. But there are still a lot of New Orleans fans that haven’t forgiven Benson for reportedly looking to relocate the team. Forbes cites a 13-percent increase in franchise value over five years as one of the reasons for Benson’s selection, and also points to the team’s five-year winning percentage (61 percent).

[+] EnlargeTom Benson
Brett Davis/US PresswireSaints owner Tom Benson has been through several ups and downs with the franchise.
If Benson is on the list, I think Atlanta’s Arthur Blank and Carolina’s Jerry Richardson also deserved strong consideration. Neither has ever made any noise about relocating their teams. Blank also learned from some early mistakes and has his franchise in the best shape it’s ever been in. The Falcons have had three straight winning seasons. Prior to that, they never had back-to-back winning seasons.

Richardson’s popularity with fans took a big hit as the Panthers have struggled in recent seasons. He was roasted for being “cheap’’ as he prepared his franchise for the labor lockout, and no employees lost their jobs. Richardson was extremely instrumental in eventually getting a new labor agreement. Once that was in place, he came out spending more than he ever has, and the future appears bright because the Panthers finally have a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton.

The only NFC South representative on the list of the league’s 10 worst owners is Tampa Bay’s Malcolm Glazer. First off, it should be noted that Glazer hasn’t been in good health for several years and sons Bryan, Joel and Ed handle the operations of the team. I know there’s a disconnect between Tampa Bay fans and the Glazers, but I don’t really understand it. The Glazers might not be the best owners in the league, but they’re far from the worst.

For those of you who weren’t around before the Glazers, and those without long-term memories, let me remind you of what things were like when Hugh Culverhouse owned the team. The Bucs were almost always horrible. They played in the old Tampa Stadium and always had one of the league’s lowest payrolls.

The Bucs have a low payroll these days, but Glazer did spend big for a while before former coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen showed that shuttling in high-priced free agents every year doesn’t bring consistent success. The Bucs are building through the draft these days, and the team appears to be on the upswing.

Plus, when Glazer still was heavily involved, he helped the Bucs get Raymond James Stadium, which still is one of the league’s finest facilities. He brought in coach Tony Dungy, who made the franchise consistently respectable for the first time. When Dungy couldn’t quite get over the hump, Glazer made a trade with Oakland to bring in Gruden.

The Bucs turned around and won the Super Bowl. The Glazer era has been much more prosperous than the Culverhouse days.

Tampa Bay in play for 2015 Super Bowl

October, 10, 2011
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NFL team owners will get a glimpse of Tampa Bay when they arrive for Tuesday’s league meeting – in Houston.

[+] EnlargeThe Tampa Bay Host committee is hoping to sway 2015 Super Bowl voters with billboards on the interstate.
Courtesy visittampabay.com The Tampa Bay Host committee is hoping to sway 2015 Super Bowl voters with billboards on the interstate.
They’ll see billboards shouting out Tampa Bay’s desire to host the 2015 Super Bowl. The group in charge of Tampa Bay’s presentation had two billboards installed between the highway leading from the airport to the hotel where the owners will be meeting.

Tampa Bay and Glendale, Ariz. (or the greater Phoenix area) are the two finalists for the 2015 game. But Tampa Bay may have an edge.

That’s because Tampa Bay narrowly missed out on the 2014 Super Bowl, which was awarded to the New York area and will be played in New Jersey. The league did not announce the result of that vote. But Tampa Bay officials and members of the Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers, have said they were told by other owners and league officials that Tampa Bay finished a very close second.

History has shown that’s a good omen for Tampa Bay, which has hosted four Super Bowls. Back in the late 1990s, the league was voting on the site of the 2000 Super Bowl. Atlanta edged Tampa Bay in the vote, but Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer didn’t take that news well.

The normally-quiet Glazer provided a very strong reminder to former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other owners of a promise that Tampa Bay would get a Super Bowl if a new stadium was built. Raymond James Stadium opened in 1998.

Tagliabue and the other owners quickly made an adjustment and went ahead and awarded the 2001 game to Tampa Bay.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

The most important moment in the history of the New Orleans Saints, maybe even in the history of the entire NFC South, might have come when a coach and a quarterback went for a ride and got totally lost.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton and Drew Brees
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Saints took a chance on Drew Brees when other teams hesitated.
It came on a spring day in 2006 when Sean Payton, recently hired as the coach, took free-agent Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, for a ride that seemed misdirected at the time, but turned out to be a drive to destiny. While touring the area, Payton got off Interstate 10 at the wrong exit and started driving on streets he’d never seen before.

“I finally admitted to Drew, 'I have no idea where we are right now,'’’ Payton wrote in his book, “Home Team.’’

It’s worth a laugh now. But at the time, Payton, Brees, the Saints and the entire New Orleans region really had no idea where anything was. This was a few months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Saints didn’t even know if they’d be able to stay in New Orleans for the long term.

