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March 4, 2010 @ 4:00 am
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Wyche Revisits Free Agent Acquisition Hardy Nickerson

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Former Bucs head coach and PewterReport.com contributing analyst Sam Wyche uses this month's edition of Wyche's World to revisit the acquisition of five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Hardy Nickerson in free agency in 1993. Wyche writes about the importance of Nickerson in Tampa Bay's turnaround and more in this column.

Sam Wyche is a regular, exclusive contributor to PewterReport.com. In his monthly Wyche's World column, Wyche will share expert insight and opinions regarding the Bucs and the NFL based on his previous playing and coaching experience in the league.

Wyche played quarterback for Cincinnati (1968-70), Washington (1971-73), Detroit (1974), St. Louis (1976) and Buffalo (1976) before embarking on a successful coaching career in the NFL. Wyche is most remembered for coaching the Bengals from 1984-91. The pinnacle of his coaching career came when he helped the Bengals reach Super Bowl XXIII. Wyche's final stint as a NFL head coach was in Tampa Bay, where he coached the Buccaneers from 1992-95.

Since his tenure with the Buccaneers ended, Wyche has served as a sports analyst for CBS and NBC, worked with Buffalo as a quarterbacks coach, coached high school football, established himself as a successful motivational speaker and made a name for himself in politics in South Carolina where he holds a seat on the County Council in Pickens, S.C.

Wyche also serves as a spokesperson for The Rally Foundation, which aims to help children's cancer research and encourages you to visit the website.

Although he wasn't part of Tampa Bay's Super Bowl team, linebacker Hardy Nickerson was a super player. Looking back on it, Hardy should be viewed as a top 10 move in terms of turning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers around.

Hardy brought so much more than just being a linebacker. He brought leadership, the experience of winning in the NFL from his time with Pittsburgh and a winning attitude. His whole family, including his wife, was heavily involved in a lot of things, and he adopted the same philosophy, so Hardy immediately got involved in the Tampa community.
He had probably passed his peak as a player, but Hardy, who was 27 at the time we signed him, was still an outstanding player, and he signed with Tampa Bay because he wanted to. We drafted Derrick Brooks two years later in 1995 after we had acquired Hardy. We really saw value in Derrick working with Hardy and learning from him, and we all know what type of player Derrick turned out to be. Hardy was a great influence on him.

Hardy was such an aggressive player. He was involved in every play. Even if he didn't get there until after the whistle, Hardy was coming on every play. When you get 11 guys playing that way that's when you put yourself in position to swarm to the ball take advantage of causing and recovering fumbles.

One of the things that made Hardy such a unique talent was he didn't just play that way. He practiced that way, too. The standards were set early in the week each week for the younger players. The younger guys definitely learned from Hardy.

We actually thought we had signed Hardy one year earlier in 1992, but there was a contract dispute between the Buccaneers and the Steelers. We had the deal all arranged, but it fell through on some technicalities. The major technicality was the Steelers claimed they still had Hardy under contract, and they weren't willing to let him go. It was a legitimate claim, as Pittsburgh still owned his rights. Rather than get involved in a contract dispute with the Steelers, we just decided to smile and tell Hardy we'd see him in Tampa in a year. He certainly was a player worth waiting for.

We put on a pretty good sales job to recruit Hardy to Tampa Bay. We were a team that didn't have a recent record of winning, and the Bucs overall hadn't been a winning team. You've got to sell that player, in this case Hardy Nickerson, on him being the guy that would be remembered as the one that helped turn around the defense and the team. Hardy would represent a winner and a Super Bowl-caliber player. Not only that, but Hardy was a leader for the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he wasn't going to come to Tampa Bay and experience leadership for the first time. That was his make-up. That's the way he operated.

Had a few things happened and a couple of players come through that didn't measure up to where we had hoped they'd be – we were so close to winning. Sometimes I wish we could turn the clock back because I knew we were close, but only in retrospect could you see how close the Bucs were to winning. We were playing very competitive football near the end of my tenure in Tampa Bay before it officially ended after the 1995 season.

I don't remember which teams specifically were interested in signing him, but Hardy did have other offers and other opportunities. But the intention was there from the beginning - Hardy wanted to come to Tampa. I used to kid that we should put a sign up outside One Buc Place that said, "Future Home of the Buccaneers New Facility." That certainly wasn't a selling point, but Hardy was a different breed. He understood the big picture. This was at a time where each team had to outdo the newest facility. With Hardy, we just showed him what we had and said that was it.

Even though we didn't have a big, beautiful facility, we did have great weather and a terrific place for a family to come live. The sales job was, "Let me show you Tampa Bay and picture what living here is going to be like when you're not in the office, the office being One Buc Place." I know I sold Hardy on this, but I always tried to sell guys on the fact that Tampa was a part-time home for a lot of people that had lived all over the country. This was a place people came to in order to get away from the snow and cold. I'd say, "People spend money to come here, but we're going to pay you to come here. And we're going to let you play football when you come here, too."

Hardy Nickerson was instrumental in the turnaround of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He helped turn around attitudes, work ethics and the belief that you were going to win that Sunday. That's a little different than preaching how hard you're going to have to practice. When you walked into that stadium on Sunday if you truly believed you were going to win ... that's the way Hardy conducted himself. I think he was the first one that was the big example for the rest of the team. He was a positive example for the rest of the team both on and off the football field and one of the best free agent signings in Tampa Bay.

By Sam Wyche as told to PewterReport.com editor-in-chief Jim Flynn. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 September 2010 13:15

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