1991 - Nice guy proves the adage by finishing last
Having taken over the mantle of coaching the Buccaneers for the last three games of 1990 under the infamous title of "interim head coach", Richard Williamson spent the first week of January 1991, along with Buccaneer fans everywhere, wondering if his employment with the franchise was to continue any further. Of course his career .333 coaching mark left him tied for the best winning coaching record in franchise history with John McKay, but there were other potential head coaches available.
Buddy Ryan had been released by the Eagles and was looking for another team to wreak his own personal kind of havoc and mayhem upon, but thankfully even Hugh Culverhouse was not that desperate or stupid. Steve Spurrier did at least receive an interview with the Bucs this time around having been by-passed in 1987, but the Buccaneer owner never really had any intention of bowing to fan pressure to give the Gators' coach his chance in the NFL.
Instead of fan influence, Culverhouse voted for player influence, and the wishes of his senior players to give Williamson the job on a full-time basis. The need for continuity was stressed after the dominating personality of Ray Perkins had gone, and the arrival of the highly-respected Floyd Peters as defensive co-ordinator seemed to bring a new aura of expectation to the Bay area. The 1991 draft brought offensive help for Testaverde in the form of tackle Charles McRae, the first offensive player taken that year with the seventh overall selection, receiver Lawrence Dawsey and blocking back Robert Wilson.
Of course time has told that only one of these choices really paid any dividends for the Buccaneers, Dawsey going on to rank in the top 10 in franchise receiving records before being released prior to the 1996 season in a salary cap move. Charles McRae was just too nice a person to ever make it in the harsh world of the NFL offensive line, although he did do the Bucs UK the honour of meeting our members in February 1993. Wilson spent one season blocking for Reggie Cobb and Gary Anderson, but never really panned out the sort of pro player that the scouts expected and went on to earn a living as a special teams' specialist with the Miami Dolphins.
The Bucs did turn up some good players in the later rounds of the draft, eighth round pick Marty Carter having been a starter in both Tampa and Chicago throughout his NFL career, and the likes of Tony Covington, Calvin Tiggle and Al Chamblee all making starting appearances for the orange and white. Rhett Hall's claim to fame as a Buccaneer was to be released and re-signed six separate occasions over a two year period, but shot to prominence with a handful of sacks for the 49ers in late-season games in 1993, leading to a undeserved and almost unbelievable free agency deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Vinny Testaverde entered the season as the starting quarterback, with Cobb and Anderson now splitting time at the tail-back position after Cobb' abortive attempts to play full-back as a rookie the previous year. Bruce Hill never recovered from a combination of injury and contract holdout, and Dawsey took over as the starter opposite Mark Carrier early in the season. His 65-yard touchdown against the Jets came on his professional debut, but remained his longest scoring play throughout his Buccaneer career that stretched another five seasons.
Defensively the Bucs had two emotional leaders in the linebacking crew in Broderick Thomas and Jesse Solomon. The latter, signed as a free agent from the Vikings after protesting his inclusion in the Herschel Walker trade with Dallas, flew all over the field like a cheaper and less-disciplined version of Hardy Nickerson. It did of course mean that running at the heart of the Buc defense proved successful for most opponents, although the rookie safety combination of Carter and Covington, together with journeyman Carl Carter playing one corner, meant that most quarterbacks had a plethora of choices for where to attack first.
Losing their first three games by a total of six points killed the 1991 Buccaneers at the starting gate, Cobb fumbling a late kick-off to the Jets, a series of personal foul penalties giving the Bears their Week 2 win, and conceding two late scores to the Packers put the Bucs at 0-3 with the SuperBowl-bound Bills on their way into Tampa. Chris Chandler replaced the ineffective Testaverde to the delight of the crowd in the second quarter, and had the Bucs at the Buffalo eight when time expired in the 17-10 loss, some seemingly unbelievably bad clock management costing Tampa Bay any chance of an upset win over Buffalo.
Chandler and Testaverde got into an almighty training camp argument at the end of September, and the team quickly became divided between the two. Williamson tried to settle the two down, but Chandler's reliability in complaining to the press every day proved to be his passport out of Tampa on the waiver wire. Joining him was 1990 hero Wayne Haddix, beaten even more regularly this season, but without the interceptions and touchdowns to justify his place on the team.
Both players took shots at the Buccaneers and Richard Williamson as they went, and it was clear to all and sundry that the happy atmosphere anticipated at the start of the year was gone for good. Dexter Manley was signed for pass rushing help which he provided until he tested positive for cocaine once again, thereby earning himself a lifetime ban from the NFL, and only Broderick Thomas' seemingly solo efforts as the season wore on gave any indication that the team was still making an effort on the year.
In the end, the 1991 team won only three games, one when the Eagles turned up with Brad Goebel at quarterback, a passer so weak even the World League would not have given him a game. Reggie Cobb ran for 139 yards and three scores against the Lions, but Testaverde regressed from his previous improvements to throw almost twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Williamson was released the day after the season-ending win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Bucs finishing bottom of the NFC Central once again. The moral of the season really had to be that nice guys do finish last.