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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. What Are The Glazers Thinking?
Oh, to be inside the mind of the Glazers right now as their Buccaneers team – a media darling in the offseason and the spotlight of HBO’s Hard Knocks series in training camp now – sits at an unexpected 2-4 – far away from the playoffs, even in the mediocre NFC.
What must be going through their minds – and when I say “their” I mean the minds of co-chairmen Bryan, Joel and Ed – in the midst of this three-game losing streak? Aside from surprise and disappointment, I have to believe there are a gambit of thoughts and emotions.
First let’s look at some facts. Then let’s guess as to what they’re thinking.
The last time Tampa Bay began the season 2-4 was in 2015 as the team went 4-6 down the stretch to finish 6-10. The Bucs rallied to get to 6-6 at one point before losing their last four games of the year. Head coach Lovie Smith was fired at season’s end and replaced by Dirk Koetter.
Tampa Bay has never started a season 2-4 and made it to the playoffs – or even had a winning record. Aside from the strike-shortened 1982 season, a 2-4 start has now occurred six times in franchise history.
Final Bucs’ Record After 2-4 Starts
2017 – TBD
2015 – 6-10
2006 – 4-12
1994 – 6-10
1988 – 5-11
The Bucs began the 1980 season 2-3-1 and then were 2-4-1 en route to a 5-10-1 finish.
When I said that there was a big difference between 3-3 and 2-4 on last week’s Pewter Nation Podcast and in my Bucs at Bills preview, I meant it. Tampa Bay has started off 2-3 in several years, but won the sixth game and went on to have successful seasons before.
Bucs’ Records When Improving From 2-3 To 3-3
2016 – 9-7
2012 – 7-9
1998 – 8-8
2001 – 9-7
1999 – 11-5
You can see how history shows that winning that sixth game to improve to 3-3 makes a big difference in how well the team can finish. In five instances, Tampa Bay has produced three winning seasons and two playoff berths despite starting off 2-3 and then winning its sixth game.
So Koetter and his Bucs have a herculean feat in front of them, to go 8-2 – or perhaps 7-3 – down the stretch to defy history and make the playoffs.
So what is going through the Glazers’ minds right now?
Keep in mind a few things. The Glazers have never fired a head coach during the season, and the only coordinator that was let go – aside from Jeff Tedford, who had medical issues in 2014 – was defensive coordinator Jim Bates in 2009. However, they have fired Raheem Morris after three years, and Greg Schiano and Smith just two years in to a five-year contract.
The Glazers stopped paying Schiano last year and are no longer on the hook for Smith after this season because the fifth year of that contract was an option year for the club. Contract details have not been released on Koetter’s five-year deal, but it may have a fifth-year option in it as well, especially since he had never been an NFL head coach before.
The Glazers will evaluate the performances of the Bucs coaches and general manager Jason Licht, who is in a contract year, over the entire season and likely reach their conclusions on the future of Tampa Bay’s front office and coaching staff in January. But that doesn’t stop them from thinking about things right now.
The Glazers didn’t think about having Smith replace Schiano in January after the 2013 season. Those thoughts were formed in December of 2012 – and perhaps earlier.
Do the Glazers look at the 2-4 Bucs and see Koetter’s offense improving along with an improving young quarterback and see the importance of continuity? Or are they once again getting impatient because it looks like it will now be 10 years – a whole decade – since Tampa Bay has been to the playoffs?
Do the Glazers view this this year as 1998, an unexpected dip back after a winning season in 1997 before a big step ahead in 1999? Or do they view last year’s 9-7 team like they did the 10-6 Bucs team in 2010 that was really fool’s gold in hindsight?
Are the Glazers seeing a lopsided football team that has been fortified on offense with players like Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard, but still needs another good defense-heavy draft or two to improve the pass rush and the cornerback position?
Are they thinking that Koetter might need to turn the play-calling duties over to someone like Todd Monken in 2018 so he can better concentrate on game management if he’s still around, or do they want Koetter to keep calling plays and get better with experience?
Might the Glazers be thinking about replacing Koetter with Jon Gruden, the Bucs’ all-time winningest coach, if Gruden is interested? Outside of helping season ticket sales, would that be an upgrade or would that be a mistake like Billy Martin’s second stint with the New York Yankees or Art Shell’s ill-fated comeback with the Oakland Raiders in 2006?
Gruden is likely the only person the Glazers would even consider replacing Koetter with, right?
Do the Glazers demand Koetter get rid of good friend and defensive coordinator Mike Smith if the defense doesn’t improve over the next 10 weeks in order for him to remain the head coach in 2018? Does Koetter even need to be given an ultimatum regarding Smith, though?
Given how hard it is to find pass rushing defensive linemen suitable for a 4-3 scheme, should the Bucs explore a move to a 3-4 defensive scheme and hire a coordinator with that kind of background?
Does Licht get a contract extension after the end of this season? Does he deserve one? Does the drafting of Winston, Evans, Kwon Alexander and O.J. Howard outweigh the selections of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Roberto Aguayo, Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence or simply balance it out?
Where did the start of the Bucs’ season go wrong and how can that be avoided next year? Did Hard Knocks have a negative affect on the training camp? Was training camp too soft in terms of not having tackling or live contact periods? Is there enough of a business-like attitude at One Buccaneer Place?
Is Tampa Bay’s kicking carousel finally over? Is Patrick Murray the guy? How many games have bad kicking cost the Bucs over the last four years? Does the roster need some tweaking or a continued overhaul?
What happens if Tampa Bay beats Carolina and improves to 3-4? Do the Glazers become more patient? What happens if the Bucs lose at home to the Panthers this week and slip to 2-5? Do the Glazers get antsy for change?
What do the Glazers think when they see second-year head coaches like Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson at 6-1 and Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone and Tennessee’s Mike Mularkey both at 4-2?
What do they think when they see rookie head coaches like L.A. Rams’ Sean McVay at 5-2 and Buffalo’s Sean McDermott at 4-2?
If there are any changes to be made – with Koetter or Smith or Licht – those thoughts start forming in the minds of the Glazers in November, which is right around the corner.
Nobody knows what the secretive Glazers are thinking. Even Koetter and Licht, who have regular dialogue with ownership, don’t know what is going through their minds.
Tony Dungy was surprised when he was fired after going 9-7 and making the playoffs three straight seasons in 2001. Gruden and former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen were blindsided by being fired three weeks after finishing the season 9-7 in 2008.
Former general manager Mark Dominik and Schiano thought they had one more year to fix the Bucs after the 2013 season, but both were fired immediately in January 2014.
We likely won’t know until January what changes the Glazers are plotting – if any – but their minds will undoubtedly be racing until then.