Ask Gary: Browns are awful, but are Bucs better?

by Gary Shelton on October 20, 2018 · 6 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning

Koetter hopes to stop his losing streak./CARMEN MANDATO

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

How ironic is it that during the same week of the Bucs horribly timed decision to fire Mike Smith, they are playing the Cleveland Browns. If the Bucs should lose on Sunday and their defense is shredded yet again, will the Bucs have overtaken the Browns as the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL?

Larry  Beller

Hah. Good question, Larry.

I'd answer it like this: The Bucs, as a franchise, haven't caught the Browns yet, but they may be gaining on them. There is a new excitement in Cleveland that the Browns may be mediocre, which is a vast improvement after one win in 32 games prior to this year. There is some good young talent being assembled. By comparison, the Bucs feel like they're making less progress, don't they?

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But as a franchise, I'd have to say no. The Bucs still beat them at the wire. That's not defending the Bucs, who have been lousy for a long time. But it's like a sputtering old jalopy beating a wrecked car. It's a terrible race to watch.

The problem with discussing dysfuntional franchises, of course, is that you have to determine how far back you want to go. For the sake of our conversation, I went back to 1999, the year the Browns were re-invented (they didn't play from 1996-98.
In that time, the Browns have 88 wins under nine coaches. The Bucs have 140 under six. Again, nothing to brag about (except for Tampa Bay's 2002 season), but it's better than what they've seen in Cleveland.
This year, they each have two wins. But for the last three seasons, the Browns have three. The Bucs have 16. It's like Hellen Keller's old line about feeling bad that she had no shoes until she met a man with no feet.
Look, it feels bad here. I get that. There has been very little progress, and the current rookie class looks horrible. The team hasn't won a playoff game since 2003. But Cleveland hasn't won a playoff game (with either this or the current Ravens franchise, which relocated) since 1994.
When I lived briefly in Alabama, there was a bumper sticker that said "thank goodness for Mississippi." Alabama was 49th in the nation in a lot of categories (education, income or the  standard of living), but Mississippi was worse. Maybe the Bucs should sell a bumper stick that says "thank goodness for the Browns."
I will say this: I think by the 2020 season, the Browns will have a better record than the Bucs.  Write it down.
Who made the call on firing of Tampa Bay Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith?
Scott Myers
Well, if you believe him, Dirk Koetter did. He insisted it was his call and his alone.
The question is whether you believe him. After all, Smith is a long-time co-worker with Koetter, and Koetter has just spent the previous two weeks explaining why Smith shouldn't be fired. "What do you do then?" he kept asking. Well, evidently, this.
My own suspicions -- and they're just that -- are that the decision came down on high. I believe the Glazers were tired of seeing their defense -- which they poured millions into -- look so feeble. I think the Glazers, Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter all had their voices heard. And then one of the Glazers said "well, what you're going to do is replace Smith, or we blow up your whole defensive staff..."
Frankly, I have no problem with any of that. An owner should be consulted on a major coaching change. So should a general managers. I imagine they all met in a room and discussed it, and only then did Koetter make his decision. It's silly to believe anything else happened. Are we to believe that Koetter woke up and fired Smith without talking to anyone? Really?
Look, I've been around mid-season coaching changes, and they rarely work. It's the first step toward blowing it all up, and everyone in the building knows it. A team isn't going to play smarter because they got rid of the brains of the mob.
So you can believe what you want. That Koetter, out of the blue, canned his buddy. Or that it was pointed out that he should can his buddy.
Again, I wouldn't have fired Smith. But I certainly can't blame people who did. What else are you doing to do in the middle of a storm? Give him an extension? Watch the embarrassment continue?
If you could have a sit-down interview with any five athletes -- past or present -- who would you choose and why?
Jim Willson
Great question, Jim. Let's see. Only five?
1. I'd start with Shoeless Joe Jackson. He's been romanticized for so long by the stat guys that I'd really want to know about the Black Sox scandal. It's kind of a favorite subject of mine. I'd like to know if he indeed took the money, and if was willing to help lose any game that was close. I know he had a good series, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have looked at strike three with the go-ahead run on third. I'd like to know just how aware he was of the depth of the fix. I'd invite Chick Gandil to sit in just for verificiation.
