The Leeman Bennett interview - part 3
Denis Crawford continues his interview with the most unsuccessful coach in franchise history with a look at the 1986 season and the aftermath of Leeman's firing after that second 2-14 season.

As the 1986 season wound to a close, rumors started to circulate that Bennett was going to be let go. Bennett didn’t believe the rumors because of all the hard work he had put into getting the franchise back in shape. ”I thought we had a foundation started, but we had a long way to go. We had to live with Young for three or four years and add some personnel around him.”

“I didn’t really think he (Culverhouse) would let me go at that time because I thought we were at least headed in the right direction even though our record hadn’t gotten any better. I thought we had a better football team, but I knew it was going to take time and we had been set back by not signing Bo Jackson. We needed some personnel, and I thought it would take another year or two.”

When the call came, Bennett was disappointed. Legend has it that Bennett didn’t know he was being fired until Culverhouse announced it at a press conference. According to Bennett, that viewpoint is inaccurate. Hugh Culverhouse did not embarrass Bennett in that way and the former coach is unsure why people believe otherwise. “He did not fire me during the press conference. I knew before the press conference and I asked to attend. He was more than fair with me, he honored the contract totally.”

The only thing that bothered Bennett about the termination was his feeling that Culverhouse had not supported the team financially and the speculation the owner had picked a successor before he even informed the coach of his termination. “When the termination came, I didn’t have a problem. It (the Buccaneers) was considered a cheap organization and that was not good but that is the way it was. If Culverhouse spoke to Ray Perkins prior to letting me go, I don’t know anything about that.”

Long removed from the Tampa Stadium sideline Bennett spends his days in Georgia as an executive with the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and on the board of Atlanta Business Bank. More importantly he dotes on his grandchildren. “I have grandchildren in Jacksonville and in Atlanta so I keep the road hot between the two.”

Asked if he has any regrets about his time in Tampa Bay, Bennett chuckled and with a very sincere Southern drawl said, “I’m going to surprise you. My younger son found his wife in Tampa and they are doing great, and I have two great grandkids so that part was really good.”