Once successful, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers face adversity with the Detroit Lions

TAMPA — Cornerback Brian Kelly played a major role in the best run in Buccaneers history. He was a member of a perennial playoff team. He won a Super Bowl. He played on defenses discussed among the best ever.

In March, he signed with the Lions. He hasn't won since.

"It's tough," said Kelly, a Bucs second-round pick in 1998 out of Southern Cal. "I couldn't tell you anything different. It has been tough because we do want to win here, and I've won in the past with similar systems."

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about the futility of winless Detroit is how a group of players and coaches who have tasted consistent success elsewhere can't seem to find any in Motown, where the Lions are 0-10 and television blackouts have become the norm.

From the head coach down, the question can be asked. Coach Rod Marinelli spent 10 seasons with the Bucs coaching a defensive line that featured the likes of Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry was Tampa Bay's linebackers coach for six seasons, with pupils such as Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles. Now, his defense is ranked 31st out of 32 teams, allowing 402.1 yards.

Kelly was part of one of football's most feared secondaries in Tampa Bay, playing alongside Ronde Barber and John Lynch. Now, he regularly sees teams throw for multiple touchdowns against his unit.

Defensive end Dewayne White was a coveted free agent in the 2007 offseason, and the Lions signed him to a five-year, $29-million contract with designs on making him a cornerstone of their defense.

But for each, nothing has gone as planned.

Three coaches (defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake is the other) and six former Bucs are in Detroit, and while losing has taken its toll, Marinelli manages to maintain the even keel he had in Tampa Bay from 1996-2005.

"I am extremely proud of these men and how they are attacking this adversity," Marinelli, 59, said. "We are just off sometimes, a detail here, a detail there, a spill here, a spill there. We have to be able to bring that together."

It would seem applying Tampa Bay philosophies and strategies to the Lions has been a failure, but there remains a belief that the approach can work — if Marinelli is around to see it through.

"It's a building process," Kelly said. "Rod is building what he wants to build here for the Detroit Lions. He's taking a lot of what he did in Tampa and trying to implement a lot of that here in Detroit. It's just a process."

As for memories of Tampa, they are fond. Kelly left ungracefully, opting out of his contract to become a free agent.

"As far as Tampa, I think it was pretty obvious what direction they were going in and there's no hard feelings on my end," said the 32-year-old Kelly, likely referring to the Bucs' efforts to get younger in the secondary. "It's a business, and that's how the business goes. The time there was great."

Marinelli recalls Bucs coach Jon Gruden as a great strategist.

"He's absolutely the best in football (in knowing) how to win a close game," Marinelli said. "If he's behind, he knows how to crawl back into a game. Strategically, he's the best in football."

For now, Marinelli and his old friends are more concerned with improving their own wretched situation.

"Hey, the hand is tough," he said. "So be it. I expect us to respect this game, coach extremely hard every day, which we are. Then, the result comes if we just stay the course."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Once successful, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers face adversity with the Detroit Lions 11/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 23, 2008 7:26am]

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