2. I'd bring in Muhammad Ali next. He's the athlete who mattered the most in our time. I'd love to know about his doubts and questions during his time away from the sport. I'd love to know whether he indeed threw his gold medal away. I interviewed Joe Frazier, who was openly hostile at any mention of Ali. I'd like to know if Ali felt the same.
3. I've always been interested in lore, so I'd sit down with George Gipp. There is so much fiction about his story and about what he said or didn't say to Knute Rockne. I suspect it is all balderdash. But he lived an interesting life. I'd like to get beneath the legend.
4. You cannot interview legendary performers without talking to Babe Ruth. Again, a lot of fiction is in the way. Was his famous hot dog really a social disease, as has been suggested? What was his relationship with Gehrig? Did he point out his home run? Again, there is a theme here. I'd want to get beneath the stories and find the truth.
5. I could keep going for a week here, Jim. But I'll wrap it up with Jesse Owens. Was he concerned being in a stadium where Hitler's influence was on display? What was it like being a black man in that time and place?  And did he have any earthly idea that running track could influence so many people?
If I could, I'd interview Warren Sapp again. And Serena Willliams. And Amy Van Dyken. And Al Joyner. And Greg Lougainis. Jim Bouton was great. I'd love to talk to Ted Williams and Moe Berg and  Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Unitas. There are so many stories, so many fascinating people, attached to sports. It's been a wonderful way to make a living.
So who are your five?
The Oakland Raiders look like a mess. I know it's only six games. But how much of that 1-5 record is what Jon Gruden inherited and how much of it is Jon Gruden's coaching?
Peter Kerasotis
How do you separate that much stuff in the latrine? The Raiders are awful, and yes, Gruden is part of it. You cannot hire a guy to come in and jettison stars (Khalil Mack) and then give him a pass.
Remember 2002? That year, Gruden came to the Bucs and won 12 games and, in the post-season, the Super Bowl. Justifiably, he got a lot of credit for it. Well, if he gets credit then, he has to share the blame now. That's just fair.
But if you're honest, the Raiders have been a mess since they lost that Super Bowl (after the 2002 season) to Gruden's Bucs. In the years since, the Raiders are in the middle of their 13th losing season. They've had one winning season.
Now, I think of Gruden as a very good on-the-field coach. The problem he had here was drafting and developing. He could take a team that should have won five games and squeeze nine out of it. But his failure was as a builder, which meant the Bucs lacked the talent to win more than nine.
We'll see if Gruden has enough of a general manager (Reggie McKenzie for the moment) to develop the Raiders. We'll also see how much he likes his quarterback, Derek Carr.
Carr is a good player, somewhat overrated when compared to the elites of the league. But Gruden loses patience with his passers. I wouldn't be surprised to see him lose his taste for Carr.
It's going to be an interesting time for Gruden. I don't think a guy gets stupid in the TV booth (although Gruden's  reputation became somewhat different from reality while he was gone; he's not a developer of young quarterbacks, as he was advertised to be.) But winning is often a case of right guy-right situation. I wonder how losing will grind on him.
My main problem with Gruden was this. When he was in Tampa Bay, he was a fine finisher. But he wasn't a builder. And because of it, the franchise suffered badly after that first season.
Do you think it's possible after 4-5 years of this, he returns to the booth?
It's been an interesting week for the Bucs; too bad it's not on the field.  I am not a fan of firing a coach mid-season because it says you have basically given up and who can you get to replace that coach? The good coaches already have jobs.  Maybe the marketing department can find a successful local high school coach to finish the season as D-Coordinator.  It would keep it interesting.
Richard Kinning
I agree with you on not firing a coach in the middle of a season. Think of all the coaches who are currently employed by teams. So you're hiring the 2,587th best guy? The worst that can happen is a slight uptick in performance that encourages him to be hired permanently.
I wouldn't suggest a high school coach, though, for the same reason I wouldn't sign a high school player to play NFL quarterback. They're simply not qualified. Oh, I've known a lot of bright high school coaches, but dealing with a full-grown, highly paid professional is a job beyond a high school coach's grasp. You might as well have a fan drawing and bring in a coordinator of the week.
I've said this before. Most professional coaches are very good and xs and os. I don't doubt that Duffner knows all the blitzes and all the coverages. But it's relating to players, it's creating mismatches, it's covering weaknesses and accenting strength that make the difference between the good and the bad. This, we don't know about Duffner.
I don't know that the Bucs have given up. I think they're desperate. And you can't fire the locker room. So you dump the coordinator and hope that a different voice brings different energy. It usually doesn't.

