Now that it’s been nearly a month and half since the Buccaneers walked off the field at Raymond James Stadium as world champions, it has finally started to sink in.
They really did it.
New quarterback, a second-year coaching staff, a pandemic ravaging the world and somehow the Buccaneers managed to beat a virus and the NFL in one season.
Thinking about things and how they transpired this week, it really is a remarkable achievement when you stop to ponder it.
But even more remarkable is how far this team came to get here.
And how quickly.
Just six seasons ago, the Buccaneers were starting rookie Jameis Winston at quarterback with names on the offensive side of the ball like Bobby Rainey, Donteea Dye, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Gosder Cherilus.
Bucs TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
On the defensive side of the ball, Gerald McCoy looked around his meeting room and saw Da’Quan Bowers, Howard Jones and George Johnson. Behind them players like Danny Lansanah and Keith Tandy started the season being counted on to play crucial roles for this football team.
And who could forget punter Jacob Schum?
I’m not knocking these guys. Every single one of them worked harder at their craft than 99 percent of us ever have at anything. Most of them started playing football before puberty ever set in. Years of training, diet, physical workouts all went into them making an NFL roster and it should be commended and applauded. And that’s not to mention the wear and tear on their bodies
But let’s face it, by comparison to most of the other NFL teams, they just weren’t very good.
Finishing with a 6-10 record said so.
Fast forward to 2020, and my, how things had changed.
I’ll be honest, there were times over the last 10 seasons covering this team when I didn’t think they would ever make the playoffs again. It was draft and free agent blunder after draft and free agent blunder. Underperforming player after underperforming player. Average coaching staffs after average coaching staffs.
Just a season after season vicious circle.
So what changed? How did the Bucs go from a middle of the road, mediocre, disappointing team to Super Bowl champs?
The Front Office
Table of Contents
First, it started with better drafting and finding better talent. While Joe Hawley and Evan Smith were good players, they weren’t in Ryan Jensen’s class. Da’Quan Bowers was no Shaq Barrett, and Gosder Cherilus was no Tristan Wirfs. You need talent to win in the NFL, and Jason Licht and his staff have gotten better virtually every season at not only getting better talent through the draft and free agency, but also finding the right talent to fit the scheme.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Licht has made his share of mistakes, but has never run from them. And maybe more importantly, he didn’t hold onto his mistakes too long. Licht doesn’t peel the band-aid off slowly, he rips it off. Let the wound get air and heal is his philosophy, and it rewarded the organization with a Super Bowl. Navigating the restraints of a salary cap, hitting on draft picks and signing the fill-in pieces, Licht has proven to be the right person, at the right time for the organization.
I’ve said it often, but will once again, Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter have forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know. The worst NFL head coaches could school the average NFL fan – and most in the media – on the intricacies of scheme and technique. Most have been in the profession their entire adult lives and most were very good players themselves at some point. I often chuckle at the Twitter geniuses who think they could coach better than professionals. Imagine Koetter walking into your insurance business and telling you why your customer doesn’t need uninsured motorist coverage or an umbrella policy. Yet many fans feel the need to think they can catch a couple games a week on television and know more than an NFL head coach.
With that said, like the NFL players, not all coaches are created equal. Bruce Arians is a better football coach than Smith or Koetter. That’s just a fact. It’s not a personal attack on anyone, and it’s not just Arians either. Sometime the best head coaches are the ones who can assemble the best staff for their players. Would anyone argue that current defensive coordinator Todd Bowles isn’t better than former DC Mike Smith? Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert isn’t better than George Warhop? Or defensive line coach Kacy Rogers isn’t better than Jay Hayes?
And lastly, the players themselves put in the work to get a championship. You can assemble an all-star team of Pro Bowl players, but if they don’t have a passion and strong desire to win, they won’t. They don’t always have to love each other, but they have to be on the same page and have the desire to be the best. Licht and Arians knew they could hire the best coaches, draft and sign the best players and still not win. It was about finding the right players.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
One of those right players was obviously Tom Brady, someone who elevated everyone around him from the first day he arrived in Tampa Bay. But it wasn’t just Brady. The team has been acquiring the right players for a while. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Offensive linemen Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen. Defenders Devin White and Jason Pierre-Paul, and many more. As great as Brady is, the Jets would not have won the Super Bowl last season if Brady had been their quarterback. They would have won more than one game, but no way they are hoisting a Lombardi Trophy last month. At the same time, the Bucs would not have won the Super Bowl in 2020 if Jameis Winston had been the quarterback.
As I stated earlier, it is really hard to fathom how far this team has come in just a few years. It doesn’t seem that long ago the Buccaneers were dropping 10 straight games to close out the 2011 season. It doesn’t seem that long ago MRSA ran rampant in the building and two players literally lost toes. The same toes Greg Schiano was screaming to keep on the line.
How about the second half meltdown in Washington to Kirk Cousins under Smith and Smith?
“You like that?” No Kirk, we actually didn’t.
And who can forget the Hard Knocks season under Koetter with Chris “Swaggy” Baker humping a palm tree and players who were eating hot dogs on the sideline during a preseason game?
In some respects it seems like a million years ago, while at times it feels like just yesterday. The good news for Bucs fans and even us in the media, it appears those days are long behind us. I am not saying the Buccaneers are ready to repeat a Patriots-type 20-year dynasty, but I also don’t foresee another 12 season between playoff appearances stretch wither.
Things have finally come together for the Buccaneers but it wasn’t by accident. Maybe there was a little luck involved but the front office, the coaching staff and the players turned around a laughing stock organization into world champions.
Now no one pinch me and wake me from this dream season.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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