No margin for error as Bucs fill key coaching-staff vacancies
With the rumored departure of Bucs defensive backs Ron Cooper to the University of South Florida now confirmed, there’s a larger issue to address.
The Bucs have three – at least – key assistant coach posts to fill, and hiring the right individuals for those vacancies could not be a higher priority.
The positions for which the Bucs need coaches – defensive backs, quarterbacks and receivers – are units that are at critical junctures.
Defensive backs: While I think it’s fair to ask whether Cooper is taking too much blame given the inexperienced players he had to work with for most of the season (he was encouraged to look around for a new gig – wink, wink), the fact is that the new defensive backs coach is going to be responsible for some key young players.
The Bucs could conceivably draft multiple cornerbacks in April and might add to the position via free agency, too. It will fall on the defensive backs coach to develop those players and teach them Tampa Bay’s defensive scheme.
After finishing last in pass defense this season, the Bucs have their work cut out here. So, too, will the new position coach.
Quarterbacks: With Ron Turner moving on to Florida International, where he’s been named the head coach, the Bucs are looking for a coach who will be staff member with primary responsibility for coaching Josh Freeman.
The importance of this job can’t be overstated. Freeman is facing the biggest year of his career in 2013, the final season of his five-year rookie contract and the one that will determine his ultimate fate with the Bucs.
The Bucs want better decision-making and sounder fundamentals from Freeman, and it will fall mainly on the quarterbacks coach to get that done. This is not a hire the Bucs can afford to get wrong.
Receivers: While the performances of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams should be lauded (they combined for 2,380 yards this season), there are important issues facing the receiving corps.
Chief among them is the lack of depth at the position. The Bucs cycled through a number of young receivers this season, ultimately settling on Tiquan Underwood as the No. 3 wideout – only after he was released at final cuts and subsequently re-signed. Underwood had his best season but still has much to prove.
Meanwhile, 2010 second-round pick Arrelious Benn has shown little in his three seasons and needs to develop. It’s quite possible the Bucs could add new personnel at this position. Who’s going to help bring them along and create more competition in this unit? We should point out that P.J. Fleck, who took over as head coach at Western Michigan, is an impressive coach and left big shoes to fill.
Last year’s hiring cycle was messy for the Bucs. Coach Greg Schiano wasn’t hired until January 26 and, by the time he got around to hiring assistants, he found the task to be quite difficult because staffs had already settled in. Numerous teams denied the Bucs permission to interview their assistants.
This time, the Bucs are getting an earlier jump on their hires. And, given the importance of the vacancies, they need to make very good use of their time.