After watching the return of the great Jameis Winston I am wondering what the ceiling for this No. 1 overall draft pick really is. How would you rank him among the QBs you have watched Gary?

Richard Kinning
Winston is a very talented, very competitive quarterback. But the ceiling for him has remained low because 1) he's as immature as a third-grader and 2) the Bucs have done a poor job building a team around him.
It's always been the biggest flaw for the Bucs. They sign a promising talent, and they expect him to be the best player on the team every week. No running game. No defense. A weak offensive line. (Those things were true when Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback, too).
Think about it. How many great players played with Vinny Testaverde while he was here? How many played with Josh Freeman? Even Trent Dilfer lacked offensive weapons around him. All things have to work around these guys for the Bucs to win (although Dilfer had a great defense).
How good can Winston be? He has enough arm. He's smart enough. His legs can get him out of trouble. But most quarterbacks need to be able to hand the ball off every now and then. They need a defense to get them the ball.
One of my favorite NFL stats is the one about fourth-quarter comebacks. And yes, those say a lot about a quarterback. But it's also a matter of defense, of big plays by the receiver, of clutch kicks. Now, when the Bucs get the kickoff to start an overtime, how many of those things can you count on?
I'm afraid we'll never see Winston's potential. I think the Bucs are headed for an off-season of changes, and who knows if the next coach will try to salvage Winston or throw him overboard? I see Winston's flaws, too, Richard. I just think there is more there than the Bucs will ever tap.

I like your idea of the Bucs hiring a team president. Who would be on your short list if you were the Glazers?  (Because if you owned the team you would not need a team president.)

Richard Kinning

Ha. Of course I would need a team president. I'd need someone to make sure I was watching game film instead of watching old movies.

If you're going to hire a team president, ideally you want a guy who has been through the wars. Someone who has coached and helped to assemble a team. Someone who has enough ego to run a team but not so much so he will cut the legs off of his head coach or general manager. I'd say someone like Bill Parcells or Don Shula if they weren't too old.

The first name that everyone thinks of is Tony Dungy. He's a bright man, and he's very analytical, and he delegates well. I'd love to have his voice in the room. But Tony made some mistakes in hiring offensive coaches while he was here, didn't he. So he's not perfect.

I'd love to have a Bill Belichick in that job once Belchick has won enough rings to satisfy his soul.

You know who would have been good at this job once? It was Ron Jaworski (I covered him when he was in Miami). He's bright, and he works hard.

But if the Bucs are going to continue to hire coaches who have never been head coaches and general managers who have never been general managers, they need direction. They need a final voice to make the big decisions.

As for me, well, I want Wednesday off.

I have heard a lot of talk about the Bucs hiring a Tom Coughlin like figure to run the team.   If the Glazers decide to go that route, do you think they would offer the job to Tony Dungy. Would he ever consider working for them again?
JimWillson
I'm sure the Glazers would offer the job to Dungy. He's never bad-mouthed them, and he helped to build the finest timespan that the Bucs ever had. He's smart, and he's reasoned.
But I believe Tony when he says he would never take a full-time job in football again. His charities are too important to him. I think his television job keeps his hand in it, and that's enough for him.
I remember when Tony was fired, the Glazers talked about how they sat with him and pored over all the good times. I don't think that was the case. Tony said they were at his home "about a minute." So I don't think they're so close that Dungy would dump everything to come back.
But, yeah, I'd like to see him in the role. If you think back to all the coaches and the last couple of general managers, you'll find a franchise that hungers for direction.

Jon Gruden knows how to play the NFL. He knows he is leaving Oakland and that he cannot be fired yet so he trades his No. 1 player for a handful of picks, and then proceeds to tank the season to get possibly the No. 1 overall pick.  That is a smart way to move into Las Vegas, a town who has truly gone hockey crazy.  Or am I missing something obvious here?

