Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Without a doubt, the biggest difference I’ve seen between living in the Tampa Bay area from the mid-1980s through 1999 and returning here in 2008 is the way fans view the Bucs and the expectations they have for this football team.
Back in the old days, an 0-2 start wasn’t that big a deal. Heck in a lot of years, it was totally expected and fans just rolled with it. These days, it seems like a lot of people around here are ready to run coach Raheem Morris out of town and have already penciled in the Bucs to join the Detroit Lions in the ranks of teams that have gone a 16-game schedule without a win.
It’s one extreme to another, so why did such a dramatic change come about in, roughly, the last decade? The short and simple answer is that Tony Dungy came along and started winning. Then, Jon Gruden won a Super Bowl and put together some other strong seasons and people have come to expect it.
Makes sense, but I’m having a tough time understanding why so many people suddenly have decided the sky is falling in Tampa. It’s been pretty clear since soon after Morris took the job that expectations shouldn’t be that high for this year. The Bucs don’t like to use the term, but, the fact is, they’re rebuilding and that takes time.
In fact, a history lesson might be in order before the panic gets out of control. Morris provided a bit of pretty good perspective on that as he spoke with the media Wednesday.
“Coach Dungy walked in here and there was a young defense,’’ Morris said. “There was Derrick Brooks, there was Warren Sapp, there was (John) Lynch. They said Lynch couldn’t play safety and he should have moved to linebacker. They said Derrick Brooks was too small to play linebacker. They said Warren Sapp was too fat and had a whole bunch of off the field issues and he couldn’t do it either. Ten years later, we can’t believe that we got rid of him. We can’t believe they are no longer Bucs anymore. Twelve years later or whatever it’s been, we can’t believe that they aren’t here anymore.’’
That’s a valid point and a lot of people forget Dungy’s turnaround of the Bucs didn’t happen overnight. Dungy’s initial team lost its first five games and eight of its first nine and a lot of people wondered loudly if the coach had any idea what he was doing. The 1996 team turned things around, winning five games in the second half of the season and the rest is history.
Before you go saying you don’t see any young versions of Brooks, Sapp and Lynch out there, listen to a bit more of what Morris had to say.
“We aren’t saying that the new guys are going to be Lynch, Sapp and those guys but we have some talented players out there,’’ Morris said. “In the last couple of weeks it has really been impressive. It’s tough to lose but it has been impressive. We just have to get other guys to come around with them. The bounce-back game that Sabby (Piscitelli) had, the way Ronde (Barber) performed in this new defense. Having Kellen Winslow getting off the way he did and the offense the way they did. Obviously, we addressed the offense this offseason. The offense has performed well and performed up to task. We’ll have an opportunity to catch it with some of the young players on defense that we drafted over the years. You guys get a chance to meet those guys and go through the growing pains that they went through the first night in 1996 and we love it as a challenge.”
It’s a huge challenge and I have no idea if Morris is going to turn out to be the second coming of Dungy or Sam Wyche. I’m just saying, give the guy a little time more time before calling him a failure.