The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team in the National Football Conference of the NFL. The Bucs are considered an expansion team, joining the league in 1976 as the first new team to join after the AFL-NFL merger. While the Buccaneers joined the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks joined the AFC in 1976. Ironically, the Seahawks would later moved to the Bucs’ conference in a later round of expansion.
The Buccaneers began franchise history with a 26-game losing streak. After several seasons losing under the guidance of John McKay, who had been a successful college coach for the USC Trojans. McKay often interjected humor in comments about his team’s laughably bad performances. When the team finally defeated the New Orleans Saints in their 27th game, the Saints Hall of Fame coach, Hank Stram, was fired.
John McKay Humor
My favorite John McKay quote from this era was in reply to a question his offensive line’s execution. McKay replied, "I’m in favor of it." (That is, in favor of executing the offensive line.) He also claimed the team couldn’t win on the road or at home, so he would appeal to the NFL for a neutral site.
McKay was criticized for his conservative play-calling, which was a hallmark of his USC teams, which was blessed with star running backs such as O.J. Simpson. The Bucs also squandered early draft picks, such as when they drafted Ricky Bell instead of Tony Dorsett with the 2nd overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft. The Bucs did hit on a talent when they drafted quarterback Doug Williams in 1978.
1979 NFC Title Game Season
The 1979 season saw a momentary vindication of John McKay, as Doug Williams led the team to the NFC Championship against the Los Angeles Rams. Despite a shutout loss in the championship game, many people viewed the Buccaneers as a team on the rise.
Having gotten his team to a title game in his fourth year as head coach, John McKay would later be asked about his stated five-year plan for success that he laid out when he arrived in Tampa. McKay mentioned that he had a 5-year contract; if he had had a 4-year contract, he would have had a 4-year plan.
Lee Roy Selmon
The Buccaneers would be competitive for the next several years. Their defense was led by Lee Roy Selmon, who would be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Though Tampa Bay missed the playoffs in 1980, they returned to compete in the playoffs after the 1981 and 1982 seasons. The 1982 season saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose their first three games of the strike-shortened season, then win 5 of 6 in comeback fashion to qualify for an extended playoff bracket. In both years, the Bucs would lose to the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.
The success would not last. Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse refused to renegotiate the contract of QB Doug Williams, who was then the lowest-paid starting quarterback in the NFL. When the United States Football League started in 1983, Williams left the Bucs to sign a larger contract with the Oklahoma Outlaws of the USFL. The Buccaneers would go on to lose their first 9 games of the 1983 season, and started a streak of 14 seasons without a winning record. McKay would resign after the 1984 season.
During the remainder of the 1980′s and the first half of the 1990′s, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the NFL’s most hapless franchises. Culverhouse kept the payroll low, earning Tampa a reputation as a franchise which wouldn’t spend on its players. The Bucs had the #1 pick in the NFL Draft in the 1986 draft, but the consensus #1 talent Bo Jackson said he would not play for the Buccaneers. The Bucs drafted him anyway, spurring Jackson to bolt the NFL for the Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball. A year later, the Bucs caved and traded Jackson’s rights to the Los Angeles Raiders.
This wasn’t the only bad personnel decision of the 1980′s. The team drafted quarterback Steve Young out of BYU in the 1984 draft. Like Doug Williams, Young chose to sign with the USFL. When the USFL failed as a league, Young reported to the Buccaneers, but his two-year Tampa stint would prove disastrous. Instead of practicing patience with a talented young quarterback, the Buccaneers front office traded Young to the San Francisco 49ers in 1987. Steve Young would go on to a Hall of Fame career in San Fran.
The main reason Young was expendable was the drafting of Vinny Testaverde, with yet another #1 pick overall. Testaverde was the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback out of the University of Miami. After five seasons of futility in Tampa Bay, Testaverde would leave the team for the Cleveland Browns.
The only coach of note in these years was Sam Wyche, who had led the Cincinnati Bengals to a Superbowl in 1988. Wyche’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers teams floundered like their predecessors, though Wyche did lay the some of the groundwork for the achievements of his two immediate successors. Wyche drafted Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Warren Sapp, who would become the leaders on the Bucs’ defense and their only Superbowl-winning team.
