Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Raheem Morris

I heard one of the best summaries of what's happened to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in recent years on Tuesday.

"You talk about consistency and the way of doing business. That's gotten lost over the years," Derrick Brooks said, shortly after the Buccaneers announced he will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor and his jersey will be retired. "It really has. The sense of direction, how you go about doing things. All of those things have really gotten lost and can't be defined. What is the Buccaneer way?"

But Brooks believes that, with new coach Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay can get back to being a well-defined and successful team.

"Now, I think you can have an answer and get a visual of what that is," Brooks said. "That's what I think he brings. Is that going to turn into Super Bowl championships or 12-win seasons? I don't know, but I think Coach Smith being the right guy at the right time gives us a good start. He brings a lot more experience in this situation than what coach [Tony] Dungy did in 1996 because he has a better football team. You can tell by some of the offseason movements how they're going about their business. It's not overly splashy, but it's definitely been effective. Now, it's about bringing all this stuff together and keeping everybody on the same page."

I think Brooks is right. I like everything I've seen out of Smith and general manager Jason Licht so far. There's a sense of order that's reminiscent of the Dungy days. That order seemed to gradually get lost as the Bucs went through coaches Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano and general managers Bruce Allen and Mark Dominik.

Smith should know the Dungy way and how to succeed in Tampa Bay. He was the linebackers coach on Dungy's original staff in Tampa Bay. Smith went on to become defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams and the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Brooks said he's confident Smith is the coach to get things back on track in Tampa Bay.

"It's not so much the X's and O's, more so the Jims and the Joes," Brooks said. "I think he's shown my yes is yes and my no is no. It's not a guessing game with him."

A new vibe at One Buc Place

April, 29, 2014
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During last week’s minicamp, the vibe around One Buccaneer Place was noticeably different.

The reason?

Greg Schiano is gone and Lovie Smith replaced him as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Players talked happily about how they now are being treated as men. The implication there is that Schiano treated them like children, or at least the college players he used to coach. The man made sure everybody’s toes were on the line and he controlled everything, including the thermostats in the building.

In many ways, Smith is the opposite of Schiano and that’s a wonderful thing with wide-spread implications. It wasn’t just the players that seemed happy last week.

Staff members, who often seemed nervous around Schiano, were smiling and relaxed. The mood has changed at One Buc, but it hasn’t gone back to the Raheem Morris days, when things were too loose. Instead, things seem just right.

With Smith, everything seems balanced. That’s what you get when you have an adult coaching an NFL team and not someone who’s too young and immature (Morris) or someone that thinks they’re running a college program.
Colleague Kevin Seifert ran some numbers on how many of its original draft picks each team has on its current roster and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t fare very well.

The Bucs presently have 17 of their own draft picks on the roster. That ties them with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second fewest. The Chicago Bears have the fewest with only 15 original draft picks. The Green Bay Packers lead the league with 33.

What’s most striking about Tampa Bay comes when you look back at the draft classes of 2009 and 2010. Players from those drafts should be entering their prime. But, outside of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, that’s not the case for the Bucs.

McCoy is the only player from those two drafts still on Tampa Bay’s roster. It would be easy to blame the lack of draft picks on the roster on the change of regimes from Mark Dominik and Greg Schiano to Jason Licht and Lovie Smith. But it wouldn’t be accurate.

Dominik and Schiano got rid of a good number of their own draft picks. Josh Freeman, Arrelious Benn and Brian Price jump quickly to mind. Licht and Smith recently unloaded receiver Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2010, but you can put some of the blame for that on Schiano and Dominik. They drafted Williams, who came out of college with some red flags. Schiano and Dominik might have unloaded Williams if they had stayed.

Licht and Smith have talked about the importance of building through the draft. But they’ve also brought in a lot of free agents. I don’t think they’re blowing smoke about wanting to build through the draft. I think they’re simply doing what they have to do to make up for some of the mistakes made by Schiano, Dominik and former coach Raheem Morris. When the cupboard is empty, you have to go shopping.
TAMPA, Fla. -- It wasn't quite Greg Schiano's infamous "toes on the line" speech, but new Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith sent a stern message to his team Friday.

Williams
Williams
By trading wide receiver Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills for a sixth-round pick in this year's draft, Smith and general manager Jason Licht essentially declared they're not going to put up with off-field issues.

They're not going overboard the way Schiano did. But the Bucs did what needed to be done. They get rid of Williams and his hefty salary and got a draft pick in return. More importantly, the Bucs got rid of a headache.

That's what Williams had become in recent months. He faced a misdemeanor trespassing charge. He also is facing two lawsuits for alleged damage to a rental property. But the incident that drew the most attention was one in which the Bucs initially said Williams was a victim.

That came when Williams was stabbed in the thigh by his brother. Williams told police the two were just horsing around, but witnesses said there was an argument before the stabbing. Williams' brother was arrested.

I don't know whether Williams really was a victim. But I do know he did a fine job of making himself expendable. Williams had been a productive player and, aside from Vincent Jackson, the Bucs have nothing else at receiver. But they were more than willing to unload Williams the first chance they got.

That sends a message to the entire team. Since his hiring in January, Smith has been hailed as a players' coach. That's the exact opposite of what Schiano was. But you can go too far in the other direction. Just ask former Bucs coach Raheem Morris, who was too close to his players and let them walk all over him.

By releasing a productive player, Smith let his team know that on-field ability isn't the only thing that matters.
Lovie SmithKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCoach Lovie Smith and the Bucs expect to compete for championships starting this season.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There is a very good reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the NFL's most active teams in free agency.

"We thought it would be unfair to ask the fans to be patient with us," general manager Jason Licht said at the NFL owners meetings.

Fire those cannons at Raymond James Stadium and start the parade down Dale Mabry Highway. So far, Licht and coach Lovie Smith, both hired in January, are doing and saying all of the right things. They have signed 11 free agents, highlighted by defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner and quarterback Josh McCown.

"We wanted to go out and sign as many good players as we could this year to help our football team and make it competitive this year, and strive to win a championship this year," Licht said. "Not go with, 'Hey, give us a couple years.' We want to do it as soon as we can. The fans deserve it. I found out in a two-month period that these fans are so passionate in Tampa. So we want players that are just as passionate as the fans."

Those fans should be ecstatic to hear Licht's comments. This is a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since the 2007 season, and hasn't won a postseason game since its Super Bowl victory more than a decade ago. The franchise had good intentions in the interim, but the results weren't pretty.

Plans were put in place at various times from the days when Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen tried to win with veterans, to the time when Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris decided to build through the draft, to the days when it looked like Greg Schiano didn't have a plan.

[+] EnlargeAlterraun Verner
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsLanding cornerback Alterraun Verner was part of an aggressive free-agent push by the Bucs this month.
But you can look at what Licht and Smith are doing and you see a firm plan that has a chance to work -- and work quickly.

"As you saw last year with Kansas City, sometimes a little change is healthy and successful," Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said.

The Chiefs indeed are a good example of a team that turned around its fortunes rapidly. Kansas City was dreadful in 2012, but made the playoffs last season.

For any doubters who say McCown, a career backup, doesn't have what it takes to lead a team to the playoffs, let me remind you that Alex Smith was Kansas City's quarterback last season. I don't see a big difference between Smith and McCown.

Yeah, people can talk all they want about how this is a quarterback-driven league and you need a star at the position to be any good. There is some truth to that. But was Russell Wilson really the best quarterback in the NFL last season?

Of course not. Wilson did some very nice things, but there were bigger reasons why the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. The defense and the running game had a lot to do with their success.

It's pretty obvious Licht and Lovie Smith are following a plan similar to Seattle's. Smith comes with a defensive background, and he inherited some good talent on that side of the ball. Linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy already are in place, and you could make an argument that a pass-rusher was the only thing Tampa Bay needed to be a dominant defense. That is why the Bucs signed Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks for Cincinnati in 2012.

On offense, the Bucs have overhauled their line. They parted ways with Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah, and replaced them with Anthony Collins, Oniel Cousins and Evan Dietrich-Smith. The running game should be in good shape, assuming Doug Martin is fully recovered from an injury that cut short last season.

I look at that and I see a team that might be ready to win now. I see a team with a plan that seems to make a lot of sense.

"Jason and Lovie have a plan, and that plan is that they want to win," Glazer said. "That's why we brought them in. We're all in the same boat. We want to win. They have a clear plan to get there, and that's why they were hired. We believe in the plan. We buy into the plan, and we're going to be supportive of the plan."

A few years back, the Glazers were often accused of not spending enough money to bring success. But recently, they have spent big money in free agency. This offseason, the Bucs went on another spending spree.

Licht and Smith frequently are being declared winners in free agency by the national media. They are also winning the news conferences by saying the right things.

Now, if they can go win some games in the fall, their plan could be a masterpiece.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There's a bizarre story that sums up the Greg Schiano era with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The short version of the Schiano story goes like this: Retired safety Dexter Jackson, the most valuable player of the team's only Super Bowl, told a Tampa radio station in October that Schiano tried to run him out of practice when he visited the facility.

Nothing like that's ever going to happen now that Lovie Smith is the coach.

"I'm going to reach out to all of our former Buccaneers," Smith said Monday as he formally was introduced as the 10th head coach in franchise history. "They'll always be welcome here. We want them around. We want our current players to feel that pressure of how they're supposed to perform each week. Some places don't have the tradition that we have and we're going to try to draw on that as much as we can."

The Bucs, who haven't been to the playoffs since the 2007 season, haven't won a postseason game since the Super Bowl more than a decade ago and have struggled at the box office, have a tradition?

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be a relevant football team," said Lovie Smith, who was part of the coaching staff when the Bucs were contenders.
They really do and that's why the hiring of Smith was the best possible move the Bucs could have made at this point in time. Smith represents a bridge from the proudest era in franchise history to the future.

Smith was the linebackers coach under Tony Dungy from 1996 through 2000 before going on to be the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams and, later, the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Smith was around when guys like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Hardy Nickerson, Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott were playing for the Buccaneers. Smith was around when Raymond James Stadium was the place to be and be seen.

Schiano and predecessor Raheem Morris weren't able to return the Bucs to the level where Dungy and Jon Gruden took them. Morris was too friendly and his players took advantage of him. Schiano wasn't friendly enough and his players didn't embrace him.

Smith is somewhere in the middle and that might be just right for a franchise that needs to get something right. And, in Smith's eyes, it's not just about the players.

"Day to day, [it's] just keeping a positive building where everybody feels good about coming here," Smith said. "And everybody in the building feeling like they were a part of it."

That's another way that Smith will be starkly different from Schiano. As the Bucs were losing so frequently last season, I had numerous staff members asking what I was hearing on the possibility of Schiano being fired. It was wishful thinking on their part and there weren't a lot of people in the building upset when Schiano finally was fired. Schiano was good at cleaning out some of the troubled players that Morris put up with, but there never was much warmth from Schiano.

That chill, from a man who controlled the thermostats at One Buccaneer Place, was felt by players, staff members and the fan base. Happy staff members and happy fans are an important part of the equation. Schiano never understood that.

Just by walking into his news conference, Smith brought a sudden warmth. He told a funny story about he and his wife having to flee from wild monkeys during a trip to Costa Rica after he was fired by the Bears. But, more than that, the warmth was rooted in nostalgia that brings hope for the future.

"We did lay a foundation for Tampa Bay Buccaneer football," Smith said. "There's a certain brand of football that you expected from us. That would be relentless, you play hard, physical, but there was a brand of football that you did get from us each week at Raymond James Stadium. It was hard for opponents to come in and win. We have gotten away from that a little bit. And it is time, as we go to the future, for us to become a relevant team again."

It's well past the time for the Bucs to be relevant again. Smith's return to Tampa Bay brings a hope that simply wasn't there when Morris and Schiano were coaching. That alone brings higher expectations and pressure than Schiano and Morris had to deal with. But Smith said he's ready for the pressure.

"When I was here, I had a great job as a linebacker coach, coaching a great group of men," Smith said. "But my plan, though, was to advance. And then when you advance and get to that top level where you're a head football coach and I have an opportunity to be a head football coach at the place I started, there is pressure -- pressure that we're putting on ourselves. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be a relevant football team. I am going to take that pressure and it will be what drives all of us, our staff, our players and all."

With Smith driving -- and knowing the right roads so well -- there's no reason the Bucs can't get back to respectability.

 
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the first time in a long time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got something right.

They agreed to contract terms with Lovie Smith to be their new head coach, sources told ESPN on Wednesday night. The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, didn't fare well with their past two coaches, Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano. But the Glazers got it right this time.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
John Gress/Getty ImagesLovie Smith strikes an ideal balance between previous Bucs coaches Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano.
They reached back into their past for Smith. He was the linebackers coach back when head coach Tony Dungy turned the Bucs from a consistent loser to a regular winner in the late 1990s. When you look back on Tampa Bay's history, the Dungy years were glory days for a franchise that struggled for two decades after entering the league as an expansion franchise in 1976.

Smith, 55, is similar to Dungy in many ways. They both came from strong defensive backgrounds and both are the strong, silent type when it comes to leadership beliefs. But Smith is not a Dungy clone. He'll put his own stamp on the team.

Smith left Tampa Bay in 2001 to be the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, then became the head coach of the Chicago Bears in 2004. He led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI, a game they lost to Dungy's Indianapolis Colts.

The Bears were a regular playoff contender before Smith was fired at the end of the 2012 season. With a Tampa Bay team that already features a strong defense, Smith might be able to turn around the Buccaneers very quickly, despite that they finished 4-12 in 2013.

He is expected to bring in former California coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator, and that would be a great move. (There are strong indications Smith will try to hire former Detroit Lions coach and former Tampa Bay assistant Rod Marinelli as his defensive coordinator). Tedford helped develop Aaron Rodgers at Cal. The offense wasn't always Smith's strong point in Chicago, but Tedford should help in that regard. It's unclear how Smith and Tedford feel about quarterback Mike Glennon, who started 13 games for the Bucs as a rookie in 2013.

