Which head-coaching candidate could best help Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman rebound?

Published Jan. 22, 2012


Regardless of which coaching candidate is hired by the Bucs, the most important thing he will have to bring is a plan for saving quarterback Josh Freeman.

The Bucs' first-round pick in 2009 still has all the tools and temperament to become one of the league's best at his position. But from a career standpoint, Freeman needs someone to extend a hand and help him to his feet after taking a hard hit.

This season, Freeman's biggest failure was protecting the football. He threw 22 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns.

It would be simplistic to blame his lack of production on a lack of weapons. Running back LeGarrette Blount and receiver Mike Williams did not come close to duplicating their rookie performance. But nearly half of Freeman's interceptions came while forcing the football to tight end Kellen Winslow.

Freeman has demonstrated he can dominate the position. He threw 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions in leading the Bucs to a 10-6 record in 2010.

But it's undeniable the right head coach — and offensive coordinator — can have a dramatic effect on a quarterback. Consider what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has meant this season to Alex Smith, who has been beleaguered and booed almost since he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.

Which of the coaches the Bucs have interviewed have the best chance of helping Freeman? Let's take a look.

Mike Sherman

The former Packers and Texas A&M coach, considered by many in the coaching community to be the front-runner, has an offensive background. At 57, he has experience and success as an NFL head coach, winning NFC North titles with Brett Favre at quarterback.

He also can relate to young passers as evidenced by the sudden rise of the Aggies' Ryan Tanne­hill from converted receiver to possible first-round pick after throwing 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this past season.

Sherman also has a keen eye for talent on his coaching staff. He gave new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin his start in coaching by hiring him as a graduate assistant at Tulane. He also brought him in for his Packers staff.

There has been talk Sherman might be able to bring in former Vikings coach Brad Childress as offensive coordinator. Childress, who was the Eagles quarterback coach when Donovan McNabb broke in, interviewed for the Bucs head coaching job and also is on the Colts' radar.

Finally, Sherman is a good teacher of fundamentals, and Freeman could benefit from those, including footwork. He also believes in being harder on the team's star players, which also could benefit the quarterback.

Tom Clements

Philbin received a lot of credit for the success of the Packers offense. But Clements, the quarterbacks coach, has done a spectacular job with Aaron Rodgers and backup Matt Flynn.

A former Notre Dame quarterback, Clements, 58, also was the play-caller as an offensive coordinator with the Bills for two seasons. Everybody is familiar with Rodgers' success. He threw 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Digest that for a minute.

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When Flynn started his only game this season, the finale against the Lions, he completed 67 percent of his passes and threw for 518 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. When it comes to presentation and preparation with a quarterback, it's hard to do much better than Clements.

Rob Chudzinski

Chudzinski, 43, is going to be a coach one day. The former University of Miami tight end progressed from grad assistant to offensive coordinator with the Hurricanes and coached tight ends with the Browns.

But last season, the job he did with rookie quarterback Cam Newton as Panthers offensive coordinator was evidence of his brilliance, especially considering he had very little of an offseason because of the lockout. The Panthers offense finished seventh overall and fifth in points, and set a franchise record for total yards.

Newton has a unique skill set with his ability to run the football. But he shares a lot of traits with Freeman. They are big men who can keep plays alive, make all the throws and are accurate on the run.

Chudzinski is probably a long shot to land the Bucs coaching job, but his impact on Freeman could be great.