The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at a place that many San Diego Chargers fans wish the Bolts were at. How did they get there? By doing the opposite of San Diego nearly every step of the way.
I'm trying to think of a team that is any more different from the San Diego Chargers than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and I'm struggling to come up with an answer. On almost every facet of the team and organization, the Bucs and Chargers have chosen different routes and gotten different results. Let's break this down.
In comparison to the Buccaneers, the Chargers take half measures.
Tony Dungy was Tampa's Marty Schottenheimer, the guy that turned the franchise around and made them a perennial playoff team but just couldn't win a playoff game. At 41, Dungy took over a team that hadn't had a .500 season in 15 seasons and, after a 6-10 record in his first season, took them to the playoffs four times in five years. At 46 years old and with a start to his career like that, you'd think the Bucs would be signing Dungy to a very long-term contract. Right? Wrong.
Instead, Tampa fired the 46-year-old Dungy and traded 2 first round picks, 2 second round picks and $8 million to the Oakland Raiders to get 38-year-old Jon Gruden, who was a younger, whiter version of Dungy (in that he had turned Oakland around quickly but hadn't done all that much in the playoffs). That, my friends, is something that the San Diego Chargers would never do. It was the riskiest play Tampa could have possibly made, and it won them the Super Bowl in Gruden's first season.
When Gruden's teams made the playoffs just twice in the six seasons following the Super Bowl, the 45-year-old coach was canned and replaced with 33-year-old Raheem Morris. Morris was given three seasons to lead the team into the playoffs, with many threats on his job being made along the way, but he failed and was fired. He was replaced with 46 year old Greg Schiano, a coach with a mediocre record at a mediocre college.
Do you see what I'm saying? The Chargers' biggest risk in terms of Head Coaches recently was "Maybe Norv Turner isn't as bad as his record says he is." They've stuck to that same philosophy each season when they decide to keep him. The Buccaneers would've fired Norv and hired him with someone half his age by now. Heck, they probably would've fired Norv's replacement and hired someone a little older than him by now on the philosophy that "Maybe that last guy was a little too young". This is how many Chargers fans wished the team was run.
Another thing the Chargers seemingly wouldn't do, that Tampa did this offseason: make excuses for the coach that they're firing. Sure, Raheem Morris could have used a decent offense, so Tampa fired him and built a decent offense for Greg Schiano instead.
Current TB Situation: Getting good reviews about their first-year Head Coach. 3-2 in their last 5 games and seemingly getting better each week.
Current SD Situation: Getting terrible reviews about their sixth-year Head Coach. 2-3 in their last 5 games and seemingly getting worse each week that they're not playing the Chiefs.
Since 2002, the San Diego Chargers have had two starting QBs: Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. Over that same time period, the Buccaneers have had six starting QBs. They've used high draft picks on two of them, used free agency to lure two more to Tampa and found one of them on the top of the scrap heap after Chris Simms' spleen exploded.
Things have really only gotten stable for them in the past few seasons after they drafted Josh Freeman in the first round of the 2009 draft and put their faith in him as the starter. Freeman's success has gone the way of the rest of the offense. When the running game and receivers are good, he's very good. When the rest of the offense struggles, Freeman isn't going to carry them on his back. That's why, this year, the Buccaneers used their first round pick on a RB and signed the top WR and OL free agents.
Current TB Situation: A 24-year-old starting QB with 3+ seasons of experience is having his best season.
Current SD Situation: A 30-year-old starting QB with 6+ seasons of experience is arguably having his worst season.
One season removed from a season in which LeGarrette Blount was getting consideration for Rookie of the Year, the Bucs used their first round pick in 2012 on RB Doug Martin. Halfway through his rookie season, he's the league's second best running back behind Adrian Peterson.
Current TB Situation: A 23-year-old rookie starter that's headed to a Pro Bowl.
Current SD Situation: A 25-year-old starter that's on the verge of being labeled a draft bust in his third season due to fumbling issues.
In addition to improving their running game over the offseason through the draft (Doug Martin) and free agency (Carl Nicks), Tampa aggressively went after for Chargers WR Vincent Jackson. Not that they really needed him, Mike Williams was an adequate #1 WR, but now that they've added him it has boosted the numbers for Williams as well as the running game.
Current TB Situation: 60 catches for 1,214 yards and 11 TDs for their two starting WRs through half of the season.
Current SD Situation: 45 catches for 698 yards and 4 TDs for their two starting WRs (Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem) through half of the season. If you replace Meachem with Antonio Gates, the numbers become 57 catches for 790 yards and 5 TDs.
This one is very un-Chargers.
Of their five current starters along Tampa's offensive line, only one of them was drafted by Tampa Bay. Two were drafted by other teams and were signed as free agents, and two of them were undrafted free agents.
Of the five current starters along San Diego's offensive line, only one of them wasn't drafted by San Diego (Jared Gaither).
Current TB Situation: 12 sacks allowed in 8 games, 4.7 yards per carry.
Current SD Situation: 20 sacks allowed in 8 games, 3.9 yards per carry.
Okay, I guess things are roughly the same here. Neither defense is very good at getting to the QB (both have 13 sacks in 8 games). Because of that, both of them can give up big points to teams that spread defenses out and throw a lot.
Current TB Situation: 13 sacks, 23.1 points allowed per game.
Current SD Situation: 13 sacks, 19.6 points allowed per game.
Tampa Bay is young and exciting on offense. They have Pro Bowl talent at the playmaker positions (QB, RB, WR) and an offensive line that is among the league's best despite not having big name talent. Their defense leaves a lot to be desired, but the team as a whole seems to get better each week and their fans are buying in.
San Diego is neither young nor exciting on offense. Their playmakers are former Pro Bowlers and their offensive line has some big names, but hasn't produced much in the way of protection or run blocking. Their defense leaves a lot to be desired and the team seems to get worse each week while their fans abandon ship.
Tampa encompasses a lot of what Charger fans want out of their Owner and GM. They are currently in a good position and appear to have the building blocks for a bright future, but they've had some really terrible seasons along the way. If they can beat the Chargers on Sunday, San Diego is another step closer to the Owner and GM making drastic changes that rival what the Bucs have done as they try and build a young, solid base that looks like theirs. Don't root too hard for that outcome, though, as it will probably come with a lot of 3-13 and 4-12 seasons before San Diego can get there.