Brees’ future was just as cloudy. He wasn’t being brought back by San Diego because he was coming off a major shoulder injury and the Chargers were handing things over to Philip Rivers. There was interest from Miami, but the Dolphins weren’t sure about Brees’ shoulder. Neither were the Saints.

But Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis decided to take a gamble. They offered Brees a big contract and a couple of days after being hopelessly lost, he accepted. The Brees signing was the big winner for the Saints in our Flash Points polls about the make-or-break moment in the history of each NFC South franchise.

Forty-six percent of more than 50,000 voters (the highest of all the NFC South precincts) chose the signing of Brees as the biggest moment in team history. Winning Super Bowl XLIV finished second at 36 percent and the hiring of Payton was third at 17 percent.

No argument here. Hiring Payton was significant, but signing Brees is the biggest reason why the Saints went on to win a Super Bowl and make themselves more a part of the New Orleans fabric than ever before.

Let’s turn to a couple of loyal readers for affirmation.

Richard in Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote: “Signing Drew Brees has to trump all. When you take into account everything that Drew has done off the field since his arrival, winning the Super Bowl may be the least important thing that he has done for the city of New Orleans.’’

Fred in New Orleans wrote: “As much as I would like to say our turning point was hiring Jim Finks or Jim Mora or maybe even Sean Payton, I think the Saints' turning point was actually made by another team -- when the Dolphins refused to make an offer to Drew Brees. If they make a hard push for him who knows what happens next?’’

PANTHERS: Jake Delhomme's arrival game

Appearing in Super Bowl XXXVIII was the winner of the popular vote as the Flash Point for the Carolina Panthers. That loss to New England drew 42 percent of the vote, and advancing all the way to the NFC Championship Game in only the second season of an expansion franchise finished second at 28 percent.

[+] EnlargeJake Delhomme
Craig Jones/Getty ImagesJake Delhomme's debut for the Panthers in September 2003 started Carolina's improbable Super Bowl run.
But I’m going with a moment that wasn’t even on the ballot as my Flash Point for the Panthers -- the insertion of Jake Delhomme at quarterback at the start of the second half of the 2003 season opener against Jacksonville. An unknown career backup with the Saints, Delhomme replaced Rodney Peete and the Panthers just kept winning all the way to the Super Bowl. I was covering the Panthers on a daily basis as a beat writer at that time and as I think back, Delhomme’s emergence in that game was one of the most magical moments I’ve seen in sports.

Let me add that a vocal group of readers made a strong case that Delhomme’s debut should have been on the ballot because that was actually the moment that sparked the whole Super Bowl run. I thought about that for a couple of minutes and decided they were right. So let’s hear from a few convincing readers.

Brian in Charlotte wrote: “Jake Delhomme’s halftime entrance into the game versus Jacksonville seems to represent the best of Panthers history. The team marched to an appearance in the Super Bowl that year and, while we may not have had back-to-back winning seasons, provided the Panthers with both stability and leadership at the quarterback position for the next few years.’’

Evan in Charlotte wrote: “Carolina rode on that momentum to eventually go to the Super Bowl. That whole season was Carolina's defining moment, but it all began at that game. Everything about the Carolina Panthers changed at that moment.’’

Brian and Evan, you’re absolutely right.

BUCCANEERS: Dungy turned the tide

In the closest contest of all our polls, readers voted Tampa Bay’s victory against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII as the defining moment in Buccaneers’ history. That got 39 percent of more than 31,000 votes. The hiring of coach Tony Dungy in 1996 finished a close second at 37 percent and the trade for Jon Gruden, the coach who actually won Tampa Bay’s lone Super Bowl, was third at 21 percent.

[+] EnlargeTony Dungy
Andy Lyons/Allsport/Getty ImagesTony Dungy laid the foundation for a Super Bowl winner in Tampa.
But I’m not going with the simple majority here. I’m going with the hiring of Dungy because I think this is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing. Much like the signing of Brees and the insertion of Delhomme led the Saints and Panthers to Super Bowls, I view the hiring of Dungy as the move that started Tampa Bay on a path to the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay is a land of transplants and history sometimes gets lost. But I happened to be a beat writer covering the Buccaneers when Dungy was hired (heck, I was part of a media stakeout outside Bern’s Steakhouse as Dungy and ownership were inside sealing the deal).

You have to understand what the Bucs were like before Dungy arrived. They were the joke of the NFL for more than a decade. Former owner Hugh Culverhouse was despised by fans, players and the people who worked for him. The Bucs had gone for more than a decade without a winning season and good coaches such as Ray Perkins and Sam Wyche came to Tampa Bay and became horrible coaches.

Dungy (supported by new owner Malcolm Glazer) quietly changed the entire culture of the Bucs. They began winning and changed uniform colors and logos. Everything changed. Raymond James Stadium was built and filled up every week. The Bucs became consistent winners.

It’s true Dungy couldn't get Tampa Bay over the final hump. He was stubborn and conservative on offense and that got him fired. But he had the Bucs built into such a great defensive team that Gruden was able to come in, tweak the offense and win the Super Bowl in his first season. None of that would have been possible without Dungy’s contributions. He made the Bucs consistently relevant for the first time in their history.

Let’s turn to a couple comments from readers.

Darryl in Springfield, N.J., wrote: “The hiring of Dungy was huge as he helped to instill a culture of winning. However, I think another important step was drafting Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in 1995 (the moves were made by Wyche and former general manager Rich McKay). Beyond their contributions on the field, Brooks was the heart of the Bucs, and Sapp brought a public swagger to a downtrodden franchise. The history of Sapp and Brooks in Tampa might be different without Dungy, but I think you could also argue that the history of Dungy might be very different without Sapp and Brooks."

Tim in Clearwater, Fla., wrote: “Sam Wyche drafted two first-ballot Hall of Fame players in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Without these players, Dungy’s tenure in Tampa Bay would likely not have been as long or as successful.’’

True, but Sapp and Brooks didn’t do much in their one season with Wyche. When Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin arrived, they put Sapp and Brooks into a defense that became dominant. In my eyes, it all started with Dungy.

FALCONS: Matt Ryan brought consistent winning

When it came time for Atlanta fans to weigh in on the Falcons' Flash Point, they went with the drafting of quarterback Michael Vick. That move won the vote at 39 percent, while the drafting of Ryan in 2008 came in second at 31 percent.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesAfter three seasons in Atlanta Matt Ryan has thrown 66 touchdowns, amassed more than 10,000 passing yards, and has an 86.9 passer rating.
I’m going to dispute that one. Yes, Vick had a big impact and led the Falcons to some success. But they could never string good seasons together and Vick’s time in Atlanta came to a terrible end when he went to prison. That coupled with the disastrous tenure of coach Bobby Petrino put the Falcons as low as any NFC South team has ever been.

That was at the end of the 2007. A few months later, the Falcons drafted Ryan. Guess what? Since that moment, the Falcons have had three straight winning seasons. Before Ryan’s arrival, the franchise never even had back-to-back winning seasons. Atlanta went 13-3 last season before a disappointing playoff loss to Green Bay.

But the Falcons are built around Ryan and he’s not going anywhere for a long time. In fact, I think the Falcons are right on the cusp of huge success. Let’s turn to a reader for perspective.

Reid in Atlanta wrote: “The true 'defining moment' for the Falcons is not on your list of choices. It was when Arthur Blank purchased the team from the Smith family, who oversaw a comedy of errors and bad personnel choices for decades. Blank may be responsible for the Petrino fiasco, but otherwise his moves have been solid, and a welcome contrast to what preceded him.’’

No argument that Blank has done some great things and made the Falcons more competitive than they ever have been. But I think the best move Blank made was drafting Ryan. That’s when things really turned for the Falcons.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

April, 3, 2011
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Let’s take a look into the NFC South mailbag.

Dan in Omaha, Neb., says the Panthers need to draft a defensive tackle with the first pick in the draft and give quarterback Jimmy Clausen a chance.

Pat Yasinskas: You really want the Panthers to go into a season with Clausen as their starting quarterback without adding a viable alternative? I do think there’s upside with Clausen and he could develop into something with better coaching than he had last year. But Carolina’s got to compete with three NFC South teams that have true franchise quarterbacks. I don’t think they can afford to count on Clausen suddenly turning into one.


Pat in Tampa says I referred to Tampa Bay landing Nnamdi Asomugha as a pie-in-the-sky dream and wonders why. He points out the weather in Florida and California is similar and the Bucs are a team on the rise.

Pat Yasinskas: True, the Bucs are very much a team on the rise and I’ll take the weather in Tampa Bay over the other Bay Area any day. Also, there’s no state income tax in Florida and that’s always appealing to free agents. But there’s going to be a bidding war for one of the game’s best cornerbacks and lots of teams are going to be involved. I’m not sure if the Bucs, who are accused by their own fans of not spending enough money, will go all out on this one. We'll have to wait and see.


Robbie in Murphy, N.C., asks why I wrote that Cam Newton has more potential than Blaine Gabbert.

Pat Yasinskas: Um, mainly because I think Newton has way more potential than Gabbert. Yes, there also could be downside with Newton, and Gabbert has less downside. But I think Gabbert’s best-case scenario is that he ends up being someone like Mark Sanchez. Newton’s best-case scenario is a lot better than that. Yes, Newton may come with risks. But the Panthers are doing their homework and might be willing to take some risks on the guy with more upside.


Zain in Tampa writes: “There's a reason we hate the Glazers so much around here. But let's make something clear, it is the sons we hate, not the father. The father has been a great owner in his time. He got it, period. The sons? They have no business running a sports franchise.’’

Pat Yasinskas: Malcolm Glazer obviously was a very astute businessman and that’s how he assembled a huge fortune. But the fact is, he never was heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the Bucs. Yes, he was available for consult and ultimately signed off on major decisions. But, since the day the Glazer family bought the team, sons Bryan and Joel have run the day-to-day operations and youngest son, Ed, joined them a bit later. The only thing that’s changed in recent years is that Malcolm Glazer has had some health problems and has even less to do with the day-to-day operations. Truth is, part of the reason Malcolm Glazer bought the team in the first place was because his sons were huge football fans. Malcolm Glazer didn't follow the game all that closely. In fact, there's a legendary story about one of the few news conferences he ever took part in. It was to announce a contract extension for Warren Sapp and the plan called for him to make a joke about how the contract meant Sapp better produce a lot of sacks. Before the news conference started, a Bucs staffer had to take Malcolm Glazer aside and explain what a sack was.


Russell in Asheville, N.C., writes that Drew Brees’ involvement in the labor situation shows the New Orleans quarterback is greedy. Russell says 99 percent of fans now hate Brees and that this should be pointed out to Brees.

Pat Yasinskas: Brees took a stand by taking an active role and putting his name on the lawsuit against the league. But I don’t think Brees is acting purely on his own behalf. I think he’s trying to get what’s best for all players. He is, after all, a player. And I think your estimate on the percentage of fans who “hate’’ Brees is off by a lot, at least in New Orleans. Brees is the most beloved figure in that city. Once the labor situation is resolved, I think any resentment against Brees that might be out there will be forgotten very quickly.


Tom in Cambridge, United Kingdom, writes that it sounds like Aqib Talib was defending his sister in the incident in which he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. He wonders if Talib doesn’t end up in prison if this whole situation might be handled with a four-game suspension and some anger-management classes.

Pat Yasinskas: I get the whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing and understand it’s one of the basic rules of the legal system in this country. But we’re not just talking one incident with Talib. We’re talking a lengthy track record that dates back at least to when he was in college. Several incidents have been very public since he joined the Bucs and there have been plenty of other behind-the-scenes issues involving him that have been handled behind the scenes. In fact, I’d be willing to make a guess that the Bucs or the NFL already told Talib to work on the anger-management issues. Fact is, I think the Bucs already would have cut Talib if the league wasn’t in a lockout. I think they will cut him as soon as it’s over. Talib was down to his last chance -- and there are some people who already think he was past it even before the latest incident. The mere fact that a gun was involved in this latest incident gives the Bucs the right to cut Talib before the legal system plays out. Even if he’s not found guilty, the fact that he put himself in a precarious situation when he already was on a short leash with the team and the league doesn’t reflect well on him. The Bucs have taken their share of criticism on the character issue in the last year or so. Talib has made it easy for them to come out and make a strong statement by parting ways with him. The Bucs can make a statement to the community and their fans that they are serious about character issues. They also can show receiver Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount, who have had some problems in the past, that they better stay on the straight and narrow because even the best players aren’t going to get too many second chances.

Bucs owner Joel Glazer opens up

March, 21, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Glazer family, which owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, often gets labeled as reclusive by fans and the media.

That’s kind of strange, because the guy I just spent 20 minutes talking to might have been the most gregarious person I ran into all day. That would be Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer.

At an NFL owners meeting, where a lot of people are walking around looking worried or sad about the labor situation, Glazer was a notable exception. He spent time individually with reporters from the two main newspapers in the Tampa Bay area and with the NFC South Blog. In my portion, which was roughly 20 minutes, Glazer was almost effervescent.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Joel Glazer
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinTampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer is excited about the future of his team.
He did most of the talking and was animated and happy almost the entire time. There’s a reason for that. Glazer, along with brothers Bryan and Ed, is presiding over a team that’s clearly in a good spot. Glazer didn’t want to talk much about the lockout but said he’s confident the labor situation will be resolved at some point and his team will be ready to jump out of the gate.

“I couldn’t be more excited about where this team is at,’’ Glazer said. “When we set out on this path two years ago, there was a plan in place. We said we’re going to be disciplined in that plan. We’re not going to deviate from that plan. The one thing we recognized was when you’re doing something like this, you have to have thick skin and endure the early part of the plan. There are a lot of people with opinions. Their opinions are immediate and reactionary. To see the plan to start unfolding and for last year to play out like it did was one of the most exciting, fun seasons I’ve ever experienced in football.

“What’s most exciting is the fact that we’re the youngest team in the National Football League and the exciting players we have and where we can go from here.’’

You know the story, so we’ll keep the recap very short. After a 9-7 season in 2008, the Buccaneers fired coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen and replaced them with Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik. Veteran players like Derrick Brooks were shown the door and, at times, Morris and Dominik looked like they didn’t know what they were doing.

The Bucs went 3-13 in 2009, but things turned in a big way last season, and the Bucs went 10-6.

The Glazers get labeled as detached owners because they’re not as visible as some others in the league. But I think that’s a huge misconception. Although you don’t see the Glazers on the sidelines like some others, they’re far from absentee owners. It’s not unusual to run into them at One Buccaneer Place or see them roaming Raymond James Stadium. Back when Malcolm Glazer, the father of Joel, Bryan and Ed, first bought the team, one of the reasons he cited for making the move was his sons’ love of the game.

“I love football,’’ Joel Glazer said. “I haven’t missed a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game since we’ve owned the team and gone all the way to Japan. I live for Sundays. I live for the wins and can’t stand the losses. Anybody who knows myself or knows my family knows this is a true love. To have a young team that you know is going to get better and to compete for the ultimate prize, that’s what you’re in this for and that’s why it’s so exciting.’’

Glazer even is excited about the one thing that wasn’t a positive last season -- attendance. The Bucs didn’t sell out a game at Raymond James Stadium, and none of their home games was shown on local television. Before last season, the Bucs had sold out every home game since their stadium opened in 1998.

“Our new sales in January, February and March have been stronger than I ever remember them being,’’ Glazer said. “Renewals are extremely high. The sense you get is that the community is reacting to what they saw last year. That excitement is starting to percolate throughout the community, and it is translating into ticket sales.’’

Glazer’s not ready to guarantee sellouts, but he’s optimistic things are headed in the right direction.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,’’ Glazer said. “Even before the season ended, we sat down and we started to change our pricing to reflect the economy and what’s going on and trying to find ways to make something available for everybody. The one thing that hasn’t been lost on us is Florida has been hit very hard. Unemployment is very high in Florida. You can’t just ignore that. You have to adapt to the situation.’’

By the way, you're going to hear a good bit more from Glazer in the coming days. He filled up my tape recorder, which is something reclusive people generally don't do. But, hey, maybe, as Glazer said, he and the Bucs are adapting to the situation.
I just came across this radio interview with Falcons owner Arthur Blank. There was one part where Blank was asked about being accessible to the media. As a media member, I found this interesting and I think fans will, too.

“That’s very much a part of our culture, is to be available, and frankly to be even more available when times are difficult,’’ Blank said. “It’s easy to be available when things are going great. Sometimes when you’re facing adversity, some folks go off and hide someplace. We don’t think that’s the best thing to do.”

Applause for Blank. There’s no doubt he is the NFC South’s most accessible owner. Nobody else is even close. Blank isn’t Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder. In other words, he’s not constantly out there seeking attention, but he’s willing to be out front with the media and, in turn, his fans. Blank gets it when it comes to dealing with media and fans, and I give Falcons public relations guru Reggie Roberts and his staff a lot of credit for creating a very media-friendly environment.

It’s really not that way with the other NFC South owners. Carolina’s Jerry Richardson is by no means an unfriendly man. In fact, he’ll often stop on the practice field to talk with reporters. It’s off the record and just basic conversation, and Richardson treats media members as real people. But he just doesn’t like being in the spotlight. When I covered the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer, Richardson usually would agree to go on the record once a year, and usually it was at the spring owners meeting. He’d talk extensively about the state of his team. At the end, I’d always say something like, “See, it’s not that difficult’’. He’d laugh and say, “Yeah, but we won’t do it again until next year’’. It’s just the way he operates.

New Orleans owner Tom Benson has been a bit more visible since the Saints won the Super Bowl, but he’s never been the type to hold court with the media. His granddaughter Rita LeBlanc, who seems to be gaining more and more power in the operation of the franchise, is more media friendly and has become the face of the franchise, from an ownership perspective.

Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer used to be called a recluse, and I don’t think that was inaccurate. In fact, I can only remember him speaking twice in the early years of his ownership when I was covering the Bucs for The Tampa Tribune. I believe once was when he officially bought the team, and the other time was when the Bucs signed Warren Sapp to a huge contract extension. Glazer is not in great health these days, and sons Bryan, Joel, and Ed are running the team. They take a lot of heat locally for not being very media friendly. But I don’t think that label is entirely accurate. The Glazers might not be outgoing personalities, but they know every reporter in their market by name and they’ll make small talk when they run into media members. They also have taken the Richardson approach at times and done some state-of-the-union addresses at league meetings. There also is a new effort inside One Buccaneer Place to make the Glazers more visible, and we’ve seen some evidence of that with the brothers playing big roles in Derrick Brooks’ retirement ceremony and the announcement that John McKay will join the team’s Ring of Honor. Look for that to continue, but don’t ever expect the Glazers to become like Blank.

Hitting the NFC South links

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
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They might be coming off a 3-13 season and fearing a tough year at the ticket office, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the 12th most valuable professional sports franchise in the world. That’s according to Forbes Magazine, which says the Bucs are valued at $1.09 billion. For the record, the No. 1 franchise on the list is soccer’s Manchester United ($1.84 billion), which also is owned by Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer.

Forbes also ranked the Carolina Panthers No. 17 with a value of $1.05 billion. The Falcons came in at No. 39 on that list with an $856 million value.

Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to signing. The Panthers historically have been good at avoiding holdouts under general manager Marty Hurney, and there still is plenty of time to get this done. The Panthers are going to camp with Matt Moore as their starter, and a Clausen holdout of any length pretty much would put an end to any chance of him moving ahead of Moore.

Just like Clausen, Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta’s top pick, remains unsigned. Things are moving very slowly with players drafted in the first and second rounds. But that’s likely to change in the next few days.

The New Orleans Saints still haven’t signed a veteran quarterback to serve as Drew Brees’ backup. But that’s likely to change very soon, and it appears Patrick Ramsey remains the top target.
A little update since my last post, where I said it was sunny and 90 degrees in Tampa. It’s now raining and probably about 89 degrees.

But, hey, weather doesn’t really matter anymore. NFL owners have voted to give New York the 2014 Super Bowl. For the record, that’ll be in February of 2014. Isn’t there some saying about how it’s always sunny is Piscataway?

Anyway, I just got off a conference call with Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer and members of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl bid committee that finished a close second to New York. Glazer said he was not told the final tally of the vote, but said he was told by league officials and several owners that the vote was much closer than expected.

“Under normal circumstances, we probably would have walked away with the trophy,’’ said Sandy MacKinnon of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl bid committee. “But the NFL was interested in making history with New York City and a new stadium. I think the odds were stacked against the traditional sunshine climate.’’

That’s probably the strongest statement out of the call. The Tampa Bay group was very careful not to point fingers at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who many in the media have said steered this game to New York and I share that opinion. Glazer and the members of the bid committee seemed to take some consolation in making the vote closer than many expected.

“This has gotten us well positioned for getting another Super Bowl in Tampa,’’ Glazer said. “The Tampa Bay area is a great area for the Super Bowl and the owners know it.’’

That’s a very good point and it made me reflect a bit on history. Many years ago, I was covering the Bucs for The Tampa Tribune, when Tampa Bay was putting in a bid on the Super Bowl following the 1999 season. The Bucs wound up losing that game to Atlanta, almost entirely because there was sentiment by owners to give a Super Bowl to former Falcons owner Rankin Smith.

After the vote went down, Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer, usually a very quiet man, got up and got very loud. He started reminding former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the rest of the owners that Tampa Bay had delivered on getting a new stadium. Glazer’s pitch wound up getting Tampa Bay the Super Bowl the following year.

Malcolm Glazer’s health isn’t so good these days. Sons Bryan, Joel and Ed run the team now and many fans view them as quiet. They are, to a degree. But they can be very firm when they have to be. I know for a fact Bryan was in that room when his father stood up and I’m sure he remembers it well.

“There are no guarantees,’’ Bryan Glazer said. “We are a strong contender for next year or the year after. I feel like we came out of this feeling very strong.’’

True, there are no guarantees. But I’m thinking the Glazers and the Tampa Bay folks have sent a message to the owners and it goes something like this: “We took one for the team. You owe us one’’.

Another quick weather update: The rain has now stopped. It’s still in the upper 80s. The sun is back out.
Forbes magazine has come out with its annual list of the world’s billionaires and there are two NFC South owners in the club.

Although Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer takes a lot of criticism from fans for the Bucs not spending big money in free agency and is the target of hostility from fans of the Manchester United soccer team, he is the NFC South’s wealthiest owner, according to the report.

Glazer and his family are tied for 400th with a net worth of $2.4 billion. For context, Oprah Winfrey is one of the people the Glazers are tied with.

Atlanta’s Arthur Blank is tied for No. 773 with a $1.3 billion net worth. For context, Blank is tied with Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the 49ers, who has a big presence in the Tampa Bay area and his name seems to come up any time there are rumblings about the Bucs possibly being for sale.

Carolina’s Jerry Richardson and New Orleans’ Tom Benson did not appear on the list.
 
 Getty Images, AP Photo
 The Buccaneers have signed their core offensive players -- Derrick Ward, Josh Freeman, and Kellen Winslow -- to lucrative long-term contracts.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


TAMPA, Fla. -– You can call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a bad football team. Right now, there’s no evidence to the contrary.

Just don’t go calling them cheap.

I live in Tampa and I hear the accusations every day. The Bucs don’t care about winning and that’s why they’re not spending money, the theory goes.

That’s the problem with theories. All you need is an idea to throw around and it can catch on and spread, even if there’s absolutely nothing to back it up.

The Bucs have their flaws, sure, but being frugal isn’t one of them. Fact is, Malcolm Glazer and his sons who run the team are throwing money around.

Right now, they’re paying Jon Gruden, Bruce Allen and Jeff Jagodzinski $6 million to stay away from their football team. They’re operating out of the palatial One Buccaneer Place, which cost millions to build and I wouldn’t even want to guess what the daily light bill is.

