This five-week break before training camp comes at a welcome time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It was becoming a tad crowded at team headquarters.
Although the club is housed in a plush 136,320-square-foot facility, one of the largest coaching staffs in the NFL can be found sprawled out in every corner of the building.
In 1997, Tony Dungy’s second season as head coach, the Bucs ended 14 consecutive years of losing football with a staff of 14 assistants.
Those ranks have swelled to 24 as Greg Schiano approaches his second season on the sideline.
And that number doesn’t even count Butch Davis, a special advisor who has emerged as one of Schiano’s key confidantes.
“Greg’s done a great job putting this staff together,’’ said new special teams coach Dave Wannstedt, a former head coach for the Bears and Dolphins. “He’s got coaches that have been to the Super Bowl and there’s a nice mix of young guys that have been with him and know his philosophies. He doesn’t have a staff of yes-men.’’
Wannstedt was coaching the Bears in 1996 when he hired Schiano as a young defensive assistant. In 1999, Davis was coaching at the University of Miami when he mentioned to Wannstedt that he was looking for a defensive coordinator.
“I said we’ve got the guy right here,’’ Wannstedt told Davis, who promptly brought Schiano to Coral Gables for a successful two-year stint.
Now, Schiano is leaning on both Davis and Wannstedt for advice on how to end Tampa Bay’s five-year playoff drought.
Wannstedt is settling in with his new role – and he’s not yielding his office space to any potential poachers.
“I’ve got mine,’’ he said with a laugh, “and unless Greg throws me out, I’m not moving. I’m not sharing, either. After 30 years, I’m just happy to have a chair.’’
Schiano has made several changes to a 2012 staff that saw Tampa Bay fade in December and finish 7-9.
John McNulty is the new quarterbacks coach, determined to maximize Josh Freeman’s talents. McNulty served on Schiano’s Rutgers staff for five seasons and the Bucs were thwarted in their efforts to hire McNulty a year ago as the Arizona Cardinals would not let him out of his contract.
Other new hires include John Garrett (receivers), Tony Oden (cornerbacks) and Robb Smith (linebackers).
Former linebacker coach Bob Fraser has been named assistant to defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan while offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan returns after Tampa Bay’s attack ranked ninth in the NFL last season – the best showing in franchise history.
Former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox is back to coordinate with defensive line coach Randy Melvin and oversee the pass rush. Oden is splitting the secondary duties with Jeff Hafley, who works exclusively with Bucs safeties.
“We’ve got a great staff,’’ Schiano said. “It’s a tremendous mix of guys with a ton of experience in this league and guys I go way back with. My guys that came with me from Rutgers know what my expectations are and there are guys we’ve brought in from the outside who we’re getting tremendous ideas from.’’
Schiano said he plans on doing less hands-on coaching this fall, trusting his staff to implement his principles.
“You can tell he’s letting his assistants coach,’’ said wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, who played for Schiano at Rutgers. “Coach Garrett is giving us great work out on the field. These guys study film and they know their football. They want us to be the best players we can be … you can’t beat it.’’
While he’s proud of his staff, Schiano realizes coaching can only take you so far in the pro game.
“We hired good coaches,’’ he said. “I have real smart people and I rely on them to help lay out a plan how we as a team can get there. Then, it’s about execution. The staff is critically important, but at the end of the day, this game is about the players.’’