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.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers obviously had both defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks highly rated in the 1995 NFL Draft. We felt we knew Sapp and Brooks well, but whether they'd be there when the Buccaneers drafted – that we didn't know.
The way the NFL Draft works is you have a mock draft, or sometimes two, three of four mock drafts just to simulate the "what ifs" on a 15-minute, 10-minute and 5-minute time clock. The way we typically do that is we get all of the scouts together and have them put up in order on one board the top player in the draft, regardless of what position we need or whether we want him or not. We start with number one and add number two, three and all the way down the line.
We owned the seventh overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, so the top six players were real important to the Buccaneers because if a player slipped out of the top 5 or so they obviously would have our attention. So, we would simulate one group of five players gone and another group of five players gone, and in every one of our mock drafts Warren Sapp was gone in the top five. We eventually decided to trade down to the 12th overall pick in the first round, but started to realize that we still might have a shot at drafting Sapp.
There were rumors of drug use and him messing around and being a little bit of a fun guy in college, like all of us were, but they label certain people and Sapp got the label, and once that happens it can sometimes get out of hand like it did for Warren. Our scouts knew the players at all of the Florida schools very well because we had such a close geographical relationship and formed close and honest relationships with their coaches and trainers.
As the top part of the first round of the draft started to unfold, all of the Bucs player personnel people and all of the scouts that had worked with Warren, and [former Bucs general manager] Rich McKay and myself went out back of One Buccaneer Place. We stood out there on the patio, which was the weight room at the old One Buc, and I said, "I want everyone to speak freely here. Don't hold anything back. Is there any reason you can think of that we should not take Warren Sapp? Is there any explanation for the stories that have come out about him? Let's make sure we know that. Has anything happened over last few days that we need to know about?" Sometimes when a player slips like that you call the player himself and ask if they were in a car wreck or if they were arrested last night, or have you changed your mind about the NFL and are pursuing another career path? Maybe something like that came out and we hadn't heard about it yet.
We went through all of those checkpoints and everything came back positive. While we still had to see if he fell to us, we made the decision as a group that if Warren Sapp were still there when we picked at number 12 overall he would be a Buccaneer. Even at that point we all looked long and hard at each other to make sure we hadn't forgotten anything, and we hadn't, so we drafted Warren Sapp. We all liked him. I mean everybody – myself, Rich, Jerry Angelo – everybody. We really believed it was a great pick.
Derrick Brooks was a much easier decision to make in terms of trading up from the second round to draft him with the 28th pick in the first round. We didn't think he was going to be there, though, so that's why we jumped at the chance to select him. The only question on the report was Derrick Brooks' size – was he going to be big enough to hold up under the grind of an NFL season? He certainly proved that, and in a lot of ways he set a trend in terms of the NFL using smaller and faster linebackers, but there were a few guys before him that played many years in the league while undersized. The thing about Derrick was all of the other measurables outweighed the size issue. He was quicker and faster than the other guys, and when he hit you it felt like he was a 6-foot-6 player. We knew so much about his high character and high work ethic that we didn't blink on Brooks.
When I was first getting into coaching, the head coach of the Bengals, Paul Brown, used to start every mock draft by saying, "Listen all you guys. I don't want to hear about who the best athlete is or which player can bend their knees the best. I don't want to know who the athletes are and I don't want to hear who the knee benders are – I want to know who the football players are." I have always lived by that good advice, and understood early that good football players come in all sizes and shapes. Frankly, they come in all types of body styles and lots of different speeds.
We had some really good drafts in Cincinnati, but the Buccaneers' 1995 draft would have to be in consideration for one of the top 10 drafts of all time just because of the impact it had over time on Tampa Bay. While that includes Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, you can even throw safety John Lynch in there.
A lot of people don't remember this, but Lynch was going to go play baseball and not play in the NFL. I might have spent more time on him and targeting he, his mom and his dad than any other player we ever drafted. Bill Walsh, who was out of coaching at that point, called me to talk about Lynch, whom he had coached at Stanford. He said, "Sam, I'm telling you – if you go convince this kid that he needs to be a football player you're going to have a All-Pro." I said, "Yes, sir." When Bill talked like that you knew he meant it. I really worked hard on Lynch. About 2-3 weeks before the draft Lynch called to inform us he was going to play football and not play baseball, and we wound up taking him in the third round of the 1993 NFL Draft.
When you group Lynch, Sapp, Brooks and even linebacker Hardy Nickerson, whom we signed in free agency in 1993, we had All-Pros at safety, defensive tackle and linebacker that we acquired within a span of two years. We had our pillars and could now go win some football games. The only part that we were kind of missing was at quarterback. It's not a dig on Trent Dilfer, but Trent didn't come along as fast as we had hoped. Had we hit on a quarterback or been able to keep Vinny Testaverde another year with that group coming on, and assuming we were as smart as Tony Dungy and his staff the following two years with the drafting of the two running backs in Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, I would have loved to have worked with that group for five or six years and seen what could have happened.
When you get a group like that together and start winning some football games free agency becomes so much easier, especially for a town like Tampa, which is a great, warm place to live, a resort town with lots of bikinis walking around – it's a very helpful recruiting tool in Tampa if you're a good team. That could have been a dynasty for a long, long time, and it has been up until more recently. I can't take credit for it, but we were part of the beginning of that dynasty. Tony Dungy and I sat down to talk a few days after I was fired and I asked him for two hours so I could go over every player and tell him who might help him win and who might stand in his way of winning. He took it to heart based on the moves the Bucs made after I was gone.
The Bucs were 7-9 in 1995, and a few of our losses were much closer than the scores indicated. We were knocking on the door and right there, and the reason why I felt that way was because of John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson.
It was tough to watch the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII because I knew we were getting close. I can't say for sure how close because you're never that close until you get there, but I knew what had been put into that team and how good they could be. At the same time, I was really pulling for the Bucs, especially the guys I knew personally and had a few hours of sweat out on the field with. I was pulling for Tony Dungy during his time with Tampa Bay, too. I've always respected him and I believe he's respected me. Mr. Glazer was also straight up and I had no complaints with how he handled my dismissal, so I had no bitter feelings towards the Bucs. At the same time, you know you'd like to be part of a winner and you know you were there for early parts of it, but for the most important parts you weren't, so that made it tough.
By Sam Wyche as told to PewterReport.com editor-in-chief Jim Flynn.