No wonder Jim Bates is so excited about his new job. After all, the expectations are so low.
Not many yards.
Not many points.
Not many losses.
When it comes to Bates, the new defensive coordinator of the Bucs, the fans don't expect much at all. They don't expect any missed tackles. They don't expect any blown coverages. They don't expect any December swoons. They don't expect highlights out of the opposing offense.
Really, is that too little to ask?
Around here, people expect domination. Around here, people expect excellence. Around Tampa Bay, people may hope for offense, but they trust defense, and they expect it to be as consistent as dark skies at night.
Oh, and Jim?
Welcome to town.
Bates, 62, sat at the head of a long table in the press room at One Buc Place on Wednesday. He has been on the job for less than a month, and there are six months to go until the games begin. Still, more than a dozen tape recorders were scattered in front of him.
Always, the job of defensive coordinator has been important around here. Even before Monte Kiffin became the honorary mayor of third and 3, the defensive coordinators around here — Abe Gibron and Wayne Fontes and Floyd Peters and the rest — were thought of as the sage advisers, the seconds-in-command.
Now, at a crucial time in the history of the franchise, the job belongs to Bates. If new head coach Raheem Morris is going to succeed, he will need for Bates to serve as balance. (In much the same manner as Morris' buddy, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, leans on defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.)
Understand the position Bates is in.
In front of him are the high standards of the last 11 seasons. Looming over him is Kiffin's legend. Over there is a defense in transition where some players (Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber) are fighting the clock and others (Gaines Adams and Aqib Talib) are trying to turn on the light. Just behind is the memory of how badly the Bucs defense was scorched in the last month of the season.
Out of all of that, Bates has to orchestrate success.
"We can be an excellent defense,'' Bates said. "I don't think there will be any falloff. In fact, we hope to get better as a defense. There are high expectations. There have been high expectations in this defense ever since Monte has been here. We will continue to have high expectations and play at a very high level.''
Not to say there are big shoes to fill, but Carnival could use Monte's old sneakers as cruise ships. Kiffin was good here for a long time. And, no, following his success doesn't seem to bother Bates.
"I'd rather come in following Monte than some places where they haven't been passionate, haven't had a team feeling, haven't had success,'' Bates said. "I'm happy coming in here. There are big shoes to fill, but we've also had some great defenses over the years.''
Besides, Bates has youth on his side.
"I'm much younger than Kiffin (who turns 69 this month),'' Bates said, laughing. "They don't need a wheelchair for me yet.''
Fact is, Bates has some resume of his own. Consider Bates' run from 2001-04 with the Miami Dolphins, for instance. In each of those years, the Dolphins were in the NFL's top 10. (Of course, so were the Bucs, who were in the middle of their nine-year run in the top 10).
Then there was the 2005 season with the Packers, too. The previous year, the Packers had been 25th in yards allowed. Under Bates, they improved to seventh.
With the Bucs, the task is different. Perhaps Bates can develop young pass rushers, the way he did with Jason Taylor and Aaron Kampman. Perhaps he can build consistency so last season's finish will not repeat itself. Perhaps a new voice and a new energy will help. During last year's late-season swoon, there was a school of thought in the Bucs locker room that perhaps the defense was trying to do too much, and that the thought process was slowing down the players.
After all, Bates is a defensive coach. That's who he is. That's what he does. It might as well be on his business card.
He has spent a career talking about passion and position. He has bounced around various fields (one high school job, seven colleges, one Arena League, two USFL teams and eight NFL stops with seven teams). He has coached in a lot of games, and he has worn a lot of colors, and he's old enough to suggest that football "was a great game before the head coaches and offensive coordinators ruined it.''
Passion? Bates has plenty of that. Energy? He has that, too. Expectations? He has a few of those himself.
He has to replace a legend. He has to restore a standard. He has to find a way to sacks and turnovers, shutouts and successes.
When it comes to defense in Tampa Bay, that's all people expect. Just that.