1992 - A wacky image in Tampa as Sam takes charge
The search for the fifth head coach of the Buccaneers was definitely the wildest to date, and it was only fitting that possibly the craziest coach available finally took the job in mid-January 1992. The saga had started with the release of Richard Williamson, who quickly took a position as receivers' coach with the Cincinnati Bengals under David Shula. Hugh Culverhouse wanted to bring in a big-name coach to help boost flagging season ticket sales, and it was not to many people's surprise when it was reported that Bill Parcells had been seen in Tampa for interviews with the Buccaneer owner.
Parcells had retired as head coach of the Giants after winning his second SuperBowl, and had spent a year working the television studios and recovering from health problems. Parcells initially accepted the offer of the job, but after the story had been leaked to the national press, phoned Culverhouse to say he was now withdrawing his interest, quoting that "it just didn't feel right". Culverhouse immediately called a press conference to blast Parcells for his indecision, a laughable matter for the Tampa press, all the more so when Parcells called Culverhouse a day later to say that he might be interested after all. Hugh turned him down using the same phrase of "not feeling right" and the Buccaneers' initial search for their head coach had produced nothing but sniggering around the NFL.
Four potential replacements for Parcells were then short-listed and interviewed at One Buc Place, Buddy Ryan, still looking for another franchise to ruin (of course he soon found the Cardinals), Mike Holmgren (who merely went on to some success with the Packers !), Floyd Peters (who as defensive co-ordinator, received an interview to ensure he stayed with the Bucs in the same capacity) and Sam Wyche. The latter had either been fired or had resigned from the Bengals three weeks earlier, depending whom you talked to about the story. But four years removed from a SuperBowl appearance, famous for his innovative offense and popularity with the media and fans alike, he accepted the position of head coach of the Buccaneers.
Wyche inherited the great enigma at quarterback in Vinny Testaverde, and immediately declared that he could turn him into a star given his great offensive coaching talent. What Wyche did not have was the benefit of the first pick of the draft, this having been given away two years earlier by Ray Perkins in the disastrous trade for Chris Chandler. What could we have done with the second overall selection of the draft ? However, Wyche and his backroom team turned the draft into one of the richest veins of talent ever selected by the franchise, starting and quality back-up playing material in evidence throughout the draft.
Starters in the form of Courtney Hawkins, Mark Wheeler and Santana Dotson, a marvellous gamble on Craig Erickson who had sat out his rookie season with the Eagles due to a knee injury, and players gracing other NFL teams at present in the form of Klaus Wilmsmeyer, Elijah Alexander and Tyji Armstrong. A trade with the Vikings brought veteran linebacker Jimmy Williams to add depth on the defense, and the first free agent deals saw the likes of kicker Ken Willis, safety Joey Browner and running back Alonzo Highsmith arrive in Tampa Bay.
The 1992 Bucs opened with two home games and excited their fans with a pair of comprehensive victories. Rookie Santana Dotson set the league on fire with six sacks in his first four professional games including one against the Packers that put Don Majkowski in hospital. The fact that it gave Brett Favre his first opportunity with Green Bay should not be held against him, but Dotson was a worthy winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Month award for September 1992. Testaverde was a dropped pass away from setting an all-time league record for completion percentage in the 31-3 destruction of the Packers, a performance described by the press as "Vincredible". A tough loss in Minnesota followed, but the exciting win over the Lions that took the Bucs to 3-1 was on the back of a Testaverde touchdown pass to Ron Hall inside the last two minutes, and then a game-saving tackle by Milton Mack on Bret Perriman as time expired.
The season however, began to fall apart the following week against the Colts, a loss that started a five-game losing streak and that took the wind out of the sails of Buccaneer fans everywhere. Ken Willis became the scapegoat for missing several key fieldgoals and was cut after the loss to the Vikings, the Bucs ruing the loss of Steve Christie to Buffalo in an abortive attempt to keep him as a free agent. Wyche brought in several former Bengals to prolong their professional careers, Brian Blados. James Brooks and Stanford Jennings all wearing the orange and white instead of their original Cincinnati jerseys, but it did little good. Steve DeBerg, back with the Buccaneers once again, saw time in relief of Testaverde, and even Erickson took some game snaps behind center but without any real offensive success.
The win over Chicago that broke the losing streak came in front of many Bucs UK members, Kevin Butler missing a potential game-tying fieldgoal as time expired, but only a season-ending debacle on a sand-covered Sun Devil Stadium saw the Bucs win again to take their mark to 5-11. The Week 14 loss to the Rams summing the season and possibly the franchise up perfectly, the Bucs leading 27-3 at the half on national television, and then conceding four second-half touchdowns to Jim Everett for one of the biggest comeback victories in NFL history. Only the Buccaneers could find a way to snatch defeat from the obvious jaws of victory.
Reggie Cobb quietly took his rushing yardage tally to over 1,000 yards, the third back in team history to achieve that milestone at the time, while Dotson won All-Rookie honours despite slowing from his incredible early season pace. Sam Wyche's first season will be remembered for a few wacky plays, Steve DeBerg's walking to the sideline in an apparent time-out being one, only for the ball to be snapped straight to the tailback, and for Testaverde showing one brief flash of the ability that everyone knew he had. The defense could have been better, but then again, so could the whole team in what turned out to be another disappointing season for the Bucs.