TAMPA If he hasn't already done so, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman might want to start putting together his bucket list. There's a good chance he'll need it once he starts working with new Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
Part of Sullivan's routine during his two years as quarterbacks coach with the New York Giants was to finish up a long week of preparation by asking his quarterbacks to give him a top-three list.
It could be three things they want to do before they die, their three favorite movies or three things they love to eat – anything to take their minds off the game for a moment and relax.
It's a little unconventional, but so is Sullivan.
A former Army Ranger, he holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and considers himself a mixed martial arts fanatic.
A former defensive player in high school and at Army, Sullivan was converted by Giants coach Tom Coughlin to coach players on the other side of the ball eight years ago and his unique background shows up on the field.
His style of coaching quarterbacks was deemed unconventional by Eli Manning, the Giants quarterback who won his second Super Bowl and second Super Bowl MVP award a week ago under Sullivan's tutelage.
One such drill called for Giants quarterbacks to dodge to their left and right, then run away from a chasing defender and deliver the ball while off balance. It was because of drills like that, Manning said, he bounced back from a 25-interception season in 2010 to throw for a franchise record 4,933 yards in 2011.
There was more to Manning's bounce back than some quirky drills, though. Manning said Sullivan's strong emphasis on sound decision making played just as big a part.
"It's in our quarterback guide, it's something we constantly talk about," Sullivan said told the Newark Star-Ledger. "Everything else, it has to fit within that framework.''
Now, the Bucs hope Sullivan's framework can help Freeman. Like Manning a year ago, Freeman regressed in 2011, throwing 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions one season after he threw 25 touchdowns and six interceptions.
David Carr, the former Texans quarterback who backed up Manning with the Giants this season, suggests Sullivan can succeed. He lauded Sullivan for his preparation skills during the playoffs, as did Manning.
When asked about the top-three lists that Sullivan asks for on Saturday mornings, Manning said he appreciated Sullivan's attempt to help him relax before a game.
"You have to keep things loose and have something to think about besides football," Manning told the Star-Ledger. "Of the 10 hours of meetings we do each week or whatever it may be, we have a good minute-and-a-half of non-football talk. It works out all right."
Decade of parity
The NFC South, of which the Bucs are an original member, is now a decade old, and a good example of the parity the NFL seeks. Since the division was created in 2002, none of its four teams has won back to back titles, making it the only division without a repeat champion since the NFL expanded to 32 teams.
During the past decade, the Bucs won three division titles, tied with New Orleans for the most in the division. Atlanta and Carolina won two each. That's about as even as it gets.