Ask Gary: What are the odds Bucs’ brass survives?

by Gary Shelton on October 6, 2018 · 6 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Rays

Koetter's team needs its bye week./CARMEN MANDATO

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How would you handicap the odds of Dirk Koetter, Jason Licht or Jameis Winston remaining with the Bucs next year if the team puts up yet another losing season similar to last year which appears inevitable now?

Larry Beller

Larry, while it's a little early to say it's "inevitable" that the team will lose, I understand your meaning. There are certainly huge signs that point in that direction: the secondary, the running back, the pass rush. I don't think it's inconceivable that the team gets on a mini run, but it's not inconceivable that it goes on a maxi slump right afterward. It's a limited roster.

There are a few questions regarding your question. Does this team lose 12 teams? Or does it lose nine? Are they overtime games in which the team played well, or are they disasters like the Chicago game? Is it because the defense is terrible, or because

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the offense is just as bad? The Glazers have always followed December. Do the Bucs finish strong or end on a losing streak?

I think some of these things may determine which guys go and which are brought back. Whether they should or not.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the team finishes 6-10 and splits its December games. The Glazers invite you to the table to discuss their plans. Here's what you might hear.

Dirk Koetter: Chances of survival: 20 percent. I think the Bucs like Koetter, I really do. But if they win only one more game than last year (or worse), I think they have to make a change. They've already stayed with Koetter longer than they stayed with Lovie Smith. I think Koetter has to go at least 8-8.

The Glazers simply may say that it's time for a new direction. Josh McDaniels might actually leave New England this year. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo of Minnesota is highly regarded. So is defensive coordinator Teryl Austin of Cincinnati.

Then, there is Jim Harbaugh, who was a great success when he was in San Francisco. Things aren't going swimmingly for him at Michigan, as you know, and if this season doesn't end well, he might want to sneak out a side door.

Jason Licht: Odds of surviving 35 percent: Licht has been in Tampa Bay since the Lovie Smith days, and he's spent a lot of the owners' money. It's certainly time things clicked with him.

Licht has had some screw-ups, too. Even if you don't count that first free-agent class against him (Lovie Smith was in charge), he's drafted Roberto Aguayo and Ronald Jones.

Here's the thing, though. The Glazers don't seem to know the league the way some front offiices do. So who are they going to trust as consigliori? It's another reason that, if I were advising the Glazers, I'd lean toward a team president (a la Tom Coughlin) to set a new direction. Let him hire the g.m. and coach.

Licht is safer than Koetter, but if you remember, the team blew both up when they canned Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris.

Jamies Winston: Odds of surviving. 60 percent: A lot of fans are ready to toss Winston out with yesterday's trash. But he's talented, and he's passionate about the game, and whether you accept it or not, he's made some improvements to his game. The Bucs' history suggests they aren't ready to give out a lot of second contracts, but Winston could be different. He's a guy the league thought should be the No. 1 draft pick, and odds are the Bucs aren't going to be in position to draft another one of those.

Look, if the team blows up all three of them, it's starting over. If you dump Winston, you've playing a rookie or free agent at quarterback. That means we're right where we were when Greg Schiano succeeded Raheem Morris. Unless a team is great, there is usually a backward step when you replace a coach.

Make sense to you?

September 14, 15, and 16 – just last month — the Oakland A’s visited the Trop for a 3-game series, which was the Rays last ditch hope to run them down for the 2nd wild-card slot.  Average attendance for those 3 games was 13,300.  The team is good and the economy is great (according to Donnie Bone Spurs) and this is the attendance for these crucial games?  Could this be the last data point needed to show that there are just not enough MLB fans in the Tampa Bay area to expect that the team will draw significantly more fans, no matter where a new stadium may be built?

And I know that I am old school, but for me the quality of the team is way more important than the quality of the stadium.  Just saying…

Scott Myers

The last data point? Didn't we pass that some time ago? The last signpost said "nowhere" and we're 40 miles further down the road.  I think it's been proven that fans will not go to this ballpark to watch a team. Proven like that Custer wasn't welcome.

There are other great examples of the disappointment of the fanbase. After 20 years of trying to get a franchise, this team did not sell out ... on the second night of its history. That was a sign. When Wade Boggs got his 3,000th hit, the team did not sell out. When the Phillies visited Tampa Bay early in the season of 2009, the team did not sell out. Granted, the A's aren't a great draw, but your example is yet another in a series where we can outline disappointments. By now, it's not rare.

How about this one? In 2008, the year the Rays went to the World Series, the attendance was 12th in a 14-team league. It's been the worst attendance for the last six years.

That said, we can draw our own conclusions about how a better park in a better area will draw. I've always said that it won't be a panacea; there can't be so many fans in Tampa who love baseball enough to fill a stadium yet won't cross a bridge to see a team play.

Obviously, we cannot prove that the team won't draw better elsewhere; it's never been elsewhere. But we can surmise that even if the team gets a bump from a new stadium, and another bump from moving to the population center, it will draw better. The question is how much better, and whether that's worth so much money for a new stadium. My guess has always been that you'll get about 5,000 more a night, maybe fewer.

We've all heard the excuses. School is in, and there is other stuff to do, yada, yada, yada. But school is in in other towns, too, and more fans go to the ballpark. Other cities have things to do, too, and fans go to the ballpark. Frankly, I think the Trop is one of the easiest stadiums in the league to access. Try getting to Fenway or Wrigley or Coors Field.

I don't write about attendance as much as I used to. I used to try to do one or two pieces a year so a fan wouldn't wake up one day and say "hey you never told us the team could leave!" But that's common knowledge by now. I used to get so much heat when I would write about it. Some buffoon from Chicago ripped me. Hey, if you live in Chicago, it ain't your fight.

The Rays are always going to be among the worst draws in the game.  People would prefer to tell you why they don't go than go. We've discussed this many times. I like baseball. I tend to lean toward voting (if it gets to be my vote) for a new stadium. But I can't blame fans who don't think it makes financial sense and don't think there is enough love for the game to actually buy a ticket.

Can you imagine what Stu Sternberg's partners are saying now? Why are they continuing to pump a dry well?

As for those who do go, good for them. They finally had an enjoyable season for their financial and emotional investment.

What do you make of Joe Maddon going into the last year of his contract with Chicago and the Cubs not offering him a contract extension?

Peter Kerasotis

Personally, I think it's silly. Maybe Chicago went so long without a good manager that it's forgotten what a good one feels like. Madden is one of the best in the game, and he wouldn't stay unemployed for very long.

I have a friend who is a Cubs' fan, and he's constantly talking about how the players have tuned out Madden. I asked him how he would know from Florida? The players aren't saying it. It's just the kind of mantra that you hear when there is a power struggle going on.

Yes, Madden makes a lot of money (six million a year) and there are guys who would manage for a fraction of that. But have been to a World Series and three NL championship series? Have they won Manager of the Year three times? Have they won 387 regular-season games in four years?

I worked very closely with Maddon when he was here, and he always entertained my questions, even when he thought they were harsh. Once, I asked him if he thought Tampa Bay was weary of first-round playoff losses? A national writer overheard me and gasped. But I had been peppered with that question from fans, and I pulled him aside to ask it. I thought it was a tough, but fair, question.

Now, people in Chicago are asking the same thing. They weren't crazy about the team's 13-inning loss to Colorado this year. I get it. Part of being a baseball fan is carping on whatever moves the manager makes. Joe Maddon has always been public with his moves -- it's one way he takes the heat off of the players -- so he's easy to criticize.

But if the Cubs get rid of Maddon, they'll regret it. For a long time.

Was it just me or did the Bucs coaching staff have a very short leash on Fitzmagic?

Richard Kinning

They did, without a doubt. Can you imagine the Saints pulling Brees or the Patriots pulling Brady after one bad half?

The thing is, Fitzpatrick isn't Brees, and he isn't Brady. As likable as Fitz is, he's a 35-year-old backup (soon to be 36) who was signed to be a backup. He had a nice run, but in his resume, he's never had another one like that.

The Bucs were always going to return to Winston. It was simply a matter of when. He has to answer a lot of questions with his contract situation up in the air. The Bucs have to know for sure whether he's worth another investment.

In a game where they were clobbered, it made sense to me to return to Winston. As always, I admit I might be wrong. But Fitzpatrick won't save Koetter's job; Winston might.

