Bucs meltdown just keeps getting worse and worse

September 6, 2009

A few months ago I warned that all the danger signs were there for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Maybe I was too nice.

The latest decision to trade Luke McCown to the Jacksonville Jaguars just caps off a spectacularly disastrous preseason.

Alienate and drop a good kicker? Check. Fire your offensive coordinator and then publicly admit that you didn’t know until a week to go that he’s not qualified? Check. Trade your No. 2 quarterback to the team that already made it clear that they think you’re No. 1 quarterback isn’t a starter? Check. Have no clear idea of who’s going to run the ball? Check. Drag out the decision on who your starting quarterback is until just days before your season opener? Check. Have one of your top defensive players get arrested and your standout safety suspended for four games? Check.

And that’s what just happened in the last month. Leading up to this wonderful preseason we got Kellen Winslow – who has the potential to ruin your team chemistry at any time – tapped as the primary offensive weapon. The Bucs cut the heart and soul of their defense, Derrick Brooks, and paid good money for running back Derrick Ward only to suggest now that Cadillac Williams has returned from injury and should be good to go this season.

Wow. I think only the Oakland Raiders can match this for a series of disastrous moves.

It just makes the bottom line that much apparent. As much as people may have hated Jon Gruden, last season is going to seem like an eternity ago. The Bucs are going to be at the bottom of the NFC South and they will be lucky if they manage to win four games. The Bucs better just hope that the Detroit Lions remain as inept as ever, if only because it will take some of the pressure off from being the No. 1 laughingstock in the NFL.

Yes, I’m serious. It’s going to be that bad.

New era in Tampa Bay begins: It’s called rebuilding.

February 28, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Like a wave crashing on the beach at high tide, the new crew with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem hell-bent on washing away all signs of the Jon Gruden era.

Ok, I get that. But it’s time to stop fooling Bucs fans.

What the team is saying so far is this: We won’t win right away, we don’t expect to win right away, and you better get used to it. Oh, and by the way, we aren’t reducing ticket prices.

There’s no question that the team had a lot of aging veterans, particularly on the defensive side. But the decision to jettison Derrick Brooks smacks of “sending a message” and not making the team better. It’s not like the Bucs need the money – they are more than $60 million under the salary cap.

And anyone who thinks that Luke McCown or Brian Griese are an improvement over Jeff Garcia is either hopelessly optimistic or in the words of Hunter Thompson think George III is hiding in the jungles of South America.

It seems, however, that if a player is over the age of 30 that the Bucs new regime thinks they need to go. I’m willing to concede that some changes were inevitable. But we now have a team that may need a running back, definitely needs a quarterback, and someone to draw coverage away from Antonio Bryant. And making a trade for Kellen Winslow doesn’t count. Yes, he’s shown a lot of promise, but he’s also been shown to be a tremendous distraction off the field.

It’s unfair to say that the Bucs will be worse under Raheem Morris. But the off season moves so far make it look like the Bucs are a team in tremendous transition. They are rebuilding the franchise one piece at a time.

Drastic steps may not help Bucs

January 18, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Ok, everyone seems to be very, very impressed with Raheem Morris. In a matter of hours on Friday, Morris was elevated to head coach to take the place of Jon Gruden as the new head coach as the Bucs and the reviews are already glowing for the 32-year-old phenom who was a contender for other head coaching jobs in the league. He was introduced officially to the media on Saturday.

On the plus side, the Glazer family clear had a plan. They just didn’t jettison Gruden and go chasing after shadows, much like their ill-fated pursuit of Bill Parcells after they sent Tony Dungy packing.

But this drastic series of steps – which also included firing General Manager Bruce Allen – still may do nothing to improve the Bucs on the football field.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Morris – who a few weeks ago was an assistant coach – is green and relatively untested even as a coordinator. Buccaneeers co-chairman Joel Glazer on Saturday insisted that Morris would be able to relate with “today’s younger players” and help put the Bucs back on a winning path. (This is apparently a subtle swipe at Gruden, who some players say would quickly turn on players.)

