Bucs’ coaches have usually struggled from the start

by Gary Shelton on October 25, 2016 · 5 comments

in general

Koetter seems to be beating back a bad culture./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Koetter seems to be beating back a bad culture./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Monday, 4 a.m.

For those who remain unimpressed with new Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter, there is probably a reason.

They've never quite seen a start like this.

Like, well, never.

Improvement in the secondary? That's new. Adaptability in the running game? That's different. Scrappy fill-ins on the defensive line? That's welcome. Two wins in a row? Around here, that's rare. Reclaimed running backs? Who would have thought it?

I know what you're thinking. The Bucs are only 3-3, an average record. So why spend so much time being impressed?

One: The Bucs haven't been as good as average for a very long time.

Two: Only one coach in Bucs' history has ever been better than 3-3 after six games. Only one.

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That, of course, was Jon Gruden, during Gruden's impressive first season. Of course, that team came with built-in greatness on the defensive side of the ball, so the Bucs were good out of the gate. Say what you want about Gruden, but he was the perfect burst of energy for that 2002 team. And that energy burned all the way to the Super Bowl.

After six games? Gruden was 5-1 and on a five-game winning streak. It was the finest start by a new coach in team history. (Things got ugly later, as the great Bucs players faded and the team didn't draft impact players to replace them.) Gruden came from behind to win in three of his first six games; Koetter has done it in all three.

So how have other Bucs' coaches done in their first half-dozen games? They've reminded you of the previous coach's last six games, which is pretty much why the last coach was fired. This is Team Tortoise, where few coaches have ever gotten out of the starting gate quickly.

For the most part,  every time the Bucs have hired a coach to change things, he has quickly pointed out that things were pretty much the same. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The Bucs first coach, John McKay, lost his first six games. Fact is, he lost his first 26 games. In his first six games, he was shut out three times. They scored three whole touchdows in those six games. In all, the Bucs were outscored 133-36. And you wondered where that line about executing the offense came from.

The Bucs' second coach, Leeman Bennett, had made the playoffs in Atlanta. But with the Bucs, he might have been the worst coach to ever wear a whistle. He won four games in two years, then was shocked that he was fired. In his first six games, he went 0-6. His team surrendered 177 points. No wonder Bo Jackson wouldn't sign that contract.

The Bucs' third coach was Ray Perkins, who Hugh Culverhouse once said was “my Lombardi.” Researchers now think Culverhouse meant to say “My Lombardo.” And Happy New Year to you, too. Perkins went 3-3 in his first six games, but let's be honest. Two of those games were with his replacement team. Guys on leave from the Auto Parts Store don't really count, do they?

After Perkins came Richard Williamson. In his first six games (he coached the last three of 1990), he was 1-5. Was anyone awake yet?

Then came Sam Wyche, who considered every thought as a new game plan. Wyche won his first two games, and he was 3-3 after six. (Wyche would finish his season 2-8). Uh, no. That 3-3 start didn't promise anything but a high draft choice. That turned out to be, yikes, Eric Curry).

After Wyche, the Bucs hired the best builder in franchise history. But, no, Tony Dungy wasn't good out of the wrapper, either. He was 1-5. He finished that year at 6-10, and the team poured Gatorade on him. Really. Dungy would make a lot of playoffs for the Bucs, but not in his first season.

Gruden followed Dungy with one of the best tag-team seasons either. Even now, fans debate who contributed more to that Super Bowl. I've always maintained it took two coaches to win, one to build much of the team and one to bring the trophy home.

After that, the bad days returned. Raheem Morris went 0-6 (because you can only lose six in six weeks). By the time the season was six weeks old, Morris had gone through both of his coordinators and every quarterback but Josh Freeman. Which is an ouch if there ever was one.

Morris was followed by Greg Schiano, who measured pasta. Really. So it would all march. He made the room temperature the same. He ordered his players to put their toes on the line. And he went 2-4. Along the way, he ticked off Giants' coach Tom Coughlin by plowing into the line during victory formantions, mumbling something about all the games that ploy won for Rutgers. Rutgers?

And them came Sleepy Lovie Smith, whose cornerbacks played so deep they could have fielded a punt. Smith came in buying every free agent in sight, only to win one game in his first six. Smith woke up in time to lose his offensive coordinator too (which is kind of a hazard in Tampa Bay).

So now there is Koetter, who has come from behind twice in a row. He has won with junkyard defensive linemen, scrap heap running backs and the kicker who couldn't aim straight. He calmed his interception-prone quarterback.

Let's be honest. The next six are more important. If there are six after that (it would include two playoff games), those will be more important still.

In the end, that will be Koetter's legacy, as it is all coaches'. How often do you get to the post-season, and what do you do when you're there.

Start with this: You gotta be better than Leeman.

After six games

Year           Coach                    Record    Comebacks

1976      John McKay                  0-6               0

1985      Leeman Bennett           0-6               0

1987      Ray Perkins                    3-3 *            1*

1991      Richard Williamson     1-5                0

1992     Sam Wyche                    3-3                2

1996     Tony Dungy                   1-5                 1

2002     Jon Gruden                  5-1                  3

2009     Raheem Morris           0-6                 0

2012      Greg Schiano               2-4                  0

2014      Lovie Smith                 1-5                   1

2016      Dirk Koetter                3-3                   3

* won two games and one comeback with replacement players.

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