Ah, the NFL offseason. While the break is nice, the news trickles in and topics to write weekly columns about slow down to a snail’s pace. Ever wonder why you see so many lists in the offseason? And PewterReport.com has already, and will continue to throw our “list” hat in the ring. In fact Scott Reynolds begins his Top 30 Bucs of all-time list on Friday. Spoiler alert – Jameis Winston didn’t make it.
I’ve also done my fair share of list articles over the years like the best and worst free agents in team history, favorite games I’ve ever covered and last week’s Top 3 Bucs who deserve the Ring of Honor.
But this week I’ll take a look at all 12 coaches in Bucs history and rank them from worst to first.
Buccaneer Magazine featuring Sam Wyche
Disclaimer: Even the worst ones have forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know. These men spent decades working on their craft, putting in ungodly hours, missing birthdays, weddings (hopefully not their own) and even the birth of some of their children. They’ve suffered health problems among other things, all so us armchair quarterbacks can sit on our rears in our recliners ridiculing and second-guessing every wrong move they made on Sunday afternoons.
So here we go with my coaching list – from worst to first in team history. See if you agree and add your ranking in the comment section below.
12. Leeman Bennett 1985-1986 (4-28)
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Hugh Culverhouse hired an RV salesman.
I’m not even exaggerating. Bennett had been the Falcons head coach, with some success before being fired in 1982, but literally had been selling RVs for two years. Culverhouse, in all of his infinite wisdom, decided Bennett was the guy to replace John McKay. The Bucs were really bad in Bennett’s time as head coach, posting back-to-back 2-14 seasons. Would things have changed if Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson actually signed with the Buccaneers after they made him No. 1 overall pick in the 1986 NFL Draft? Perhaps, but Jackson took one look at the roster, the owner, and likely the RV salesman, and said “no thanks”.
Bennett, 83, is semi-retired in Georgia, where he served as a member of the board of directors for the First National Bank of John’s Creek in Alpharetta, Georgia, a bank he helped form after retirement.
11. Richard Williamson 1991 (3-13)
As former Bucs linebacker and Bay Area radio host Scot Brantley used to say, some men are born to be a head coach and some should just stay as assistant coaches. Williamson was clearly in the latter half.
Williamson joined Ray Perkins staff in Tampa Bay in 1987 and served as offensive coordinator for Tampa Bay. After Perkins was fired late in the 1990 season, the former Crimson Tide player was named interim head coach, and led the team to a 1-2 record. After the military boot camp style of Perkins, the Bucs players loved the relaxed personality of Williamson and actually petitioned Culverhouse to make him the head coach in 1991. Culverhouse listened, but the results were terrible as the Bucs went 3-13 in Williamson’s first and only season as head coach.
Williamson went on to to have success as an assistant, spending 1992 to 2009 with the Carolina Panthers before passed away on September 21, 2015.
10. Lovie Smith 2014-2015 (8-24)
The Lovie Smith era in Tampa Bay was anything but a “love fest”.
Former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Smith brought a successful NFL coaching resumé to Tampa Bay, but his time here was short, as it was for many coaches in Bucs’ history. Things started poorly for Smith and his staff with the team going 2-14 in his first season and a slew of mediocre to downright awful free agents being signed prior to that first season. Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson and Josh McCown were busts in Tampa Bay and their play on the field confirmed that. Smith never really warmed up to the Tampa Bay media, instead appearing standoffish and aloof at time. The lack of success on the field never endeared him to Bucs fans either. His second season was better, but Smith was fired by the Glazers following his 6-10 2015 season.
Smith became the head coach of the University of Illinois following his tenure as head coach with the Bucs, but failed to turn the program around and was fired in 2020. Smith is now the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans.
9. Ray Perkins 1987-1990 (19-41)
Ray Perkins was a disciple of legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant, who he played for from 1964 to 1967. The biggest problem with Perkins was he brought the Junction Boys mentality to the NFL and it was despised by most of his players.
