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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. Time For McCoy To Step Up Or Step Aside
Let’s get a few things straight before we tackle this topic.
Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of the elite players in the NFL and has been for a long time. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler for a reason. McCoy is currently the most decorated player in Tampa Bay and he’s a future Bucs Ring of Honor inductee.
McCoy deserves to be a team captain for his accomplishments and his lead-by-example style. I have a great deal of respect for him professionally and personally. McCoy is a great community servant and role model. He represents the Buccaneers with class. McCoy deserves to be a leader in Tampa Bay, and no, the team shouldn’t trade him this offseason or anytime soon.
Now here comes the tough love.
I don’t think McCoy should be the front-and-center leader anymore in Tampa Bay, yet that’s the role he’s taken on by default through the years by being the best player on the Bucs defense. I don’t even think that’s a role he initially sought out earlier in his career. It’s just that he was a first-round pick and the best player on a sub-par Bucs defense very early on, so everyone looked to him.
The reason I say this is because McCoy is entering his ninth year in Tampa Bay and his team has yet to make the playoffs. Something about this team’s leadership has to change, and the status quo that’s been going on for years has not improved despite adding more talent to the roster, especially last offseason. Coming off a 9-7 campaign in 2016, a 5-11 season last year should not have happened in Tampa Bay.
Other than being a great lead-by-example guy, I don’t think McCoy has been good enough as a leader for this team from a vocal standpoint and a control standpoint. Remember that being a lead-by-example guy only works if enough people are watching you lead by example. There have been enough bad apples and sub-par players over the years in Tampa Bay that I’m sure not as many have been paying attention to McCoy doing things the right way as this franchise would have liked.
To be fair, McCoy hasn’t been responsible for acquiring players, game plans or doing anything outside of rushing the passer and stopping the run as a three-technique defensive tackle. So in no way is he solely responsible for Tampa Bay making the postseason, nor is he the reason the team hasn’t made the playoffs since he became a Buccaneer in 2010.
But has McCoy done enough to elevate his play to become enough of a difference-maker on defense? That’s debatable, and it was just a year ago that he said he got a wake-up call at the Pro Bowl about needing to be more effective in the fourth quarter as a pass rusher. The fact that McCoy notched just six sacks last year, and that his sacks have declined in each of the last three seasons is a bit worrisome as he turns 30 later this month.
Perhaps more importantly, has McCoy elevated the level of play of those around him? That’s what great leaders do. I can’t say he’s done that outside of linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, and I’m not sure how much of their development into becoming Pro Bowlers I can specifically attribute to McCoy.
Back in the day, you saw Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp’s presence help elevate Chidi Ahanotu’s sack total to 10 in 1997, and Brad Culpper’s sack total to a team-leading nine the next season, and Marcus Jones’ sack total to 13 in 2000. Has McCoy had that type of affect on any other defensive lineman in Tampa Bay? In defense of McCoy, I’m not sure he was always been surrounded by the talent and work ethic that was possessed by guys like Culpepper and Ahanotu.
McCoy should be lauded for the extra time he spends working with young ends and tackles after practice. Yet for whatever reason, the results have not always shown up on Sundays with those players.
So what I’m suggesting is McCoy do one of two things – radically change his leadership style or step aside and turn the defense over to Alexander, who seems ready to take on more of a leadership role entering his fourth season with Pro Bowl credentials. Alexander is more of a gritty bad ass, and his brand of vocal leadership and fiery demeanor is more reminiscent of that of Nickerson and Sapp than McCoy’s style is.
I’ve done a good deal of research on leadership, and when it comes to the topic there is a fine line between going outside your comfort zone and being true to yourself without being phony. Some people are comfortable going outside of themselves, or are at least open to trying it. Other people try it, and it doesn’t work as nobody buys it because they come across as phony.
McCoy is a classy, tough, goofy, friendly guy in addition to being an elite football player. He’s caught some grief from fans for not being angry or mean (i.e. not being Sapp) and for helping opponents up after plays and for smiling and shaking hands with them after games – otherwise known as sportsmanship. But what I don’t know – because I’m not in the locker room more than an hour or two each week nor am I on the practice field – is if McCoy is willing to speak out and get in a guy’s face, ruffle some feathers, step on some toes to hold someone accountable.
This is an assumption I’m making based on the results I’ve seen in the Bucs’ record and Tampa Bay’s stagnant defensive rankings since his arrival in 2010, as well as his own recent statements in an interview on 620 WDAE about the team’s shortcomings during the 2017 season.
“Whether it was preparation. How guys prepared. How guys played,” McCoy said on WDAE via the Tampa Bay Times. “We just shot ourselves in the foot a lot with penalties and mental errors. And then there were times where we just got beat as a team. The team was just better than us. That comes from experience. Guys have to band together. We’ve got to come together as a team and unit and get on the same page. We weren’t always on the same page.
“I think myself and Lavonte, we take a lot of blame for that. Not doing enough in the room or at practice. If this thing is going to change, we need to take this thing over and make sure it changes.”
If McCoy is indeed going to “take this thing over” that would be welcomed news, but is he going to make the necessary changes within his personality so that the necessary changes in the team’s record actually show up? Sometimes leadership can be messy and confrontational. Is McCoy willing to get in a guy’s face and say, ‘That’s not the way we do things around here. Knock that shit off. It’s time to get focused and get serious.”
