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Saturday, 4 a.m.
It looks pretty certain to me that our Lightning Dolts will win the prize for the most underachieving (given the talent and expectations) major sports team in Tampa Bay history as well as in recent months everywhere. Can you recall other major teams in years past that also performed almost opposite to what was expected? I do predict that Stevie Y will overhaul this listless team with younger, more motivated players and replace 1-2 coaches as well.
Great question. There have been a lot of heart-wrenching seasons here in Tanpa Bay. I'd say this season for the Lightning barely cracks the top five.
Let's start with the Lightning in 2004-05, the season after the Stanley Cup Championship. The Lightning had such a young, dynamic group with Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Dan Boyle and Nikolai Khabibulen. They should have been able to make another run deep into the playoffs.
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Instead, the NHL shut down the whole darn season. All of it. Even worse, they accelerated contracts. Khabibulen was suddenly a free agent. Both Marty and Vinny were up.
The team just wasn't the same the following year. It limped into the playoffs in eighth place, and it lost in five quick games to Ottawa. John Grahame proved he wasn't the goaltender for the team.
Of course, that wasn't any more disappointing than the Bucs the year after they won the Super Bowl. Remember how this town fell in love with the Bucs. I remember doing a story on the Bucs and the Hall of Fame. After the team destroyed Philly in the 2003 opener, a writer I knew from Chicago walked by me and said "Put them all in." That's how good the team looked.
Then it fell apart. The Bucs had that choke job against the Colts, then blew a game against Carolina. They finished 5-11, and their window had closed. Jon Gruden made two more post-seasons, but he didn't win another playoff game. We're still waiting.
Then there were the Rays. They went to the World Series in 2008. But in 2009, the Rays not only missed the playoffs. They also cut Johnny Gomes, a fan favorite, and signed Pat Burrell, often called the biggest free agent mistake the team ever made.
I remember the Bucs of 1998, the year that Tony Dungy finally got the team back in the playoffs. But Tampa Bay spiraled to 8-8 the next year. They got to the NFC title game in '99, but they slipped to 10-6 and an ouster from the playoffs against Philly.
Yeah, this is bad, all right. The defense got old all at once. The offense hasn't done the same job it did filling in for Steven Stamkos a year ago. And the goalies have been awful.
I would have believed the team might slip. It still has flaws. But I wouldn't have thought it would have fallen through the basement.
Other than Mike Smith, who would you say was the most valuable Bucs assistant coach this season?
When a team is better than it was the year before, there are always candidates.
The first name I thought of was defensive line coach Jay Hayes. His unit was badly injured all season, but it battled pretty hard for most of the season. Hayes coached a Pro Bowler in Gerald McCoy, and his patchwork ends were decent. They lacked a pass-rushing beast, but they still helped that defensive run during the team's winning streak.
I think you also have to recognize the job done by defensive back coaches John Hoke and Brett Maxie. The way the Bucs started the season, I thought their safety play was awful. But it came on in the second half of the season.
A lot of fans won't appreciate this, because the offensive line wasn't as good as the year before. But George Warhop had to use a lot of moving pieces to keep his unit together.
I see talk of Raheem Morris replacing Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator of the Falcons. Whats your take on that?
Hey, it happens. Don Shula played defense, and he became an offensive specialist as a coach with the Dolphins. Maybe Rah has a future on that side of the ball.<
Me? I'd tend to vote against it. I know Morris did a fine job with the Falcons' receivers this year, but I have to tell you, you and I could coach Julio Jones. Raheem played defense, and his formative years as a coach were on defense. His first year with the Bucs, both offensive coordinator Jeff Jagozinski and defensive coordinator Jim Bates were fired. Raheem took over the defense, not the offense.
Good coaches can coach anywhere, though. Vince Lombardi was an offensive guy, but his defenses were terrific.
I think, if you're the Falcons, Morris is an easy choice. He had a good year, his players like him. But I wouldn't hire a receivers coach for another team as o.c., and I wouldn't hire my own, either. If Morris was a candidate for defensive coordinator, maybe. But not offense.
Do you think that the high school coach that complained about Willie Taggart was justified in his criticisms?
It seemed like a game of last-tag to me. Why worry about Taggart now when he's among Lewis and Clark?
There seems to be some support for what Earl Garcia said about not having a rapport with Taggart. I don't know what the interaction was. I can tell you that I had a great relationship with Willie, and I'm not nearly as important as the guys who send him players.
But a college coach isn't on the job to hang out and sip milk shakes with the high school coaches, either. If that coach has a prospect, he should see plenty of the local coach. If he doesn't, the guy isn't going to hang around. That's just sense.
I know for a long time, a lot of Tampa coaches didn't think that FSU's Bobby Bowden paid them enough attention. Same thing. Bowden isn't going to drive past a bona fide prospect out of spite. He was the friendliest guy who ever blew a whistle.
But high school coaches tend to like their kids a lot -- naturally. And if they try to push their quarterback on a coach who doesn't believe he can play, well, egos are going to clash. Taggart is a long way from USF these days, and he isn't coming back. If the high school coaches like Strong better, well, all the better for USF.