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Bidding farewell to the Bucs’ decade of decay

Rick Stroud | From 2010-2019, the Bucs had five head coaches, seven last-place finishes in the NFC South and no playoff appearances. At least it’s almost over.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano let go of a few high-profile names in the offseason and none have done anything to make him regret those decisions. But cutting of one of his former college players, Tiquan Underwood, was difficult.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano let go of a few high-profile names in the offseason and none have done anything to make him regret those decisions. But cutting of one of his former college players, Tiquan Underwood, was difficult.
Published Dec. 27, 2019

TAMPA ― If you are a Bucs fan, you’ve just witnessed the worst decade in team history.

The evidence is incriminating even for a franchise known primarily for incompetence.

One hundred losses, five head coaches, two general managers, two franchise quarterbacks, three confirmed cases of MRSA and zero playoff appearances.

Let’s say it again.

No trips to the postseason, the only decade-long drought of its kind suffered in 44 seasons by the Bucs.

It didn’t even happen during the 1970s, when the Bucs were born in the humiliation of losing their first 26 games in a row. Not the 80s, when Leeman Bennett went 2-14 in back-to-back seasons and the team managed to not sign No. 1 draft pick Bo Jackson and traded future Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young. Not in the 90s, which began with Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson and Sam Wyche but ended with a relative Camelot era of Tony Dungy.

And certainly not the 2000’s, which included a Super Bowl 37 victory under Jon Gruden.

If you follow the odor, it leads to the offices of co-chairmen Bryan, Joel and Ed Glazer. They managed to chase away nearly 10,000 paying customers per game — from the 60,624 average in 2016 to this season’s 50,780.

And what did the fans get during this decade of decay? The most points scored and the most points allowed. Bluster and blunders. False platitudes and lousy attitudes.

Also, a revolving door installed in the Bucs head coach’s office.

The five head coaches from 2010-19 are the most of any decade in the club’s history.

About every two seasons, Joel Glazer literally would begin the introductory press conference this way:

“This is a very exciting day for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as we begin a new chapter.”

The book was bad from preface to epilogue.

Raheem Morris, who went 10-6 in his second season when the decade began, had rode “a clear and steady path from the bottom to the top,’’ Joel Glazer said.

Greg Schiano was a “man of high character and work ethic…a man of stability.’’

Lovie Smith was “a strong leader with a proven and established track record.’’

Dirk Koetter was “the right man to move this team forward and make this team proud.’’

Bryan Glazer said Bruce Arians has “fire and passion for this game” and was a “confident and proven leader and has a clear plan.’’

That plan probably didn’t include quarterback Jameis Winston’s 28 interceptions heading into Sunday’s 2019 finale against the Atlanta Falcons. But Arians still has a chance to win eight games, which would be the third most victories in a season since the decade began. The Bucs finished last or tied for last in the NFC South the other seven seasons this decade.

It began with such promise. In his second season, Morris went 10-6, fulfilling his mantra that it was “a race to 10” wins. Unfortunately, that still wasn’t enough to earn a playoff berth.

“I should’ve said it’s a race to 11,’’ Morris said.

By 2010, Josh Freeman had taken over as the Bucs’ starting quarterback and enjoyed the best year of his career: 25 touchdowns and six interceptions, a 94.9 passer rating.

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But saddled with debt from Manchester United and with the NFL setting no minimum player costs during three uncapped years, the Glazers were intent on spending little to no money on free agents.

As a result, the Bucs took chances on good football players but not the best guys. It included Kellen Winslow, Jr., who recently was sentenced to 12-18 years in prison for rape and sexual battery. Aqib Talib was suspended one game for assaulting a cab driver. It wouldn’t be his last discussion with the NFL commissioner. Mike Williams, who quit his Syracuse team, led the Bucs with 11 touchdowns but character concerns would eventually lead to a trade to the Bills in 2014.

Running back LaGarrette Blount was fined so much for being late that the Bucs hired a driver to wake him up and take him to work every day.

Morris’ teams lacked discipline. They started 4-2 in 2011 with wins over New Orleans and Atlanta before the wheels came off in London when they lost 24-18 to Lovie Smith’s Bears. It was the first of 10 straight defeats and Morris was fired.

It all started well in 2011 for Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and coach Raheem Morris. It didn't end that way.
It all started well in 2011 for Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and coach Raheem Morris. It didn't end that way. [ BILL HABER | AP ]

The Bucs put all their eggs in Chip Kelly’s basket. But he got cold feet and remained another year at Oregon.

Schiano brought a lot of college enthusiasm with him, maybe too much. Attacking Eli Manning in Week 2 as he was taking a knee to kill the clock for the final seconds wasn’t received well by Giants coach Tom Coughlin or Schiano’s own players.

Even though Freeman played well in his first year, Schiano didn’t like him as his quarterback. It drove him nuts to learn he was in Phase 1 of the drug-testing program. Freeman later clarified that he had been cleared to take Adderall for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but had tested positive for Ritalin, a similar drug.

In the end, there were accusations of Schiano rigging player votes so Freeman wouldn’t be chosen as captain. His habits sagged. When Freeman missed a Tuesday meeting to pose as Michael Jackson on a recreation of the Thriller and Off the Wall album covers, Schiano had enough. Freeman was released a month into the next season.

Three Bucs players were infected with MRSA in 2013. The gravity hit when men in white Hazmat uniforms disinfected the visiting locker room in Atlanta after the Bucs left.

Smith was hired to bring calm and stability back to the Bucs. Tampa Bay’s Gerald Ford. He successfully made sure the Bucs lost the season finale against New Orleans so they could “earn,” the No. 1 pick and take Winston.

Before the NFL combine began, Smith told reporters, “let’s talk about the elephant in the room,’’ and began absolving Winston of the off-field accusations levied at him at Florida State.

In many ways, Lovie Smith was the Gerald Ford of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches. He was a calming presence for a team in turmoil, but he couldn't win.
In many ways, Lovie Smith was the Gerald Ford of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches. He was a calming presence for a team in turmoil, but he couldn't win.

Koetter arrived as offensive coordinator and Winston had a solid rookie year. Smith believed he had time to build the defense, so he felt betrayed when general manager Jason Licht surfaced from a long meeting with the Glazers to inform him owners wanted to meet with him in the morning. Smith read the wall-writing and cleaned out his office that night.

From Koetter the Bucs bought continuity and a 9-7 season in 2016, including a five-game winning streak. But it also brought Hard Knocks, and DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker. When Winston was suspended the first three games of ’18, it brought Fitzmagic. Ryan Fitzpatrick had three, 400-yard passing games with at least three TDs to start 2018.

We’ve seen a historically bad defense by Mike Smith and a head coach who refused to fire his friend until it was too late.

Now it’s Arians’ turn. Winston has made a ton of plays but can’t stop giving the ball away. The defense has improved.

But nobody knows what the next decade will bring the Bucs.

Just be glad this one is almost over.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud

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