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Bucs’ 2014 Analysis: It went wrong from the start

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Two critical decisions head coach Lovie Smith made as soon as he was offered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ job simply didn’t work out the way he planned. Smith chose former Cal coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator and Josh McCown as his starting quarterback.

Tedford underwent a procedure to have two stents placed in a coronary artery two weeks before the start of the regular season and eventually went on an indefinite medical leave of absence.

His experience as a play-caller and vision for the offense went with him.

McCown — and backup Mike Glennon for that matter — struggled mightily as a result.

In fact, there are strong parallels to the first season under Raheem Morris, when offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was fired 10 days before the start of the regular season. The Bucs went 3-13.

On Sunday in the season finale, the Bucs did everything they could to lose to the New Orleans Saints, blowing a 20-7 lead to lose 23-20 and earn the No. 1 overall pick in the draft with a 2-14 record.

Now the Bucs are back in the market for a quarterback. Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of Florida State could go with the first two picks of the draft.

Smith is also back in the market for an offensive coordinator.

When Tedford was named head coach of the British Columbia Lions two weeks ago, he called his heart procedure a temporary setback and said, “(I was) good to go for a couple of months now and I feel great.”

That didn’t play well inside the walls of One Buc Place, where Tedford would only offer to work part time before being placed on leave. He ultimately asked to be released from his contract so he could pursue other opportunities.

Unfortunately, this was the guy who spent 2013 in Smith’s basement at his home near Chicago, selling an offense that was up-tempo and made good use of speed and space.

One has to assume Tedford had a big impact on what became an exclusively offensive draft.

All that went out the window when he failed to return from the surgical procedure. With no experienced NFL play-caller, and unable to install new terminology, the Bucs turned to 34-year-old quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who was badly overmatched.

Arroyo at least had worked with Tedford at Cal, but he wasn’t a successful play-caller at the college level at Southern Miss.

That put Smith, a defensive-minded head coach who hired four coordinators in Chicago, in the offensive meeting room. The result is the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense.

Why should Bucs fans think Smith will get the offensive coordinator and quarterback right this time?

“When something doesn’t happen exactly how you want it to, that doesn’t say quit or don’t go with what you believe,” Smith said. “It just says do a little bit better next time, and that’s what we’re going to do this time.

“There are circumstances that come into play when you say get it right. I got the job here based on us winning a lot of football games (in Chicago) with the coordinators we had. Sometimes, things happen where you have to go a different direction. That’s what happened with our last coordinator. Anybody can get sick. Things come up at any time. I think you look at the record, and I think they feel pretty confident we’ll do it and get it right this time.”

One of the candidates for the job could be Marc Trestman, who replaced Smith as head coach of the Chicago Bears until Trestman was fired along with general manager Phil Emery on Monday.

McCown had his best season under Trestman, throwing 13 touchdown passes with only one interception as a backup to Jay Cutler in Chicago in 2013.

“I think Marc is an outstanding coach and an outstanding person and has a great sense of offensive football, and especially quarterback play,” McCown said. “I played my best football of my career under him, so obviously I’m going to have good things to say.”

Smith said he already began the process of evaluating candidates for offensive coordinator and wants to fill the position as soon as possible.

“At the same time, not rush it,” Smith said. “We have time, so I’m going to take my time and use this opportunity to talk to as many people as I possibly can.”

Smith said the new offensive coordinator would be instrumental in evaluating players, including the top quarterbacks who could declare for the draft such as Mariota and Winston.

“When you’re down here, you want to get players who make a difference,” Smith said. “Last year’s draft, there were a lot of players who made an immediate impact in the NFL, and I hope that’s the case this year, especially the guys at the top where we’re drafting.”

General manager Jason Licht and Smith will attend the Rose Bowl to see how the quarterbacks handle the big stage, but it will be a long process.

The early thoughts are that Mariota has the character and skill set. He is a 10 off the field, but he has a bigger learning curve than Winston to become NFL-ready and win from the pocket.

Winston might not be able to rid himself of the stains from Florida State. He is the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft and can make all the throws in tight windows. He has played under center in a pro-style offense, and that experience will help him in the NFL.

The question is what happens to Winston off the field, given a lot more time and tons of money. The Buccaneers have a good mentor, McCown, and a good locker room culture with plenty of good leaders.

Is that going to be enough?

Regardless of the quarterback, the Bucs have to rebuild the offensive line, mostly through the draft. No one can have success behind this group of blockers.

The Bucs also need to make decisions on players such as Glennon and running back Doug Martin, who still have trade value.

Defensively, the Bucs will make more changes. Defensive end Michael Johnson didn’t pan out. He could be released, but it would require a salary-cap hit.

The Bucs also need a middle linebacker, as oft-injured Mason Foster is a free agent and most likely won’t be back.

A busy offseason is ahead, starting with indentifying an offensive coordinator and a quarterback, two areas Smith struggled getting right in the past.


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