Monday, December 30, 2013

Who's Next?

Black Monday was a happy day in the Tampa Bay area as both head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik were axed.  After going 11-21 in two years under Schiano and 28-52 since ’09 with Dominik as GM (with no playoff appearances and just 1 winning season), the Bucs will be filling the two most important off-field positions in the organization at the same time for the second time in 5 years. 

Franchises generally attempt to avoid making the same mistakes, so after two consecutive whiffs on defensive-minded coaches with no professional head coaching (or at least coordinating) experience, I think at least one of those two factors is sure to change this time around. 

Lovie Smith is getting a lot of mention today as an early candidate, but I’m hesitant.  What defensive advances would he implement to improve/replace his outdated Tampa 2 concept-heavy scheme?  The personnel in the three key spots (McCoy, David, and Barron) is there, but the game has changed.  Who would he bring in to run the offense?  Former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford is a name that has been mentioned, but again, the cynical in me has his doubts.  I respect Tedford’s accomplishments at the collegiate level, but aside from the uniquely-gifted Aaron Rodgers, none of his other claims to fame have become professional superstars – Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and Kyle Boller. 

When I began to grow tired of the Schiano era, the first candidate upon which I fixated was former Cardinals head coach and current Chargers offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt.  There’s a lot to like about the Georgia native.  I prefer head coaches who have variety in their background.  Whisenhunt has coached special teams and tight ends in addition to being an offensive coordinator and head coach.  He’s coached in the Super Bowl for both conferences. 

He groomed a young Ben Roethlisberger to a Super Bowl title and worked with a veteran Kurt Warner to reach another big dance.  His latter Arizona years were marred by “quarterbacks” like Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, and Ryan Lindley; all QBs with whom no one has won.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence at all that Philip Rivers is having a career year just one season removed from folks wondering what, if any, the former Wolfpack QB had left.  The Chargers thrived offensively with a rookie Keenan Allen, an old Antonio Gates, a small Danny Woodhead, and limited receivers in Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown.  Like Rivers, running back Ryan Mathews experienced a career year under Whisenhunt.  Mathews played in all 16 regular season games for the first time in his career, and his 1,255 rushing yards were a career high. 

I don’t believe Mike Glennon is the future at QB in Tampa, but Whisenhunt would know just about as well as anyone.  One bit of his personal history that stood out to me was his somewhat controversial decision to go with the veteran Warner over the young Matt Leinart as QB of the Cardinals in ’08.  That tough decision paid off as the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl that year.  Whisenhunt’s track record suggests he will get the best out of whoever lines up behind center, and with a healthy Doug Martin and Mike Williams to go along with Vincent Jackson, it would be hard to say that the Bucs have fewer weapons than the Chargers.  I still think the Bucs are a dynamic slot receiver from reaching the next level offensively, but the cupboard isn’t bare.

The same can be said for the defense.  While pass rush help is an obvious need, they’re not inept in the defensive line interior, at linebacker, or in the secondary.  I don’t know who Whisenhunt would have in mind for defensive coordinator, but his former running mate in Arizona, Ray Horton is a guy I’d support.  Horton has yet to follow Rob Chudzinski out the door in Cleveland, so while he may not even be an option in the end, he’s a proven commodity at this level.

Now more than ever teams will go only as far as their quarterbacks take them, so whoever ends up as the next head coach of the Buccaneers has a tough decision on their hands.  Do you try to strike gold with Mike Glennon, or do you (more wisely) look for your guy in the draft?  Teddy Bridgewater will surely be off the board by #7 and so may Fresno State’s Derek Carr.  Since I can’t draft Jameis Winston this year (or start tanking already), the name who intrigues me most is UCF’s Blake Bortles.  As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, the first thing I look for in a QB is his ability make quick decisions.  Bortles gets a gold star in this area and combines that intangible with coveted tangibles such as his size, arm, and mobility.  The junior passer has yet to even declare for the draft, but since I’m playing fantasy GM, he’s my early pick at #7 for the Bucs.

Getting a coach of Whisenhunt’s caliber along with a true prospect at the most important position in professional sports is a great way to turn around a 4-12 club.  We’ll find out which way the Glazers go in due time, but speculating in the meantime is enough to help forget about those 11-21 and 28-52 records, at least for a little while.