But disgruntled fans are having a field day with the fact that the Buccaneers are roughly $30 million under the NFL’s salary cap. That’s a fact and it’s not disputed. It just needs some clarification.

Allen, the former general manager, came into salary-cap hell when he took over from Rich McKay. The best way to get out of that predicament is to not spend any money and, for four or five seasons, that’s what the Bucs did.

It became habit and unused cap money kept rolling over. The Glazers quietly could have pocketed that money, but they didn’t. They let it build and when new general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris entered their first free-agency period in February, the Bucs were on an uneven playing field.

The rest of the league started with a cap floor of $123 million. Tampa Bay’s floor was about $150 million.

When free agency started, the Bucs didn’t stand still. They went out and signed Derrick Ward to the biggest contract for any free-agent running back. They traded for tight end Kellen Winslow and turned around and handed him a monstrous contract. They re-signed wide receiver Michael Clayton to a deal many thought was too big.

They made legitimate runs at Albert Haynesworth and Matt Cassel and not getting them might have been a blessing because those high-priced guys aren’t exactly lighting it up. But this isn’t about the virtues of caution.

There’s a wrong perception out there the Glazers are skimping on the Bucs to take care of their Manchester United soccer team. If they were so concerned about pinching pennies, why wouldn’t they have saved a few million and used their first-round pick on a defensive player instead of taking quarterback Josh Freeman as the franchise player for the next decade?

No, the Bucs aren’t being cheap because you really can’t do that in a day and age when there’s a cap floor. You want cheap? Go back to the early days of the Buccaneers when the NFL didn’t have a cap or a floor and owner Hugh Culverhouse wouldn’t pay anybody anything, so he could pocket his television money.

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


We’ve got two NFC South representatives on the list of Forbes Magazine’s 400 Richest Americans for 2009.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer (and family) comes in at No. 139. The magazine says Glazer is worth $2.4 billion.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is tied for No. 317 with a $1.3 billion net worth. Interestingly, Edward DeBartolo Jr. is one of the people tied with Blank. DeBartolo formerly owned the San Francisco 49ers, lives in the Tampa Bay area and his name is frequently thrown out when people speculate about the Glazers selling the Buccaneers, even though there never has been any indication they’re on the market.

Look through the full list. You’ll see a bunch of other NFL owners.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- Forget for a second the Super Bowl victory and all the great players he coached. If you want to know what truly set Tony Dungy apart from other football coaches -- really, apart from a lot of human beings -- there is a story you need to read.

 
  Greg Crisp/Getty Images
  Tony Dungy was more than just a football coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It sums up Dungy, who is retiring from the Indianapolis Colts and the National Football League today, as a person and a coach. It's the story of a man with a vision and the courage to stick to it quietly, no matter how much the world outside was banging on the windows.

The year was 1997. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Dungy's second year as head coach, were showing some signs the lowly franchise might be ready to escape the so-called Curse of Doug Williams. With a young cast that featured Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Trent Dilfer, the Bucs got hopes up with a 5-0 start.

Then, it all seemed as if the season was about to fall apart because of one man. Well, make that two men because Dungy could see the problem as clear as the rest of Tampa Bay. But that stubborn streak that would become a part of his legacy was keeping him from, outwardly, doing anything about it.

The Bucs had a talented young kicker named Michael Husted who all of sudden started missing kicks. Not only was Husted missing field goals, but even extra-point attempts were flying badly off target.

The fans and the media were up in arms. It seemed Husted had to go or else the whole season would spin out of control. It was obvious to everyone, it seemed, except Dungy.

Week after week, he stood there with his arms folded on the sidelines, never showing the slightest emotion when Husted missed a kick. The Bucs lost three games in a row.

Any other coach would have simply brought in another kicker. But Dungy had laid out a philosophy that would end up applying to every player he ever coached and he had to stick to it. He knew something the rest of the world didn't.

While media and fans were breaking down Husted's kicking technique, Dungy knew what was in the kicker's head and heart.

The real story here was Husted's mother, Ann, was dying of cancer up in Virginia.

  Tony Dungy retrospective
  NFL.com Video
  Take a look back at the coaching career of Tony Dungy.

"I always prided myself on being a pro and being able to separate off-the-field stuff from what I did on the field,'' Husted said Monday morning from his home in San Diego. "But it got to the point where my mom's situation was taking up all of my thoughts."

On the Monday after the third straight loss (to Minnesota), special-teams coach Joe Marciano sat down with Husted and said, "What would you do if you were in our shoes?'' Husted pretty much shrugged and braced himself for the inevitable.

The next morning, Dungy called and Husted was sure he was being cut. Dungy's words said something else.

"He just said, 'You're a Buccaneer. You're part of our family. You're our kicker,''' Husted said.