But it is clear that Smith will bring balance to an organization that desperately needs it. The Bucs have gone from one extreme to the other in recent years. Morris was a classic players' coach and Schiano was far more militaristic -- and neither style worked well.

Smith's style is much more in the middle of the road, and that should sit well with players who weren't always happy with Schiano's ways and took advantage of Morris' leniency.

With Smith, the Bucs might have a chance to compete for a playoff berth for the first time since the 2007 season.

Greg Schiano proud of culture change

December, 30, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- His 11-21 record over two seasons got Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano fired. But Schiano said Monday that he's proud of how he changed the culture of the franchise.

"This is what Buccaneer football is supposed to be," Schiano said. "That was one of my goals -- to return it to that kind of feel, that kind of culture. And I believe it is. I believe that's a big undertaking and one that has moved very, very well. But I can't impress this enough. My responsibility is to win football games in the National Football League, so we didn't win enough games."

Schiano took a beating for his coaching, but let's give the man some credit for changing a franchise for the better in some ways. When Schiano came in, the locker room predecessor Raheem Morris left behind was out of control. Schiano proceeded to get rid of Kellen Winslow, LeGarrette Blount and Aqib Talib. All three were talented, but all three were trouble.

Schiano also unloaded Josh Freeman, who once was regarded as a potential franchise quarterback. Freeman started the first three games of the season before being benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon. Freeman, who was late to or missed several team events, eventually was cut.

"That whole situation is a very, very tough situation," Schiano said. "I don't think there was any good way that was going to work unless it went the way that we thought it might go. That's being very productive. When it didn't, that's a tough situation. We did make decisions collaboratively as a group, especially big decisions. Myself, Mark Dominik and our ownership. One part of the job I really enjoyed was the open conversation and discussions. But then once a decision is made, whether I agree, disagree or somewhere in between, once a decision is made as an organization, I'm going to execute that like it's my own decision."

Schiano said he thinks Glennon has a bright future in the NFL.

"I think we did get it right," Schiano said. "We just got it right late. I think this guy is going to be very good."

Schiano also said he thinks whoever takes over the Bucs will inherit a good situation.

"Did I think we had an opportunity to move this forward? I still do," Schiano said. "I think that whoever takes over in this job is taking over a good situation now, a real good situation. Had I been coming back next year, I'd be excited about the potential of this team and where we're headed. But I'm not."

Schiano's name has been included in speculation about a possible opening at Penn State. But Schiano, who had three years remaining on his contract, said he's not sure what his future holds.

"I know this, I'll lean on my wife and my kids, my family and on my faith and kind of figure out where the next stop is for us," Schiano said.

Greg Schiano never fit with Buccaneers

December, 30, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- In the final analysis, Greg Schiano was fired as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the exact same reason he was hired.

He was an unbending disciplinarian who was never going to be loved by his players. He was as opposite as you can get from his predecessor, Raheem Morris, and that's why the Glazer family, which owns the team, lured Schiano away from Rutgers less than two years ago.

With three more seasons left on his contract, the Glazers showed Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik the door on Monday. The Bucs went 11-21 in Schiano's two seasons. The on-field results weren't flattering, but the off-field stuff was even more of a calamity.

Quite simply, the Glazers made a big mistake when they hired Schiano. There was no question Morris had to go and the Bucs needed to run a tighter ship. But the Bucs went overboard and brought in a steel barge that ended up sinking very quickly.

The Bucs went from one extreme to another instead of settling for something in the middle. They went with a coach who operated like he still was in college. Schiano came in and took control of everything, from the way practices were structured to the thermostat setting at One Buccaneer Place.

I had no problem with him running off Aqib Talib, LeGarrette Blount and Kellen Winslow. Those three were talented, but more trouble than they were worth. Their departures sent a message to the rest of the team that nobody was sacred. Had it ended there, Schiano might have been all right.

But it didn't end there. Schiano went too far in trying to control everything and everyone in the building, and it backfired on him. The strongest example came in the person of Josh Freeman, who once was viewed as the franchise quarterback.

There are two sides to every story, and Freeman had his flaws -- including an inability to find a functioning alarm clock -- but I think this situation could have been handled a lot differently.

Freeman was talented and a good guy. But he was a unique personality. He was laid back and cool, two traits that Schiano doesn't prefer in a quarterback. So Freeman and Schiano clashed.

And they didn't just clash. They did it in spectacular fashion. As Freeman went from being the franchise quarterback to being released, bombshells came from both sides. The ugliest point came when it was reported that Freeman was in the league's drug-testing program.

Freeman's camp alleged that Schiano was the one who leaked that sensitive information. Schiano firmly denied he had any involvement. But the damage was done.