Ray Perkins – Photo courtesy of BucPower.com
After his arrival from Alabama, Perkins decided the team needed to be toughened up. So he held three-a-day practices in training camp. Yes, you read that right. Three padded practices in the Tampa heat in July and August. Even in the late 1980’s that mentality was thought to be ludicrous. In today’s NFL, they’d put a coach in jail for the way Perkins ran his camps. The Buccaneers never won more than five games under Perkins in his four seasons in Tampa Bay, with many later explaining the team was gassed before the midway point of the regular season after the brutal training camps.
Perkins went back to the collegiate ranks briefly before finishing his coaching career as an NFL assistant. He passed away last year at the age of 79.
8. Greg Schiano 2012-2013 (11-21)
“Toes on the Line! Toes on the Line!”
To say Greg Schiano was a stickler for details would be a gross understatement. After former Oregon coach Chip Kelly jilted the Bucs at the last minute, former GM Mark Dominik and the Glazers ended up settling on Schiano, who had revived a nearly dead Rutgers program. Like Perkins before him, Schiano thought his college ways would translate to the NFL. While a few players welcomed the strict Schiano following the loose Raheem Morris, Schiano took things too far in many cases. Most players weren’t exactly devastated when he was fired after two seasons.
Schiano went back to coaching college football and is now back at Rutgers, where, in hindsight, he should have never left.
7. Raheem Morris 2009-2011 (17-31)
Until the arrival of Bruce Arians, there hadn’t been a more fun and entertaining Bucs coach as Raheem Morris. Young, energetic and beloved by his players, Morris was thought to be a rising coaching star that the Glazers had hoped would follow the trajectory of former Bucs and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Former Bucs coaches Raheem Morris and Mike Tomlin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Morris wasn’t given much help at all from the organization, as the checkbook was essentially sewn shut in his tenure with the Bucs. In 2011, the biggest free agent prize Tampa Bay signed was punter Michael Koenen. Yes, a punter.
Still, it wasn’t all bad. Tampa Bay won 10 games in 2010 under Morris and missed the playoffs in a tiebreaker with the Packers. Then came the 2011 season, which is still a bit of mystery. The Bucs started the season 4-2 before heading to London to face the Bears. Tampa Bay lost that game then proceeded to lose their next nine games, to finish on a 10-game losing streak.
Morris was fired on January 2, 2012 then went onto continue his coaching career as an assistant. Many feel Morris will eventually return to the head coaching ranks once again and will be more successful his second time around.
6. Sam Wyche 1992-1995 (23-41)
As charismatic as they come, Sam Wyche was part football coach and part time carnival barker.
Following the disaster of Bennett, Perkins and Williamson, Wyche was a breath of fresh air as he at least had a solid track record of success in the NFL. Most notably, he’d led the Bengals to the Super Bowl and a narrow loss to Joe Montana in 1988.
But Wyche was unable to duplicate the success of his time with the Bengals and never won more than seven games in his four seasons in Tampa Bay. There were glimpses of success at times, including a 5-2 start to the 1995 season, but it unfortunately ended in a 7-9 final record and Wyche was fired. While the team’s success didn’t happen under Wyche, he was part of the organization that drafted John Lynch, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, three future Hall of Famers.
Wyche became an analyst for NBC, then spent a couple seasons as an assistant in Buffalo. He also coached high school football in South Carolina before his death in 2020 at the age of 74.
5. Dirk Koetter 2016-2018 (19-29)
Bucs GM Jason Licht and former HC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
This one began kind of awkwardly and didn’t end much better.
Koetter was hired by Lovie Smith in 2015 as the team’s offensive coordinator to help develop a young rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston. While the Bucs were only 6-10 in 2015, Winston showed enough promise that after deciding to fire Smith the job was offered to Koetter.
There were some rumblings that Smith wasn’t very happy to be fired and replaced by Koetter, who he had brought in, and Koetter was caught up in tough situation. Koetter had aspirations to be a head coach, but not necessarily at the expense of his friend and former boss. The Bucs flirted with the playoffs in Koetter’s first season, going 9-7. But he followed it up with back-to-back 5-11 seasons, and the Glazers and GM Jason Licht made yet another coaching change, firing Koetter on December 30, 2018.
Koetter went back to Atlanta as the Falcons offensive coordinator for two seasons, before announcing his retirement from coaching last January.
