Decade of decline: Misguided moves that still haunt the Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. -- On Jan. 6, 2008, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the New York Giants in an NFC playoff game in Tampa, Florida. It would be the last time the Bucs reached the postseason.

Some misguided decisions in 2008-09 deserve much of the blame for what has become the NFL's second-longest postseason drought.

Those missteps involved three areas -- head coach, quarterback and kicker -- the Bucs are still struggling with today. Let's take a look at each as the Bucs prepare for Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at the Giants.

Head coach

Coach Jon Gruden would last one more season in Tampa after that playoff loss to the Giants. At that point, most of the Bucs' core players -- safety John Lynch, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Simeon Rice and linebacker Shelton Quarles -- had gone elsewhere or retired.

Only linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly remained.

"We knew just the economics of the NFL -- it's hard to keep 23-24 guys together every year. And the fact that we were able to do that for a matter of six or seven years was remarkable," Brooks said.

The organization needed to accept that the Super Bowl chapter had closed and then improve its draft evaluations. Instead, the Bucs seemed to panic because the offense was looking bland under Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin announced at midseason in 2008 that he was leaving after the season to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee.

A franchise quarterback could have fixed the offense, and they thought Chris Simms was the answer, but his spleen injury and ensuing friction with Gruden ended that relationship and he was cut before the 2008 season.

Instead, ownership fired Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen on Jan. 16, 2009, and promoted defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who was originally going to be the defensive coordinator. Though Morris was a bright, young football mind, he wasn't prepared to become a head coach.

Since Gruden's firing, the Bucs have had four head coaches in 10 seasons and gone 62-107 (.367) -- the third-worst record in the league during that span.


The Bucs have had nine starting quarterbacks since that playoff loss to the Giants -- Brian Griese, Jeff Garcia, Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson, Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick -- when they could have had just one. He was standing right in front of them, one week later in Mobile, Alabama, at the Senior Bowl and his name was Joe Flacco.

This isn't a case of "hindsight is 20/20," because Flacco had just won a national title with Delaware and anyone at practices that week could see he was clearly head and shoulders above prospects Colt Brennan, John David Booty, Andre Woodson and Eric Ainge. The only other player who came close to him that week was Chad Henne.

Sources involved with those evaluations said the team did its due diligence on Flacco, but he was never in the Bucs' conversation. Instead, they drafted cornerback Aqib Talib.

After the 2008 season, the Bucs opted not to re-sign Garcia. Griese was released July 13, 2009, and decided to retire. That meant the Bucs had to go get a quarterback, the absolute worst situation to be in, as 2009 wasn't the year to find a stellar quarterback among the draft class.

The 2011 class had better options, and you could see that already unfolding. Andy Dalton would blow up and lead TCU to a 12-1 record in 2009, and Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy, leading Auburn to a BCS national championship. Colin Kaepernick led Nevada to a 13-1 record in 2010.

Instead, general manager Mark Dominik reached for Freeman with the No. 17 overall pick in 2009 because Morris had a relationship with him from their time at Kansas State. The Bucs quickly anointed him their "franchise quarterback," yet he produced just one winning season and was out of the league by 2015.


The "Automatica" days might have ended when Martin Gramatica was released in 2004, but Matt Bryant (2005-08) was an outstanding replacement, making 83.1 percent of his field goals and scoring a team-record 131 points in 2008. He missed just two extra point attempts.

He was waived on Sept. 5, 2009, after suffering a hamstring injury and missing the preseason. He was replaced by Mike Nugent, a favorite of special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.

Since then, the Bucs have had nine different kickers, with Connor Barth (2009-15) the only true success story, nailing a franchise-record 83.8 percent of field goals. Their latest addition, Cairo Santos, is the 10th -- more than any other team in the league. Since Bryant's departure, Bucs kickers have made an NFL-worst 77.4 percent of field goals.

In fact, Bucs kicking has been so bad since then that you'll frequently hear fans speak of the "Matt Bryant kicking curse." Bryant is still playing, and his 377 field goals are fourth most among active players. His career average is 86.1 percent.

For the Bucs to return to the postseason, they likely will need to make impactful decisions at the three positions that have haunted them for the past decade.