Even if it's not accurate, there's a point where perception becomes reality. If you were a player in Tampa Bay's locker room, you suddenly got the impression that even your confidential records could become public.

The soap-opera atmosphere of the past few months was more than a little ironic. Schiano was supposed to be the guy who brought much-needed order to the franchise. Instead, he went overboard on matters of control -- and that's why things spun out of control.

Upward swing could save Greg Schiano

November, 17, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- For weeks now, coach Greg Schiano steadfastly has said that once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started winning football games, they wouldn't stop.

We all laughed.

As it turns out, maybe the man had a point. Maybe, just maybe, Schiano will have a job next year that many expected him to lose.

The Buccaneers defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 41-28, on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. That came six days after the Bucs got a Monday night win against the Miami Dolphins for their first victory of the season.

"It's something that we can build on, for sure," Schiano said.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
AP Photo/Brian BlancoGreg Schiano had the Buccaneers playing hard despite an 0-8 start. The result? Two straight victories.
Let's make no mistake: The Bucs are 2-8 and Schiano remains very much on the hot seat. But that seat is a little cooler than it was a few weeks ago. It might seem hard to imagine, but maybe the billboards calling for Schiano's firing will come down, maybe fans will jump off his back and onto his bandwagon, and maybe he still will be the coach in 2014.

"We've got a lot of pride," left tackle Donald Penn said. "We've got to play for our coach. Everybody's doubting our coach. We're behind him 120 percent."

That's the very reason I've held off on joining the masses in calling for Schiano's job. I'm not saying Schiano is a great coach, and I still don't know if his ways will work in the NFL. But the fact is, he never lost the locker room during an 0-8 start. His players never stopped playing hard.

I saw Tampa Bay teams totally pack it in at the end of the Raheem Morris and Sam Wyche eras. That, along with dismal records, is why Morris and Wyche were fired.

"A lot of people could have just folded," Penn said. "We're still fighting. Hopefully, we can keep building. I'm happy. For once, I can say I'm happy."

Let's not get too carried away with the sudden happiness. Schiano's record (9-17 overall) is dismal. Schiano has lost a lot of games, but he hasn't lost his players.

That counts for a lot, in my eyes.

Schiano is still facing an uphill battle. But I can see a scenario in which he could end up sticking around. I don't know if the Glazer family, which owns the team, has some magic number of wins in mind for Schiano to keep his job. Maybe Schiano needs to run the table, win the next six games and finish 8-8. Or maybe something like winning six of the final eight games will be enough to bring Schiano back.

He does have three more years left on his contract, and ownership likely won't be eager to pay the salaries for two head coaches at once. Or maybe the Bucs lose their next six and Schiano follows the route of Bobby Petrino, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban and goes back to coaching a college program.

But the point is Schiano still has a shot in the NFL, if he can win some more games down the stretch. That no longer seems as unfathomable as it did a few weeks ago.

If the Bucs can play the rest of the way like they did Sunday, they could win more than they lose in their remaining games. It could happen.

It could happen because Gerald McCoy (three sacks on Sunday) suddenly is playing as well as any defensive tackle in the league. It could happen because the Bucs appear to have found a hidden gem in running back Bobby Rainey (163 rushing yards). It could happen because rookie quarterback Mike Glennon (only three incompletions against the Falcons) continues to get better each week.

And let's not overlook the possibility that Schiano might be starting to catch onto what the NFL is all about. Did you see the onside kick, the tailback pass and Glennon's two deep throws to Vincent Jackson? This team isn't playing nearly as conservatively as it did early in the season. Maybe Schiano is changing -- for the better.

In recent weeks, it hasn't taken too much observation to see a difference in Schiano. On the practice field, he has been joking around more with his players. When talking to the media, Schiano has seemed more relaxed, even approaching humor at times.

Maybe Schiano realized he needed to be less stubborn and stern. Maybe changing his personality and his play calling is Schiano's way of fighting for his job.

And, as long has his team keeps fighting, maybe he'll get to keep it.
Tony Gonzalez and Darrelle RevisAP PhotoIt has been a disappointing season for Tony Gonzalez's Falcons and Darrelle Revis' Bucs.
When the season started, the Atlanta Falcons were a trendy Super Bowl pick and a lot of people thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could make the playoffs. As it turns out, both NFC South squads are floundering. They've combined for only three wins.

But these two teams are rivals and that means Sunday's meeting will be about pride.

Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas examine the matchup.

Yasinskas: Vaughn, I was one of those people who picked the Falcons to win the Super Bowl. Obviously, I was way off base. I know injuries have played a big role, but what else has gone wrong for this team?

McClure: Pat, I talked to Tony Gonzalez extensively after the last game and he was adamant about this all being about the injuries. I agree with him to a certain extent because you just can't lose a receiver as dynamic as Julio Jones and expect the offense to click in the same manner. It drastically changes the way defensive coordinators attack and allows them to focus more on shutting down guys such as Gonzalez.