4. John McKay 1976-1984 (44-88-1)
Once asked about his team’s execution following a loss, the dry, quick-witted John McKay told reporters, “I’m all for it”.
Bucs John McKay – photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
McKay, a Ring of Honor member and the team’s first coach, came to the NFL after a highly successful college career at USC that saw national championships, All-Americans and a number of Rose Bowls. When he came to Tampa Bay, he saw a ragtag expansion team that many felt couldn’t have beaten his college teams. After an 0-26 start, that might have been the case. But McKay and his staff stuck to their plan of building a strong defense and that unit was the catalyst for a 10-6 1979 season that came within 10 points of reaching the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers under McKay also went to the playoffs in 1981 and 1982. Then they lost quarterback Doug Williams in a contract dispute and slipped to 2-14 in 1983 and 6-10 in 1984.
McKay retired following the 1984 season and spent the rest of his days on the golf course or relaxing with his family in the Tampa Bay community. McKay passed away June 10, 2001 at the age of 77.
3. Jon Gruden 2002-2008 (57-52)
“Chucky” Gruden, as he was nicknamed for his scowl and resemblance to the main character in the 1988 horror film, Child’s Play, could and maybe should be higher. After all, he did what was once thought to be impossible – lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl title.
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Gruden was hired by the Glazers prior to the 2002 season after a deal was reached with the Raiders to acquire Gruden’s services. The Bucs had been frequent playoff participants, but offensively stalled a number of times under the defensive-minded Tony Dungy. Gruden was smart enough not to mess with the formula on the other side of the ball and kept that staff intact, instead shaking up Tampa Bay’s stagnant offense. While it wasn’t necessarily a high-powered juggernaut, Gruden worked his magic and got just enough out of quarterback Brad Johnson while adding a few key pieces to put the Bucs over the hump. Gruden’s subsequent teams were a mixed bag of highs and lows, but they were never able to recapture the magic of that 2002 season.
Gruden was fired following a 9-7 2008 season that saw his team drop four straight to narrowly miss the playoffs. There was some interest from ownership in bringing Gruden back in 2019, but he instead took the Raiders job and a 10-year, $100 million payday.
2. Tony Dungy 1996-2001 (54-42)
Tony Dungy was as steady and as dependable as the sun rising in the east every morning and setting in the west each evening. Dungy wasn’t flashy, loud or boisterous, just the perfect coach for the Bucs at the time.
Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Glazers first attempted to lure Jimmy Johnson back to the sidelines, then tried to talk Steve Spurrier off the headset in Gainesville before settling on Dungy. In hindsight sometimes third choice is better than the first or second, at least that was the case with Dungy. While it didn’t start off so great in 1996, it only took Dungy until his second season to get the Bucs back to a place they hadn’t been since 1982 – the playoffs. The Bucs made the playoffs in four of the six seasons Dungy roamed the sidelines in Tampa Bay, including reaching the NFC Championship game in 1999. Following another playoff loss to the Eagles in 2001, Dungy was fired.
Dungy moved on from Tampa Bay and ended up as head coach in Indianapolis. He eventually reached the Super Bowl, becoming the first black head coach to win an NFL championship in 2006. Now retired from coaching, Dungy still makes his home in Tampa Bay while working for NBC Sports and staying involved in the local community.
1. Bruce Arians 2019 – current (18-14)
A case could be made for each of the top 3 coaches on my list being No. 1, but I gave the nod to Arians, not just based on his Bucs’ success, but his two-time coach of the year awards along with two Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach.
Bruce Arians – Photo by: USA Today
Following the firing of Koetter after the 2018 season, many thought Licht might also be relieved of his duties. But Licht’s strong relationship with Arians was enough to get the former Cardinals head coach out of retirement, perhaps saving Licht’s job as well.
The Bucs saw several offensive records fall in 2019, Arians’s first as head coach with the Buccaneers. But unsteady QB play from Jameis Winston led Arians and the Bucs to the decision to pursue first ballot future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. And what a decision it was. Arians pushed all the right buttons in 2020 and helped the team navigate through a particularly tough season due to a worldwide pandemic. It culminated with the team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last February in Raymond James Stadium.
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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