Enter: Malcolm Glazer
Hugh Culverhouse died of cancer in 1994. The team was near bankruptcy, so the Culverhouse family forced the Board of Directors to sell the franchise for the sake of solvency. The eventual buyer was Malcolm Glazer, who brought with him deeper pockets and a commitment to winning which had not existed in earlier years. Glazer would bring a new standard to the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Incidentally, Glazer also is majority owner of Manchester United in the English Premier League, and he brought the same financial commitment to MANu.
Tony Dungy and the Bucs
Glazer’s first selection as coach of the Tampa Bay was Tony Dungy. Dungy had been the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings under Dennis Green, and had built that unit into one of the stingiest defensive units in the NFL in 1995. Dungy would be hired in 1996.
The Dungy-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers started slow, but their defensive unit showed dramatic improvement in the second half of 1996. Dungy was building a contender, though, based around the strength of his Cover 2 schemes which would be copied by several other NFL clubs.
The Bucs made the playoffs in 1997 and 1999, though their weak offensive play often hurt their chances of advancing. A series of offensive coordinators, including Mike Shula, Les Steckel and Clyde Chistiensen, were brought in to turn around the offense, which mainly consisted of a two-pronged running attack led by Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. The Bucs also gave up two #1 draft picks in a trade with the New York Jets for Keyshawn Johnson. While Keyshawn was a solid possession receiver and blocker, he was not the man to bring the big-play ability the Buccaneers needed.
Tony Dungy’s inability to improve the offense became a source of tension in the front office, even after the Bucs lost a close NFC Championship Game to the St. Louis Rams of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. The Christiensen selection as OC was particularly controversial, because it was perceived that Dungy was hiring in-house from a group which had failed to produce results. After a fourth disappointing playoff loss in five years, Dungy was released after the 2001 season. It was suggested that Dungy didn’t have what it took to get to the next level. This overlooked the fact that Dungy had restored the Buccaneers to a state of respectability, and did not anticipate that Dungy would go on to win a Superbowl with the Indianapolis Colts.
Jon Gruden and the Superbowl
The Buccaneers turned to Jon Gruden, who was considered a coaching prodigy for turning around the awful Oakland Raiders. Gruden had difficulty with Raiders owner, Al Davis, which made him available on the coaching market. Where Dungy was quiet, Gruden was fiery, and many believed this was exactly what the Buccaneers needed.
The Gruden hiring proved a major success, leading to a Superbowl victory in his first year as head coach. Even more satisfying for Gruden was this victory came at the expense of Al Davis’s Raiders.
The 2002-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were led on offense by Brad Johnson at quarterback. Johnson had bounced around the league, starting for the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins after a time in the WFL. Though Johnson was not spectacular at either of these prior stops, he had the ability to move an offense and help a team to victories. His major knock were injury concerns, which had plagued him at his two previous NFL jobs.
The defense was the real star of the Buccaneers Superbowl run, as it consistently shut down high-powered offenses. But in the second half of the 2002 season in particular, Brad Johnson gave the Bucs that extra little spark in the passing game they had missed throughout the Tony Dungy years. With a strong running attack and a dominating defense, Tampa Bay defeated the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in the NFC Championship and then dominated the Oakland Raiders in the Superbowl.
Since the Superbowl
The Buccaneers have had trouble duplicating the first-year success of Jon Gruden. Since the 2002-2003 campaign, the Bucs have been up and down. The Bucs finished 2003 with a 7-9 record and finished 2004 with a 5-11 record.
Veteran departures were a major part of the problem. Keyshawn Johnson became a discipline problem for Gruden in 2003. After the team was out of the playoff race, Keyshawn was first suspended then traded to the Dallas Cowboys for Joey Galloway. John Lynch and Warren Sapp were released in 2004. Brad Johnson never returned to his form of 2002, and would also leave the team after the 2004 season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the playoffs in 2005 and 2007, first with the help of Brian Griese and next with the help of Jeff Garcia. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams was drafted to be a star runner. Despite showing signs of talent, Cadillac has had trouble staying healthy. Whether the 2008 Buccaneers can make their 3rd playoff push in 4 years remains to be seen, but after years of mediocrity, the Bucs have established a reputation as a solid NFL franchise over the past ten to twelve years.