Richard Kinning
Richard, you don't miss much.
I think the enormity of the Raiders' rebuild has struck Gruden. Ten years is a long time, and when you start thinking about tomorrow instead of just today, you can get in trouble. But if you remember, he came to Tampa Bay and didn't have any prime draft picks (they were given up in the trade to acquire him). So he slowly watched his team lose parts.
I'm convinced that Gruden wanted to have draft picks this time, and he thought he could survive without Mack and a huge contract. But Mack is a once-in-a-decade type of player.
Gruden does have an ego. I remember interviewing him, and he would bristle at tough questions. Once, he asked me, "what am I on trial for here." And I said "Why, everything, Jon. You know that."
So I think that Gruden believed that he could get close to the same number of wins without Mack as he could have with him. (The Raiders weren't world beaters with him.) I think he wanted to bring in great young talent and watch it mature over the next decade.
Jon's off to a bad start. He was very good in his first season here (he won a Super Bowl), and in his first season with the Raiders before, he doubled the team's wins). But he's wed himself to the future. If the Raiders don't get rich off of their draft picks, they'll have a rough start in Vegas.
The Triplets are back together for the Lightning and picked up right where they left off. It will be interesting to see which one scores more on this line, and will Kucherov get to 100 pts. again?
Richard Kinning
Richard, don't we all love the Triplets? They are speed and fire and daring, and every trip to the ice is filled with possibilities.
But you and I both know that Kucherov will have more points than either Tyler Johnson or Ondrej Palat. He's off to a slow start, but I spent a lot of Thurday night's game watching him. He's playing hard, and he still has that great vision. If anything, he and Stamkos are over-passing the puck.
As the season goes along, he'll get over that. Personally, I'd have him at about 90 points this year just because of the added attention he will draw. But it'll be a good year, and it will lead the Bolts.
I just want to know how good his post-season will be.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Kinning October 21, 2018 at 10:17 pm

Just watch the Lightning break an NHL record for most shots in a period with 33 shots. That is a lot of frozen rubber flying at a goalie. Bolts win, keep up the good work.

Reply

Gary Shelton October 21, 2018 at 10:33 pm

I saw the last half of it after I got home from Bucs’ game. Anytime you can win handily over Chicago, it’s a good thing.

Reply

Rick Martin October 20, 2018 at 7:25 am

I love the Hellen Keller quote as well as the Alabama bumper sticker. Interesting reading as usual. Thanks for the column/Q&A.

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Gary Shelton October 20, 2018 at 9:06 am

Thanks, Rick. I’m glad youre still around. Join in anytime.

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Larry Beller October 20, 2018 at 7:07 am

I think you are right in that as bad as the Bucs are and have been over the last decade and more, they still need to go some to beat out the Browns. But it does seem like the Browns are turning things around and if they win on Sunday it would say a lot about the direction the 2 teams are going.

I wouldn’t say that the Bucs haven’t surrounded Winston with talent. They have gone out of their way to put together a strong core of receivers that could be as talented as 95% of the teams in the NFL. The OL may still be a work in progress as you said but as they have put all the focus on adding offensive talent for Winston the defense has been left to wither and die. We are seeing the results of that lack of balance today. I’m tired of making excuses for Winston. In my opinion the blame for Winston’s lack of progress can be put directly on his own shoulders. He hasn’t developed as expected and it’s looking like he never will.

When it comes to building a team the GMs in recent years never seem to find that diamond in the rough. They can identify the top talent in the draft just as everyone else can but don’t draft and develop those under the radar guys. Teams like NE, Pittsburgh and so many other successful organizations do that all the time. It could be that the coaches share a large part of the blame by not developing the guys who are brought in too.

But I think we can all agree that this organization is suffering from a lack of talent from management down. Ownership isn’t helping either which puts them in the running for the most dysfunctional franchise at some point in the future.

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Gary Shelton October 20, 2018 at 9:10 am

I agree with you on the receivers. But a receiver is the one guy on the field who can’t count on getting the ball when the play is called. Too many variables. What you can count on is a running behind behind a good offensive line and a defense to make some stops. The Bucs don’t have either.

We can disagree about Winston. If he hasn’t satisfied you, that’s fair. He is interception-prone. But he throws for a ton of yardage on a team that doesn’t gain enough. I agree on the lack of talent from management on down.

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