41-14, 31-15, 48-16 and 45-24.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished their 2011 season on the wrong side of those blowout margins in games against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons respectively. None of those teams accounted for a single playoff victory.
In fact after defeating the New Orleans Saints, 26-20 back on October 16th, the Bucs are still searching for their next victory on the football field.
Nobody in the Buccaneers organization will tell you that the team quit on last season, but it’s hard to find another reason how a club that defeated New Orleans and Atlanta early in the season and found itself in first place in October could somehow lose 10 straight games. Included in that nightmarish 4-12 campaign were nine double-digit margins of defeat and seven times in which the team gave up 35 or more points.
With local television blackouts, player arrests and seemingly more excuses than points scored becoming the norm, the Bucs were in desperate need of an organizational makeover, if not a complete facelift.
Enter former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano.
“I really look forward to working with the players,” Schiano said recently after being hired. “Mark Domenik and his staff have been great and the Glazer family has been awesome, helping us get settled and helping me get started on doing our job.”
Schiano wasn’t the most popular choice in terms of head coaches as he was seemingly fifth or sixth at best on Tampa’s list, and likely not on any other NFL team’s. Still, he is taking over a difficult situation and changes for the positive are already evident.
We don’t need a “Festivus” like feats of strength competition to know that Greg Schiano is clearly the strongest NFL head coach. No proof is more evident than his ability to pry away the vice-gripped lock wallet of Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer. Tampa was perhaps the most active team in free agency, inking All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, along with Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson and cornerback Eric Wright.
Tampa Bay jettisoned the talented, yet troubled Tanard Jackson and replaced him and others with a stellar draft. The Bucs were able to acquire elite safety prospect Mark Barron, as well as running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David, all expected to be opening day starters.
A 10-game losing streak to end last season showed that Tampa had more characters than actual character, and Greg Schiano is doing his best to change that. The Bucs head coach made nice with cornerback Ronde Barber who will be returning for his 17th season in part to help mentor some of the younger players.
On Wednesday, Schiano made a move which could affect the team in a very positive way. The former Rutgers head coach signed former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed from a hit two years ago.
“I said, ‘Are you serious? You want to do this? He said: “It’s the least we can do,” LeGrand explained in a conference call. “I said I don’t even know what to say to you right now coach. This is amazing.”
“The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men,” Schiano said in a team statement.
LeGrand’s role with the team is yet to be defined but it’s more than just a gesture from a coach to a former player. It shows a new emphasis on character from a Tampa Bay organization that had seemingly lost sight of that in the past.
“Dreams do come true if you really believe,” LeGrand explained. “You do the right things in life, good things happen to you. He really just did this out of the kindness of his heart. It’s really what he wanted to do. I had no idea this was going to happen.”
Things will be difficult for the Buccaneers as they compete in perhaps the most talent-rich division in terms of quarterback play. Even with all of Tampa’s upgrades, a team that finished 4-12 a season ago will have a difficult time competing for a playoff spot right away as they play in an NFC with several ascending teams.
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand is attempting his own comeback, not to football but to walking without the assistance of a chair. The countless hours of rehabilitation he puts in are a testament to the competitive nature that was helped instilled by Greg Schiano.
“Rehab is like my football training camp,” LeGrand said. “This is my new life and I’ve adjusted. But I’m working hardest to get out of it and get into the ‘regular season.’”
Undoubtedly the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans will have more good times to celebrate than a season ago. In those inevitable down times, the team will be able to look to LeGrand’s journey as inspiration and the 10-game losing streak of 2011 will feel as distant as a different lifetime.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie