Look I know I'm putting the cart way before the horse here, but the fact is I'm leaving for Australia tomorrow and there's a good chance I'll be eaten, bitten or poisoned by something while I'm down there so I have to take my chances where I can.
With the news today that Rob Chudzinski is interviewing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the window both for Chud leaving, and staying is growing narrower. It seems lately with Chud we dodge a bullet, then get fired on again. I have little doubt in the coming days that the Miami Dolphins will inquire also after being turned down by Jeff Fisher.
It would seem that logical heir apparent in this situation would be Mike Shula, who was vital in having Cam Newton prepared to play at such a high level in his first season. This wouldn't be Shula's first time around the block after serving as offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay from the mid-late 90s.
In the even we lose our OC to the next head coach opening I thought it would be pertinent to see what kind of a job Shula did 15 years ago, and see if we can learn anything from what he did in Tampa.
I will say this: 15 years is an eternity for a coach, and a lot can change. Also we have to keep in mind the dearth of talent Tampa Bay had during this time period. That being said, here is what happened 1996-1999
Do you like Trent Dilfer!? Okay, that was less excitement than I thought. When Shula arrived he had a stable of three glorious QBs- Trent Dilfer, Casey Weldon and Scott Milanovich. Sadly, unlike Chud with Cam he didn't work wonders with the 3rd year Dilfer. He finished with 2,800 passing yards, 12 TDs and 19 INTs.
Year two got much better and the answer was to pass less. Shula leaned on RB Warrick Dunn and turned Dilfer into a game manager, and this worked well as he finished with 21 TDs and 11 INTs. It's important to note the team jumped from 6-10 to 10-6 due to the defense, but also in large part to smart management of the offense.
In the third year there was a greater emphasis on the run as he continued to utilize Dilfer as a game manager. While the team regressed slightly we saw the 1998 team have their best year as an offense.
In 1999 the Bucs were on the cusp, but Dilfer fell off a cliff and they tried to break in new QB Shaun King. It was an abject nightmare on offense due to an innefective Warrick Dunn and amysmal Dilfer. Shula seemed to become the sacrificial lamb and was fired. However, it's important to note that the new offensive staff didn't fair any better with Tampa's talent. They invested all their resources in defense and it showed.
It's safe to say that one of Shula's greatest contributions to the Bucs was in developing a nasty running game that allowed Dilfer to be little more than a game manager. There was no messing about when it came to what he wanted to do on offense as he and Tony Dungy drafted Mike Alstott in 1996 and then Warrick Dunn in 1997.
Consistently Shula used these two as a devestating 1-2 punch where he kept teams off balance with the speedy Dunn, and then demolished them up the middle with Alstott. It's interesting to see what he did here, because it could be a future analog for how he would use DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, rather than the specific packages we saw this season.
That pretty much sums it up. The Bucs from this period had arguably the worst WRs of any team. In 1996 Mike Alstott was the leading receiver... a fullback... as a rookie. That should tell you something. From there such luminaries as Karl Williams, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green led the team. When you see four years and four different receiving leaders it normally tells you a team stinks.
It has to be mentioned that, well, the Bucs were garbage on offense as a whole. It was an afterthought for a team being built around defense. The talent was never there, but Shula seemed to do the most with what he had available. In the end the Tampa Bay Buccaneers never managed to get out of the 20's in both points and yards scored.
I would caution fans to not freak out though, because it's been 12 years since Shula was in Tampa. It was his first stint as a coordinator in a terrible position. None of us know what Chud will do, or who would take his place, but if it's Mike Shula you now have a little more background on what he did.