Sam Wyche and Hardy Nickerson Inventors of ‘A Bucs Life’: Tampa Bay Bucs hire Lovie Smith as head coach

Long before there was an internet I remember specifically picking up a copy of The Tampa Tribune at a Cincinnati area Borders Books and Music and eating a fabulous breakfast at Perkins while reading about the very dynamic changes that my favorite football coach Sam Wyche was bringing to the fledgling  Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  One of those changes was in uniform, one of the others was the free agent acquisition of Hardy Nickerson from the Pittsburg Steelers.  Between Nickerson and Wyche the two paved the way for what became the Tony Dungy Era Buccaneers.  For me Wyche as an NFL coach was way in front of the train, he was the first coach to teach Joe Montana, he invented the no huddle offense, pissed off most of the NFL and beat writers all over the country and was a pure bred innovator.  He was bringing to Tampa—a team swimming in corruption from its owner Hugh Culverhouse’s three extramarital affairs–passion, drive, and conviction.  Hugh gave Wyche free control to make the Bucs into something great, and that is just what Sam went to do.  Nickerson was the first block that would become a wall built for the next four years in a defense that produced Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and many other notables.  Nickerson hung around till 1999 teaching those young Buc defenders how to become Hall of Fame material.  In 2013 Sapp was inducted, in 2014 Tony Dungy, Brooks and Lynch are all finalists.  When Hugh died, Wyche was on the out as the Glazer family wanted to bring their own kind of guy in as coach, Tony Dungy which was an excellent choice.  But Tony only honed off the edges of a team that Wyche built.  Of that group was the upcoming line backer coach Lovie Smith.  Now, twenty years later replacing the hard copy newspaper with the internet and an iPad, I am once again reading exciting news about the Buccaneers.  Lovie Smith has been hired to be the new head coach after a few years with Greg Schiano did not produce winning seasons.  And Lovie hired Hardy Nickerson to be his linebacker coach.  An explosion of fun is headed for Tampa.  For me it all started with the kind of intensity, and innovation seen in the clip below—with Hardy Nickerson and Sam Wyche—the coach who started it all in Tampa.

During this last season when my enemies wanted to give me a rough way to go they ribbed me incessantly about the Bucs terrible record.  Under Schiano they started off the 2013 season 0 and 8 and knowing a bit about the Glazers, I knew the writing was on the wall.  They fired Sam Wyche after four losing seasons even though he had some dramatic wins and brought to the team a dynamic that it had not had before.  The Glazers fired the great Tony Dungy after getting repeatedly to the playoffs but not going to a Superbowl and hired Jon Gruden.  Then Gruden was fired to give Raheem Morris a chance, a long time coach for the Bucs as the ownership was looking for a new Lovie Smith or Mike Tomlin—both guys had come into the NFL through Tampa Bay.  When Raheem didn’t work out the Bucs went outside the box in hiring Schiano from Rutgers.  When Schiano started 2013 flat, I knew he was gone and I told my enemies that.  I still listened to the games and paid attention to the team for pure entertainment, but I knew the Glazers would pull the trigger at the end of the season—and they did.  They fired Schiano on “Black Monday” a day where 5 NFL coaches lost their jobs, and by Wednesday even over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day hired Lovie Smith by Wednesday.  When Lovie did not take an NFL job during 2013 after being let go from the Chicago Bears in 2012 for not going to the playoffs that year with a 10 – 5 season I assumed the Glazers were talking to Smith to resurrect some of the old magic from the Dungy era—a period of time paved by Sam Wyche and Hardy Nickerson.  So when I saw that Nickerson was coming back to Tampa not as a player—but a coach—I was ecstatic.  Hardy Nickerson is my kind of player.  He’s a class act, he’s tough, he’s fearless—and now he’s teaching the next generation of Buccaneers how to hit, strip away the ball, and in general wreak havoc against opposing offenses.

Football is a trivial game.  The game itself isn’t any more important in the scheme of life than a typical poker game or a gambling excursion.  Wins and losses come and go and football games are only games.  But for me, people like Wyche, Dungy, and Lovie Smith, are innovators who brought their teams from the back of Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality train to the front.  (See Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  CLICK HERE)  Football however is the closest thing America has on a high-profile front that represents pure capitalism and the reasons why The United States was able to excel in the past economically while other countries struggled.  Football is an American game built around American philosophy and when Sam Wyche in the clip above pointed to his players warning them not to shake hands with the other players before the game—he meant it.  On the field of battle the other team is the enemy.  The goal is competition, not hugging, kissing, or brown-nosing.  The goal in football is to dominate the other team, and Hardy Nickerson bought into that philosophy—which carried over to players who mentored from him and became Hall of Fame players.

In normal everyday life I yell a lot.  I tend to play at life much the way Hardy Nickerson played the game of football in Tampa Bay and Sam Wyche coached.  In one day this past week I punched a desktop breaking the linoleum top, I threw a chair, sheered the lock of a door by head butting it and yelled at about 30 different people.  I didn’t do these things to be intimidating or to put on a show.  I did it because the passion in my heart had no place else to go and came out in explosive outbursts.  Sam Wyche always had that kind of passion as a coach which is how I became a Buccaneer fan in the first place.   For him it wasn’t fake or a show—it was real, and the players who played for him knew it.  Whether the situation is a football game or everyday life, passion is something that the world needs more of.  There is time for handshaking after the games we all play are done—but in the meantime you have to lay it all out on the field of play and give it everything—and I mean EVERYTHING.

I am very proud of the Glazer family in Tampa—a place I consider my second home.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just had a 4 -12 season, but I have never been prouder to call myself a fan.  I’m a fan because the Bucs fired a coach two years into a contract so they could abandon the guy and move on to a formula that wins.  That formula might not work, and if it doesn’t, they’ll try again and again and again until it does.  Meanwhile, they are always looking to bring in the type of coaches that made them successful to begin with, and hiring Hardy Nickerson as a member of the coaching staff is a tremendous indicator of just how serious they are about trying to win.  The other NFL team in the town of my primary home is The Cincinnati Bengals who just allowed Marvin Lewis to lose his fifth playoff appearance game.  The owners of the Bengals will bring Marvin back next year, and the year after, and the year after, and the year after so long as the guy wants to coach because they have no idea what they are doing.  They simply hope that their time will come every now and again and wait their turn for a shot at the title.  Unlike the Bucs, they wait for their time to come, while the Glazers try to make their time to come with forward-looking leadership.  Hardy Nickerson and Sam Wyche are the embodiments of that philosophy and are the primary reasons that after all these years from that first peek at the Buccaneer team of 1993 that I am still a fan—and so long as the Glazers own the team—am likely to continue even if they never win again.


There is a lot of talk centering on my little grandson because as a young little guy just over a year old he is already grunting and making animal noises showing a tremendous amount of aggression.  His father was a cage fighter, his mom is my kid, and he’s my grandson—what would anybody expect?  When he sees me he greets me with a growl and a fist pump.  His grunting and growling has been so obvious that people are taking notice and are concerned.  But as a little boy who will grow up to be a man, I know damn well what I’m doing, and my relationship with him will be as such.  The enemy is on the field and you don’t shake hands with them, you don’t whisper sweet nothings to them, you don’t make friends.  You crush them, you pummel them, and you make them beg to come off the field with their very lives forgetting about victory. And those foundations start in the mind.  Once the game is over, shake hands, go to church, and break bread.  But in the meantime conquer, destroy, and win!

That is the way of the world, and makes everything in life—even for the losers—better.  It is in Tampa what they call……………….”A Bucs Life.”

Rich Hoffman