Jeff Jagodzinski never expected to be sitting in a press box this fall.
He had what he thought was a dream job, coaching ACC power Boston College after mentoring quarterback Matt Ryan to a lucrative and successful rookie year with the Atlanta Falcons. All was great until he got an itch.
The New York Jets needed a coach and Jagodzinski was a hot commodity. He flirted with the Jets like a high school kid looking for a prom date. Boston College didn’t take kindly to it and fired Jagodzinski, only two years into his five-year deal at Chestnut Hill, despite leading the Eagles to two straight ACC championship games.
That left Jagodzinski, 45, with nothing but an impressive resume and a quarterback who is now an Atlanta Falcon. Jobless, Jagodzinski started looking for work and ended up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that has never been known for their offense and has shuffled offensive coordinators like a Vegas poker dealer shuffles cards.
Jagodzinski threw the ball at Boston College, but he doesn’t have the arm or the receivers in Tampa. The Bucs offense hasn’t had a lot of originality since, well, ever. Jagodzinski, however, said during his introductory press conference that he was confident he could make things work with the present parts.
It’s not like Jagodzinski doesn’t have NFL experience. He has made several NFL stops but his best job may have been in 2006 when he temporarily revitalized Brett Favre’s career in Green Bay. Favre had a season that ranks among his career best under Jagodzinski’s lead and that led Jagodzinski to Boston.
In Tampa, though, he isn’t inheriting Favre. He’s inheriting Luke McCown who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract even though he has a grand total of one win as an NFL starter. Like Ryan, McCown has mobility. But Jagodzinski has always coached on and off the field with a go-for-broke mentality.
It worked with Ryan and last year’s Boston College quarterback, Dominique Davis. The Eagles made it to their second straight ACC championship game, but the NFL is a lot different than the ACC and Jagodzinski said he understands that during his introduction press conference.
The go-for-broke mentality has never worked in Tampa and Jagodzinski will be under the gun. New Bucs coach Raheem Morris is a defensive wiz who said that he will turn the entire offense over to Jagodzinski. Like Morris, Jagodzinski is low-key and a sharp contrast to former Bucs coach Jon Gruden who paraded a series of offensive coordinators through Tampa but pretty much ran the show himself.
In Tampa, he’ll have to deal with a lack of weapons. He has a smart and quick offensive line that is young and maturing nicely, anchored by center Jeff Faine, but he’ll need at least 1,000 rushing yards from newcomer Derrick Ward and for Earnest Graham to come through on third downs. A sleeper out of the draft or free agent market wouldn’t hurt.
McCown doesn’t have any kind of real history as a starting quarterback, but he’s smart enough and Jagodzinski’s system was never too tough at Boston or with the Packers. Jagodzinski said he plans to take advantage of his line to try to develop the running game and, if McCown has time to throw, the system might work.
Unlike his situation in Green Bay, where he had Hall-of-Famer Favre, he has to work with a raw quarterback and a set of receivers that won’t be joining Favre in Canton.
Ideally, short possession receivers like Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant fit into the West Coast offense that Jagodzinski used in Green Bay, but, during his press conference, Jagodzinski said he doesn’t plan on using the same offense that he used in Green Bay. Instead, he plans to use a zone blocking scheme to emphasize the running game that might keep defenses on their heels.
While Jim Bates gets most of the attention in Tampa as the new defensive coordinator, replacing legendary Monte Kiffen, the architect of the Tampa Two defense, it is Jagodzinski that has the most pressure. The Bucs defense has been solid ever since the 0-26 start of the 1976-1977 seasons. Defense isn’t the problem.
The Bucs have to put together an offense behind an untested quarterback and two running backs hoping for breakout years. Of course former first-round pick Cadillac Williams is another option, but his knees are shot and he’s questionable to make the team. If he makes it, it’s an unexpected bonus.
Jagodzinski left Boston College where he could have stayed forever and landed in Tampa Bay where offensive coordinators have the shelf life of a Jennifer Aniston relationship. Boston was safe and comfortable. Now he has the bulls-eye on his back and not a lot to work with.
To make things work, he’ll have to pray for McCown to be the answer because he’s about the only option at quarterback. He can hope that Cadillac has some gas left in the tank and that Ward and Graham can combine for 2,000 yards, and that Clayton can rebound from two straight sub-par seasons and be a go-to guy for McCown.
The press box has some of the best seats in the house, but all eyes will be on Jagodzinski if the Bucs offense stalls early and often.