Mission accomplished. The next Sunday, the Bucs went up to Indianapolis. Husted made a game-winning field goal that broke his slump. The season was saved and the Bucs went on to make the playoffs for the first time in a generation. Ann Husted died after the season, but not before she came to several games and sat with Dungy's wife, Lauren, in a private box.

"What he did was relieve the pressure from me,'' Husted said. "A lot of other coaches would have just let me go. I'm forever grateful to Tony for how he handled that. It speaks a lot about the type of individual he is and how he's not going to let outside forces influence what he knows is right.''

Throughout his career, Dungy has been criticized for being too stubborn or too soft. But, deep down, wouldn't you rather have someone who cares about you and not someone who flies off the handle and listens to the whims of the world?

That should be as much a part of Dungy's legacy as all the games he won and as much as becoming the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. Yes, he did things differently at times, but, in the end, you can't argue with the results.

The Super Bowl win still is fresh in the minds of many. But what Dungy did in Tampa Bay might have been even more remarkable. He took over a franchise that was in disarray, replacing Sam Wyche as the coach soon after owner Hugh Culverhouse had died and Malcolm Glazer purchased the team. In those days, the Bucs played in dreary Tampa Stadium and there was speculation about them moving anywhere from Los Angeles to Baltimore.

In 1996, a very quiet man took over a mess.

"The thing is Tony just brought this silent, commanding respect,'' Husted said. "We never felt like there was a clear road map. He came in and established what we wanted to do and how to go about it. People bought into it in the locker room and we started winning.''

The Bucs got their new stadium in 1998 and consistent winning followed. Dungy couldn't quite get the Bucs over the Super Bowl hump. Jon Gruden came in and did that. But Dungy's contributions in Tampa Bay are going to be evident for a long time. The franchise has been respectable since his arrival, and the stadium has been full for years.

Respect might be the most fitting single word to sum up Dungy's career and that's fitting. Through it all, he always earned respect.

"I think the biggest thing was you never wanted to disappoint coach Dungy because of how he treated you,'' Husted said. "I think any player who ever played for him will tell you it was an honor to play for him. The league is going to miss him and I wish you could clone him and make every coach like that because it would benefit the whole league. But you know that whatever he does going forward, he's going to keep doing it the right way and he's going to positively impact a lot of people.''

The Mailbag: Carolina Panthers edition

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

All right, time for the first-ever mailbag on this space devoted entirely to Panthers fans. We're breaking it up into four individual mailbags (one for each team), but I still would like to have some more questions to work with from Falcons fans. For now, onto the Panthers:

Jim in Charlotte writes: Miss you in Charlotte, keep up the good work. With the upcoming schedule, can you see the Panthers going 8 and 0 or 7 and 1 over the first half? And how do you think they will finish? Thanks, Jim

Pat Yasinskas: 8-0 or 7-1 is not impossible, but certainly very ambitious. With wins very possible against Minnesota, Atlanta and Kansas City coming in the next three games, a 5-0 start is realistic. But division games with Tampa Bay and New Orleans loom after that and I still think this is going to be a very competitive division. I see the Panthers in the playoffs and, perhaps, winning the NFC South. I'll put the usual disclaimer here that injuries, etc., can always change things, but Carolina's shown in the first two weeks it's for real.


David in Charlotte writes: Pat, Enjoyed the Steve Smith article. I thought the picture of Leadership w/ Integrity 1st was painted very well. I'm left hanging though wondering if this was because of the owner - who was a player for the Colts once - so he's lived these situations in the locker room and he has strong NFL relationships? Or was this all his staff? The reason it matters is because we will go through many coaches - but the owner makes his/her expectations known. Wouldn't it be fun to contrast the owners....some have the win at all cost mentality -- others care more about the future of the NFL and the character of the sport. regards, David

Pat Yasinskas: Great points. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is the only owner to play in the league. He also is very big on integrity and one of the most impressive people I've ever known. The Panthers like to say all football decisions are left up to John Fox and Marty Hurney and that's almost entirely true. At very least though, Hurney and Fox work for Richardson and know what he expects. In the Steve Smith case, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Richardson was involved in the decision. I'd say it's a strong possibility, but we'll probably never know for sure. Richardson likes to keep a very low-profile and for most of the last few years I worked for The Charlotte Observer, he would only give one interview a year and he would do it with me at the NFL's spring meeting. I wish -- and I told Mr. Richardson this many times -- that he would talk to the media more often. He's a fascinating man with lots of stories and insight. But it's his choice and he chooses to keep quiet most of the time. Richardson gets unfairly portrayed because some local media and fans see him as being an incommunicado owner and that's flat-out wrong. If that host would look around the league and at the other sports, he'd see a lot of owners who talk far less than Richardson. In the five seasons I covered the Buccaneers, Malcolm Glazer and I had one conversation. He said hello and I said hello. Or when's the last time you heard Al Davis address the media?

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