The other injury I thought was significant was linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who is expected back this weekend after being sidelined since Week 2 because of a Lisfranc sprain. The defensive intensity hasn't been there throughout the season, and Weatherspoon would have provided a spark just from his fiery speeches alone. Not saying that he would have totally helped the Falcons avoid giving up 14 plays of 40-plus yards, but they would have been better with a healthy Weatherspoon.

Speaking of injuries, it looks as if both top running backs are out for Tampa Bay. Can Brian Leonard step in and run the ball effectively?

Yasinskas: I agree that getting Weatherspoon back should be a big boost for the Atlanta defense and the first priority whenever you play Tampa Bay is stopping the running game. Even with Doug Martin and Mike James lost to season-ending injuries, the Bucs still will be a run-first team. Leonard is going to be a big part of the offense now. He's a dependable veteran, who can do a little bit of everything. But I think the Bucs will try to use a combination of Leonard and second-year pro Bobby Rainey. The Bucs want to get Rainey a fair amount of touches because he's more of a home-run threat than Leonard.

Speaking of home-run threats, even without Jones, the Falcons still have some playmakers. Are Roddy White and Steven Jackson now healthy enough to make a significant impact?

McClure: Jackson said he was 100 percent now coming off a hamstring injury, and White continues to have his snaps monitored coming off a hamstring pull and high-ankle sprain. I thought Jackson showed signs of his old self with some tough runs against the Carolina Panthers. He then regressed against the Seattle Seahawks, but head coach Mike Smith blamed that on poor blocking. Jackson has a lot of pride and wants to show Falcons fans he was no fluke. But he can only do so much if the holes aren't there for him. He's averaging a mere 3.2 yards per carry.

As for White, he had one catch for 20 yards in his return against the Seahawks. More than anything, he wants to establish a rhythm so he can be back to his old self. The Falcons just need him to be the same type of playmaker when Jones returns next year. Shouldn't the Buccaneers have a new head coach by then?

Yasinskas: It's pretty obvious that Greg Schiano is on the hot seat. He has won only one game this season and two of his past 15 dating to last year. Ownership does like the way Schiano cleaned up the culture of the locker room that was established under predecessor, Raheem Morris. Schiano, who has three more seasons remaining on his contract, might have bought himself a bit more time by benching Josh Freeman and going with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. But ownership also wants to see some wins. I don't know that there's a magic number, but my guess is Schiano needs to win more than half of his remaining games if he's going to stick around for next season.

I know Smith has had five straight winning seasons since taking over as head coach in Atlanta, but this year hasn't gone as planned. Since expectations were so high, is owner Arthur Blank's patience wearing thin?

McClure: I've watched Blank's reaction after the past two losses and he has been very supportive of Smith. He even embraced Smith like a long-lost son after a road loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Smith has been a winner since taking over in 2008 (58-31 record) and guided his team to the NFC Championship Game last season, although he's 1-4 in postseason games. I talked to general manager Thomas Dimitroff after last Sunday's game and he said Smith's going "nowhere" in reaction to speculation about maybe Jon Gruden being the team's next head coach.

Smith should get a pass on this season because of the injuries alone. But there are bound to be some staff changes in the offseason to correct some of the on-field problems plaguing the team.

 

Buccaneers reach a new low point

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers played their best football game of the season Sunday.

Naturally, they still lost. Even die-hard Bucs fans could see this one coming from 3,000 miles away.

The Bucs lost 27-24 in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks. And this wasn’t anything close to a moral victory. Instead, it was a morale loss. The Bucs are 0-8 and this one was far worse than the previous seven put together.

As the Bucs fly back across the continent Sunday night, do you think morale could be any lower?

I don’t. The Bucs led 21-0 at one point in the first half and 24-7 early in the third quarter. They could have (temporarily) silenced all of their critics by beating one of the NFL’s best teams in one of the league’s toughest road stadiums. Fans even would have backed off coach Greg Schiano -- until his next loss.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Greg Schiano
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWould the Glazer family think about replacing Greg Schiano before the Bucanneers' Monday night game against the Dolphins?
But the Bucs blew that big lead in disastrous fashion and you have to wonder if ownership is thinking about replacing Schiano with an interim coach.

Perhaps you’ve noted that I’ve yet to call for Schiano’s firing. My logic has been two-fold. First, going with an interim coach never solves anything. Second, the general rule of thumb is that you don’t pull the plug until the players stop playing hard for the coach.

The effort still was there Sunday and that’s something that should be considered. But I’m starting to wonder if the Glazer family, which owns the team, might go ahead and fire Schiano at the midpoint of his second NFL season.