McCoy, who is a bit of an attention seeker and a people pleaser, likes to be liked. He has shown instances in the media and on social media where he can be a little thin-skinned. Leaders can’t be afraid of not being liked – it’s only about being respected. There were plenty of former Bucs players that truly didn’t like Sapp and his style of leadership, but he had the entire team’s respect.
As Times columnist Tom Jones pointed out on a recent podcast with Bucs beat writer Rick Stroud, we hear the same thing from McCoy every year it seems after a disappointing season. He needs to do this better. The team needs to do that better.
“Gerald McCoy is one of the veteran guys on this team, and again, I know it feels like I’m picking on him, but it just feels like every year I get a speech from Gerald about ‘How we’re going to do things differently this year or how I’m learning this this year,” Jones said. “Man, you’ve been in the league eight or nine years now.”
I feel the exact same way Jones does, and it is becoming clear to me that McCoy knows how to lead to a certain extent, but he’s not a good enough leader to lead Tampa Bay out of the abyss or he would have done it by now. One thing that being on the Bucs beat for over two decades has afforded me is the opportunity to see what real, effective leadership looks like in Tampa Bay. I’ve seen it.
I’ve seen Hardy Nickerson not put up with any nonsense, heard that he literally kicked Keith McCants’ ass and told the Bucs that he was the new sheriff in town.
I’ve seen Sapp rule the locker room and the huddle with an iron fist, and demand greatness – and intimidate anyone that didn’t follow his lead.
I’ve seen Derrick Brooks’ brow turn into a frown and give the most disapproving glares to players that weren’t doing what they were supposed to. Brooks was so well respected that’s all it took – a look – and that’s why he was called the Godfather at One Buccaneer Place.
I’ve seen Ronde Barber come out of the shower with only a towel wrapped around him in the middle of open locker room and get between Aqib Talib and Stroud during a heated argument to break it up and kick all the media out while the former Bucs public relations staff was caught flatfooted and did nothing.
McCoy’s style of leadership just doesn’t measure up. At least it hasn’t yet.
So the challenge for McCoy is to do something different and go outside of his comfort zone – or step aside – because what he’s been doing hasn’t worked well enough to help drive this team to the playoffs. Doing something means not letting Chris Baker get away with being lazy early in training camp and setting that tone. Waiting until Baker jumps offsides on fourth down for a costly penalty in the waning moments of a Week 16 loss at Carolina isn’t being accountable.
That’s being late on leadership.
And besides, it didn’t seem like it was McCoy who was getting in Baker’s face in the locker room after the game for Baker’s smiling and lackadaisical attitude right after a crushing loss on Christmas Eve. That would have been Alexander who did that, along with Jameis Winston and apparently David from what was overheard on the Bucs Radio Network minutes after the loss to the Panthers. It’s hard to know for sure because the players didn’t want to talk about it to the media.
Perhaps McCoy needs to be less goofy and be more serious as he enters his ninth year in Tampa Bay? Hard Knocks showed McCoy to be the class clown at One Buccaneer Place. The truth is that the class clown rarely gets voted as the homecoming king or the student body president for a reason.
I’m not saying that McCoy and the Bucs shouldn’t have fun. It’s a long season and football is, after all, a game. It’s meant to be fun, and sometimes the mood needs to be lightened up.
But the best kind of fun comes after a hard-fought victory. Any little gags or cut-ups in the cafeteria, locker room, training room, meeting room or out on the practice field pales in comparison.
And losing sucks.
“The coaches would be giving us the scheme and we would run the scheme, but if you if you’re supposed to be in the B gap, be in the B gap,” McCoy said in his 620 WDAE interview via The Times. “If you’re supposed to set the edge, set the edge. If we’re in man, be in man. If you’re supposed to drop to a certain spot, then drop to that spot.
“It wasn’t that guys were being rebellious. I’m not saying that. But we’ve got to be more in tune as a unit and just more professional. But that just comes with time.”
That’s a bunch of bull.
McCoy is entering his ninth season with the Bucs and he’s seen three head coaches get fired, and Dirk Koetter will open the 2018 season on the hot seat and could be No. 4 on McCoy’s watch if this team doesn’t make the playoffs next year or show dramatic improvement. McCoy is running out of time with maybe two or three years left in red and pewter. In fact, by not standing up and demanding the players be more professional or more accountable in years past he has, in fact, wasted time and been derelict in his duties as a team leader.
“I talked to Sapp and Brooks and one thing they did, they did it,” McCoy said on WDAE via The Times. “They took it over. We’ve got to do a better job of taking it over. A lot of what I’m saying is it’s my fault things didn’t go the way they were supposed to go. But we’re going to face that.”
Time’s up, Gerald.
No more speeches. It’s time for some action. If McCoy doesn’t develop a zero tolerance for the B.S. things holding the franchise back from the postseason then it’s time for him to step aside.
McCoy can still wear the “C” on his chest as one of the best players on the Buccaneers and one of the lead-by-example guys like Barber used to do. But Barber was always clear – he didn’t want to be a vocal leader. He always felt more comfortable as a lead-by-example guy and as a lieutenant to Brooks and Sapp rather than being one of the generals himself.
And that’s okay. If McCoy wants to bow out of the front-and-center vocal leadership role and follow Barber’s approach, there’s no harm or disgrace in that. Just let Alexander take over.
But if McCoy truly intends on taking over the Bucs in 2018, holding this team more accountable, and getting them into the playoffs, then by God, just do it and do it right.
And stop talking about it.