Richard, you know that a football team isn't constructed on equal footing. The backup quarterback rarely beats out the starter, and when he does, disaster has happened. If life was fair, and no one had contracts, then Fitzpatrick had earned more time. But he would have had to have been excellent to keep the job. He wasn't.

I'll be honest. I'm not sure which of the two would be better against Atlanta next week. But for the long-term, you have to trust your investment in Winston.

I'll say this, neither guy was going to beat Chicago. Not unless he could play cornerback.

Do you think Koetter would look into getting a new secondary coach at this point? I imagine that guy is spending his time off updating his resume. Would Jason Licht have a say in that?

Carlos Ubinas

Carlos, at this point, you consider all things. The Bucs' secondary is south of awful. It looks like it's being coached by a teenager playing Madden. What's worse is that the Bucs have two secondary coaches -- a starter and a backup, I assume -- in Jon Hoke and Brett Maxie.

Still, it's the same answer as the one about Mike Smith. Who are you going hire in the middle of the season? These are the secondary coaches that Koetter and Licht decided on before the season in spite of how bad the secondary was last year.

It's mind-numbing that the Bucs can be so terrible. They have a player they think is Pro Bowl-caliber in Brent Grimes. They had a No. 1 pick in Vernon Hargreaves. They have No. 2 picks in Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. And they were 10 yards away from receivers.

I've always said that the Bucs' secondary plays as if the goal is to allow the receiver to catch the ball and then tackle him. Every now and then, shouldn't the secondary make a play? I know it was a short week, and a road game, but they looked like dogs chasing cars. It's been a month, an an incompletion feels like a small victory.

 If the defense doesn't improve, and Koetter and Smith are fired, give me 3 names of people that you would like to see the Bucs interview for head coach, and 3 names for defensive coordinator that you think could make a real difference?
Jim Willson
Jim, Koetter and Smith may be fired even if the defense does improve. They aren't just a little bit bad. They're a nightmare.
If the Bucs are looking for a head coach, I'd like for them to start with Jim Harbaugh. I know he's sputtered at Michigan, but he made the 49ers better when he walked into the room. I'd like to see if he could do it here. My gut feeling is that it's a little soon for him to leave Michigan, but you have to make the call.
With Winston, there may be pressure to go after an offensive guy. But Jim Schwartz has done a good job with the defense in Philadelphia. He's been a head coach before, so he knows the job. I'd at least talk to him.
I'd also look at the candidates around the league. Pittsburgh doesn't seem satisfied with Mike Tomlin. I'd give him a call. Same with Baltimore and John Harbaugh, Jim's brother. He's always had solid teams. If you want to look at college coaches, Chris Peterson of Washington is an interesting guy.
The thing about a defensive coordinator is that teams usually hire a position coach for it. There aren't a lot of great ones hanging around. Again, some coordinators are going to be fired from their current position. I'd look at those guys.
I joked the other day that Monte Kiffin could come back. It was a gag, because Kif is 78. But remember how he was hired? The Bucs wanted a different coach (Jim Haslett) from the Saints staff. Instead, they got Kiffin, who was in charge of great defenses while he was here.
If the Bucs could hire anyone, I'd suggest former defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, now in Dallas. I've always heard great things about Gus Bradley, who's with the Chargers. But Bradley is the defensive coordinator; they're usually available if the whole staff is fired.
I suspect the right guy is a guy currently working. If Tomlin is released, Keith Butler might be available. Matt Patricia might want his own guy in Detroit, so Teryl Austin could be on the market.

For the first time in a long time Tampa can be proud of a team that does not play on ice. The Rays quietly had an excellent year. What are your predictions for next year.

Richard Kinning

It's an interesting question, Richard. As we know, a guy's career isn't always upward. Some guys suffer sophomore slumps, some guys need to be sent up and down a few times. We all tend to think that if a guy hit .270 this year, he'll hit .280 next year. If he won 10 games, he'll win 12. Right?

I like this group, though, and I think it helps that they won in the minor leagues. They're going to expect to be good.

I don't think Snell is quite as good next year, just because he was so nearly flawless this year. I don't think Ryan Yarbrough wins 16 again. I'm not sure the team can survive having a poor closer again.

But, yeah, I think they'll be good. I think they'll challenge for the last wild-card spot with, oh, 87 wins.

