Bucs' coaching search still lacks clear focus

Bucs' coaching search still lacks clear focus

Published Jan. 19, 2012 3:42 p.m. ET

Admit it: Aren't you just a little bit jealous of the St. Louis Rams?

While the Glazers push into the third week of a long and winding search to replace Raheem Morris, the Rams have already secured the coveted services of the biggest prize on the head coach market, Jeff Fisher.

Say what you will about Fisher's lack of perennial success at the helm of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans for 17 years — with only six seasons above .500. He still managed to guide the Titans to within two yards of a Super Bowl championship, oversee three 13-3 campaigns and one 12-4 showing, and compile a competitive overall mark of 142-20 with four division titles. 

He was a good enough candidate for the Miami Dolphins to pursue full-tilt until ultimately losing the Fisher sweepstakes to the lowly 2-14 Rams for a deal reported at $35-million over five years.

What the Rams got was a battle-tested NFL head coach with ample experience and charisma to get resuscitate their floundering franchise and fire up the fan base — precisely what the Bucs need after the 10-game nosedive to the NFL depths that cost Morris his job Jan. 2.

They also got a man with a plan.

Even before signing his contract with St. Louis, Fisher met with Brian Schottenheimer, who last week left his job as offensive coordinator of the Jets for the past six seasons. And on Monday, he brought Schottenheimer aboard to work with young, hotshot quarterback Sam Bradford and rebuild the struggling offense. On the heels of that move, he hired respected defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who won a Super Bowl with the Saints and whose contract in New Orleans was up.

Out of context, you might question the sanity of Schottenheimer and Williams for instantly jumping to a franchise that tied the Indianapolis Colts for worst record in the NFL in 2011.  But they didn't miss a beat leaving successful programs for the Rams — because of Fisher.

That's part of what a coach of his stature and level of achievement can do — command the respect of the best available assistants on the market. 

It's a far cry from the face-first stumble the Glazers' picks to run their club — Morris and Bucs GM Mark Dominik — did in their first year on the job in 2009: hiring and firing both the offensive and defensive coordinators before the season even started.

Think about that. It's hard to do even if you tried.

Now mull for a moment the 4-12 collapse for which Dominik was at least partially responsible in his zeal to build a young team without more costly free agent depth.

Yet somehow Dominik is still around, wielding power and having a say in the current coaching search.

A search that, inexplicably, never seriously targeted Fisher — a coach with the goods to engineer a turnaround, and the one candidate who might have sparked a much-needed spike in ticket sales and ended the wave of TV blackouts for home games.

Perhaps the Glazers, in spite of proclaiming they would spend whatever it takes to win, were reluctant to get into a bidding war with St. Louis and Miami for a coach who ultimately commanded a $7 million per season price tag.

Maybe they didn't think he'd won consistently enough to shell out those kind of bucks, and consequently never gave him more than a passing glance.

Or could it have been that Dominik never pushed to get Fisher in the building for an interview because he's the kind of big-name coach whose presence would have diminished Dominik's role — and possibly his future — with the Bucs?

We may never know.

What we do know is that two of franchises desperate for the right coach to revive their teams surveyed the whole field of choices — and duked it out to bring Fisher aboard.

We do know that he had clearly formulated a plan of attack before taking the job, and moved with precision and speed to entice two well-established coordinators to join him in an enormous rebuilding project.

And we do know that Glazer-nik search goes on — and on, with no end or sizzle in sight.

This week, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski made the rounds at One Buc Place. They've reportedly received permission to speak with Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is said to be on the radar — though he's otherwise engaged preparing for the NFC championship tilt Sunday against San Francisco.

Add in the former NFL coaches already interviewed — Mike Sherman, Brad Childress and Marty Schottenheimer — along with Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, and the search is indeed approaching exhaustive levels as the ownership promised.

The potential problem with coordinators jumping into the head-coaching hot seat is that they may be skilled at directing a unit but not a team. 

Ask yourself: Is that a risk the Glazers should be taking at this point, for a club suffering from dwindling fan interest and has posted records of 3-13 and 4-12 in two of its last three seasons?

Of the group to date, only Schottenheimer — the oldest guy of the lot at 68 — has the proven credentials to take a chance on. It's hard to argue with a career regular-season coaching record of 200-126-1, no matter his misfortune in the post-season.

And while we're on the subject of established head coaches, why have the Glazers shown no interest in interviewing former Ravens head coach Brian Billick? He's an offensive-minded coach who could help struggling quarterback Josh Freeman, and he's actually led a team to a Super Bowl victory in 2001, guiding Baltimore to a win over New York right in the Glazers' stadium, Raymond James.

It makes you wonder what criteria is guiding the search. And it makes you wonder why Dominik has any hand in. He has everything to gain if a less-experienced, lower-profile candidate gets the job — and much to potentially lose if a marquee coach who'd have more say and influence takes over.

The Rams, of course, don't have to worry about any of that. The club that last had a winning season in 2003 aggressively pursued and got its man. And after a season of misery, the Jeff Fisher era has gotten off to the kind of start Bucs fans can only dream about right now.