It wouldn’t even be a small surprise at this point. Schiano has lost 13 of his past 14 games. Those are the kind of embarrassing numbers that got predecessor Raheem Morris fired. And, before you go saying the Glazers will stick with Schiano because he has three years remaining on his contract, think about something else.

The Glazers don’t like losing money. But, more importantly, they care deeply about how they and the Bucs are perceived. More than anything, the Glazers hate to be embarrassed.

Schiano was brought in to do two things. First, he was supposed to change the culture of a locker room that had run amok under Morris. He accomplished that by getting rid of the likes of Aqib Talib, Kellen Winslow and LeGarrette Blount. Give Schiano credit for filling the locker room with Boy Scouts (and former Rutgers players).

But the other thing Schiano was hired to do was win. He clearly hasn’t done that. Just like he did in some early-season close losses, Schiano got conservative against Seattle. His staff also didn’t seem to make any successful halftime adjustments.

Could things really get worse if the Bucs fired Schiano and elevated special teams coach Dave Wannstedt to interim coach? Probably not. But things probably couldn’t get much worse.

The Bucs hit their lowest point in Seattle. They squandered a chance for Schiano to say, “Hey, look at what my system can do if it’s run right."

But that didn’t happen and the Glazers might be at a point where they need to make a big choice. Remember what I said about them not liking being embarrassed. I can’t emphasize that enough.

The next game on the schedule is a Monday night contest (Nov. 11) against the Miami Dolphins. It will be on national television in a sold-out stadium that rarely sells out.

The Glazers have to decide what’s worse -- going the interim route or run the risk of letting a national audience see Schiano get booed out of Raymond James Stadium.

Fire Greg Schiano? Not just yet

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
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ATLANTA -- The evidence and a lot of Tampa Bay fans say coach Greg Schiano should be fired immediately.

I say it's not that time. At least not yet.

Yes, Sunday's 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons was the same story it's been all season. Schiano's Bucs were inept. They squandered opportunities and committed 11 penalties for 103 yards.

"It's been a long time since a team I coached had that same issue," Schiano said. "Put it on me to get that fixed. We had 11 penalties, six of them in Atlanta territory and four in the red zone. I think we do all the right things and it's worked over the years, yet it's not working right now. We've got to re-examine that."

There's a lot the Bucs need to re-examine and there's no doubt Schiano is running short on time. The Bucs are 0-6 and they've lost 11 of their last 12 games, dating back to last season.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsGreg Schiano's Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost 11 of their past 12 games.
"When teams are having penalties, that's a collective coaching and playing issue," Schiano said. "We've got to get it fixed. I'm frustrated because I've said that standing at this [microphone] before."

The Bucs are making the same mistakes over and over. That doesn't bode well for any coach and this season is on the verge of spiraling out of control. Quarterback Josh Freeman is gone, so Schiano is left to take all of the blame.

And he deserves every bit of it. I'm not giving Schiano a ringing endorsement, because that simply is not possible at this time.

But the alternative that so many fans want -- an interim coach -- isn't the answer. Sure, the Bucs could make special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt their interim coach. He has been an NFL head coach before. Or the Bucs could turn to Butch Davis, who is a special adviser to Schiano. Davis also has been an NFL head coach.

What good would either of those moves do the Bucs, who have to turn around and play a Thursday night game against Carolina? Firing Schiano and replacing him with Wannstedt or Davis would only throw this team into more disarray -- and, yes, that is possible.

Going the interim route never is the answer. You only do that when things are totally out of control and you're only prolonging the inevitable -- the arrival of a new coach.

Things are dangerously close to being totally out of control for the Bucs, but they're not completely there yet.

Give Schiano, who ironically had a reputation as a builder and perfectionist at Rutgers, just a little more time to try to get things straightened out. He's had only three games with his quarterback, rookie Mike Glennon. Amid the rubble of three losses, Glennon has shown some improvement.

Get the penalties to stop and get the defensive backfield to stop watching balls go over its head. Maybe the Bucs can win five or six games down the stretch. If that happens, maybe Schiano, who has three more years on his contract, sticks around and maybe the Bucs turn the corner next season.

Yeah, all that's a long shot. But there really is one reason why I don't think the time has come to fire Schiano.

The Bucs aren't playing well, but they still are playing hard. Tampa Bay has seen teams quit before. (Remember 2011 under Raheem Morris or the end of the Sam Wyche days?)

From the time Schiano first arrived, there have been rumblings that the players don't like his methods. I think there's some truth to that, but the fact is the Bucs haven't packed it in -- yet.

Maybe that happens in Thursday night's nationally televised game. Or maybe it happens the following week when the Bucs go across the country to play Seattle.

If there ever are signs that this team has quit, then go ahead and fire Schiano immediately. But, as long as there is effort, don't make any moves this season.

Things aren't good under Schiano, but he still has the attention of his team. If you fire him and go with an interim coach, that's the equivalent of bringing in a substitute teacher, who will get plowed over by a class that's out of control.

Time running short for Greg Schiano?

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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TAMPA, Fla. -- They cheered, ever so slightly, as running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson walked off the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. They did the same as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy walked into the tunnel to the locker room.

And, then, there was coach Greg Schiano.

The venom directed at him by a large group of fans in the southeast corner of the stadium was loud. The language was so vicious, the only way to summarize it was that the crowd was telling Schiano he needs to go back to being a college coach.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsGreg Schiano's Buccaneers have lost 10 of their past 11 games going back to last season.
"I didn't hear anything," Schiano said a few moments after his team lost, 31-20, to the Philadelphia Eagles.

It's a good thing Schiano has thick skin because patience is running thing among the fans. And it's time to start wondering whether ownership's patience is wearing thin as well.

The Bucs have lost their first five games of this season and 10 of 11 dating back to last year. There were no real signs of progress against the Eagles. In fact, you could make a case that the Bucs' revamped defensive secondary regressed. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon played well enough to lead the Bucs to a 17-14 halftime lead, but didn't do much of anything positive in the second half.

Glennon wasn't alone. Instead of blowing a late lead as they've done several times already this season, the Bucs took a shortcut and simply got blown out.

"We need to get it figured out quickly," Schiano said.

That's a huge understatement. On top of the losing, the Bucs seem to be in disarray in every way. Former franchise quarterback Josh Freeman was run out of town after a public feud with the team. According to a USA Today report, the NFL Players Association pointed to Schiano as the culprit for leaking a story that Freeman was in the league's drug program.

Then, there's the whole MRSA situation. Three players (guard Carl Nicks, kicker Lawrence Tynes and cornerback Johnthan Banks) have been diagnosed with MRSA since the preseason started. Nicks recovered enough to play in two games before he was diagnosed with a recurrence last week.

Has there ever been a crazier time for this franchise? The expansion days of John McKay come to mind. So do the Sam Wyche days and the final days of Raheem Morris.

But I'll make the case that what's happening now deserves more of a big top than anything in franchise history. Unlike McKay, Wyche and Morris, Schiano has plenty of talent with which to work. (The Bucs have eight guys who have been to the Pro Bowl.)

Unlike McKay, Wyche and Morris, circus acts weren't expected from Schiano. The guy came from Rutgers, where he had a reputation as a builder and disciplinarian.

Yet, even with all that discipline, the Bucs seem to be running amok. How does Schiano reverse the fortunes of this team?

"You stand to your convictions without being stubborn and you move forward," Schiano said. "We've got a good group of people in that locker room and coaches and they're going to stick together and we're going to get it turned. As long as you know that, you're going to do it."

The part about sticking to your convictions makes me think of that scene in "Hoosiers" when Gene Hackman's character, coach Norman Dale, says "My team is on the court" as a way of sending a message to his team. That stuff works in movies.

Real life can be another story. I'm not sure that continuing to play cornerback Darrelle Revis in zone coverage is going to lead to a turnaround for the Bucs.

The next three weeks or so are critical for Schiano and the Bucs. They play division rivals Atlanta and Carolina and travel to Seattle. An 0-8 start is looking possible.

Again, I have no idea if ownership is growing as impatient as the fans. But I do know that the Glazer family, which owns the team, does not like to be embarrassed.

The Bucs have been an embarrassment recently. If that doesn't change, the Glazers also might have some unkind words for Schiano.

Greg Schiano clarifies comment

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
2:01
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TAMPA, Fla. -- At a breakfast for luxury suite holders last week, Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said the Buccaneers were the laughing stock of the league when he was hired.

On Monday, Schiano took an opportunity to clarify his comments.

“Sometimes you say things in context,’’ Schiano said. “That statement was really about kind of the discipline and the issues that were going on. It wasn’t the on-field football. I apologize if I offended anybody with that, but that was certainly not the purpose. That was our suite holders and the question was in regards to some of the discipline. As I’ve shared with you guys, I had to be a little over the top because of the adjustment from how far the other way things had gotten. That’s really want I meant.’’

I don’t think Schiano even needed to clarify his comment. The fact is the Bucs were the laughing stock of the league in the final year of coach Raheem Morris’ tenure. The 2010 Bucs went 10-6 and seemed to be a team on the rise. But I remember multiple people around the league being skeptical about Tampa Bay’s lack of discipline as the Bucs got ready for the 2011 season.

The skeptics turned out to be right. The 2011 Bucs took advantage of Morris’ loose style and had to deal with several off-field incidents as they went 4-12 that season.

Schiano has a reputation for being disciplined and that’s a big part of the reason why he was hired.

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