In his initial comments, Morris made it sound as if he did not have any major plans to change some of the things that the Bucs are doing. Morris even went out of his way to praise Gruden and say that he had learned from his previous boss.

I’m not sure that’s going to work. A kinder, gentler version of Chucky is not going to create a miracle in Tampa. The problems with the Bucs are systemic – an aging defense, an unsteady situation at quarterback, a rushing attack in a constant state of flux due to injuries, a lack of big playmakers outside of Antonio Bryant.

Now the Glazers have tried to address the team’s personnel problems by bringing in a new general manager who will be given a chance to retool this franchise. Plus, the team is reportedly $46 million below the salary cap giving the ability to chase after free agents.

But it seems to me that this huge overhaul may actually create a step backwards. The Bucs were a game away from going to playoffs this past season. By cleaning house in such a dramatic fashion, this could be a sign that the Bucs plan to spend the offseason revamping the franchise.

I hope I’m wrong, but if I were Bucs fans I wouldn’t expect more than six to eight wins next year.

Firing Gruden and Del Rio won’t fix problems

December 29, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Now that the NFL regular season is over, the hand-wringing, speculation and rumors over the fates of Bucs coach Jon Gruden and Jags coach Jack Del Rio will go into overdrive.

But let’s hope the owners of both teams take a deep breath before they do anything rash.

More often than not jettisoning a head coach doesn’t fix a team’s problems. Sometimes it just makes it worse as the team transitions to a new offense, new defense, etc. etc.

Let’s just put two names in the mix: Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy. Coughlin and Dungy have won the last Super Bowls for their current teams. But both coaches were unceremoniously forced out the door at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay despite their record of success for the two teams.

You would think that the Glazer family and Wayne Weaver would remember their own bit of history before they start down the same path this time.

It could be argued that Dungy was too nice to get his Bucs players to take that extra step, but I think his record with the Colts disproves that. The Bucs won with defense, while the Colts win with offense. Dungy has shown that he can win regardless of the talent level around him. Coughlin, by contrast, likes to do things a certain way. But his undoing in Jacksonville had more to do with a disastrous series of personnel moves that put the team up against the salary cap.

Gruden, of course, lacks charm but he was able to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl title back in 2003. That has been forgotten, however, as Tampa Bay continues to suffer meltdowns in December. On Sunday, the team had a shot for the playoffs but somehow managed to lose to the lowly Oakland Raiders. The Bucs lost the last four games of the season to end 9-7.

One of the arguments being used against Gruden is his constant quarterback shuffling.

Any sportswriter, however, who makes that point just isn’t watching enough NFL games. MOST teams in the league lack a true, bonafide, consistent quarterback. Anyone who thinks that the Bucs could have won 9 or 10 games with Chris Sims or some other cast-off is fooling themselves.

Jeff Garcia the last two years has made a difference. There’s a reason that the Tennessee Titans handed the ball this season to Kerry Collins. Their young quarterback Vince Young just couldn’t get the job done. Gruden’s complex offense needs a smart poised quarterback in order for it to succeed.

Jacksonville’s problems this season aren’t all Del Rio’s fault. Losing two offensive lineman at the start of the season was a killer blow. And a series of once again questionable moves, like signing Jerry Porter, also contributed to the team’s demise. The Jaguars have already announced that the team’s vice president of player personnel James “Shack” Harris has resigned. The departure of Harris may be a sign that Del Rio will get one more season to turn things around.

The one thing, however, that could be used against Del Rio is his handling of the team this year, including a now-infamous blow-up with one of his star linebacker. If Del Rio has lost control of the team then it may be time to close this chapter of the Jaguars franchise.

But at the end of the day it comes down to the players, not the coaches. It was the aging Bucs defense that got ripped for nearly a thousand yards rushing in the closing month of the season. It was the Jags offense that lacked playmakers who could stretch opposing defenses.

And changing coaches will do little to fix that problem.