One thing that will be different will be expectations. No one is going to think that next year's Rays will lose 100 games. Oh, there were still be nights where hitting disappears, and times they drive you crazy running the bases. But I think this team is about to have a window where it can be pretty darned good for about 5-6 years.

That said, they're in a tough division. Boston and New York won't stop spending, which leaves the Rays fighting for third and the last wild-card, unless the team gets better than we presume.

What's up with the Rays purchase of the Rowdies? They must have an end game right? Will that transaction impact the baseball team financially in any way?

Larry Beller
Larry, I've been around Bucs' executives a lot, and I've never heard them have a conversation about how Man-U was going to fare against Chelsea. I think this is an investment for the team. I don't think it was soccer fans who wanted their own team on their own pitch.
So why buy a soccer team?
Remember this: At their core, the guys who run the Rays are investors. If they can buy a product cheap, and if they can watch it grow, they'll do it. It could be as simple as that.
Perhaps the Rays wanted to pitch two teams to Tampa instead of one and, thus, appeal to more voters. If they get their new stadium, there is the possibility of another tenant.
Have you been to a Rowdies' game? It's a lot of fun. The fans never sit, and they chant and sing, and they have a damned good time.  I could see an exec thinking that there were possibilities here. If the team can indeed get a better ballpark on the water, then the investment value can skyrocket.
I'll be honest. When I first heard about the deal, I thought the Rays wanted to control the waterfront property where they once wanted to build a stadium. Maybe that's still a possibility. Maybe Sternberg would like to have what Jeff Vinik has in Tampa.
Personally, I'd rather the money have been spent on a closer. But as they said on Hollywood Squares, this could work out.

If you could trade places with Roger Goodell for a year what would you change?

Richard Kinning

I'd trade in the afternoon caviar for bacon-wrapped shrimp. Instead of the merlot, I'd like an unsweetened tea, thank you.

Oh, you're serious?

Let's start with this. I'd kill Thursday night football. Right. Now. The players hate it and the public largely ignores it.

After that, put the judge's robes away. It never made much sense to me for Goodell to be in charge of  punishing Tom Brady and Zeke Elliott. You never win in these spats. The courts overrule you, and you get seen as weak.

So why not set up a tribunal, an NFL version of the Supreme Court? Say you get a league guy, a union guy and an independent guy (rotating). Let's say you end up with a tribunal of Harold Henderson, DeMaurice Smith and Tony Dungy. If you want, add a well-known agent and a working judge. But get Goodell out of the headlines.

In the league's next contract with the players, there are going to be some concessions. But can we please work toward making football what it was? Too many soft practices lead to too many soft Sundays.

Do you think that the University of Florida is happy they didn't get Chip Kelly?

Paul Walker

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good. I know Kelly was all that and a bag of chips while he was at Oregon, but his career has been making that beep-beep-beep sound of going in reverse for years. He can't get along with the people he works with, and Florida had enough of that with Jim McElwain.

Kelly is 0-4 with UCLA. Florida is tickled to death with Dan Mullen.

It's funny how you can profit from someone saying no. Jimmy Johnson said no the year that Tony Dungy said yes to the Bucs. Mark Dominik tried unsuccessfully to trade for both Jay Cutler and Albert Haynesworth.

Oh, and John Travolta originally was going to play Forrest Gump. How did that work out?

What are the odds that in 5 years, the Rays and Rowdies will be playing in Ybor City?
Jim Willson
I don't think they're great, Jim, because I anticipate major cold feet on the part of the politicians when it comes to financing the new stadium. I think the Rays would like for them and the Rowdies to be there. But building stadiums is hard. I've been through it in Miami, and I've been through it in Tampa Bay. Never bet on things to get done.
There are those on this site, frankly, who will tell you that the price doesn't make sense for the limited number of fans the team has. And that's fair. No one wants to write a blank check.
But if the new stadium is built, it's 100 percent that the Rays are there. It's considerably less that the Rowdies are with them. You get back into just why the team bought them. If it's to have another tenant for their new stadium, then sure, they're gone. But if it's for the control the Rowdies have over the waterfront property, that's different.
Again, the Rays are run by smart guys. They didn't buy the Rowdies because they like the scarves.






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