Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano thought his team had a shot at winning the Super Bowl this year. He really did. It was long before the Bucs lost five of their last six games, of course, but you get the idea.
Schiano is an optimist, the kind who even in the aftermath of a roller-coaster-like 7-9 run in which his team never moved beyond sniffing distance of the playoffs can still find a silver lining.
As he put the wraps on his first season as an NFL head coach on Monday, Schiano chose to emphasize the "ton'' of positives he found during what he admitted was a disappointing season.
"There were a lot of positives this year,'' Schiano said. "And I look at that as, man, that gives me motivation and encourages me that, hey, there are brighter days ahead.''
The Bucs came off a 4-12 season a year ago and, under the guidance of a new head coach and despite of the loss of several key cogs to injury, put together the most dynamic offense in franchise history.
Tampa Bay also went from worst in the league to first against the run and created enough impact plays on special teams for Schiano to believe the foundation of a potential champion has been formed.
"There are opportunities to (achieve) the ultimate goal," he said. "Now, will we realize those goals? That will be determined by how we evaluate, how we tweak, how we get better. But I'm excited to do that.''
Schiano isn't kidding. He really is excited to get cracking on his offseason evaluations. Just don't expect him to make any rash decisions. This part of the job is far too important for that, he said.
"Anybody can steer the ship; it's charting the path that's hard to do and so you need to make sure that you take your time doing that. So, that's what we're going to do,'' Schiano said.
One thing is certain. The evaluations will be thorough. They will start with the coaching staff and extend to the players. From there, anything that impacts the football operation will be examined.
"I will work my way through every process, through every person, whether it's personnel, the methods we use, the schemes we use, how we travel, everything,'' Schiano said. "I will seriously look at every phase of the operation.
"And people want to know, 'Is this going to (change)? Is that going to (change)?' I don't know. It would be irresponsible for me to say right now, after a six-month sprint, that this is how it will be.''
One change that could be coming is at the quarterback position, though not necessarily with starter Josh Freeman.
After watching Freeman become the first Bucs quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in a season, Schiano saw enough positives in his play to believe Freeman will one day win a Super Bowl, hopefully for the Bucs. He also saw enough inconsistency to believe Freeman may need a bit of a push.
It is likely the Bucs will at least look into adding a more viable backup quarterback, though increased competition for starting jobs is something Schiano wants at every position.
"The one thing I do believe in is competition at every spot, including quarterback, so I want to have as many good players on our football team as we can at every single position,'' Schiano said.
Another change could be coming at cornerback, where Eric Wright's future with the team is in doubt after a season in which he was often hurt and missed four games because of a suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing substances policy.
The Bucs have not decided whether to retain Wright, Schiano said, but probably will before the start of the offseason workout program in mid-April. Two things working against Wright are the Bucs' belief the draft is deep at the cornerback position and the steady improvement the team saw from the young players who stepped in as replacements.
"That was encouraging to me,'' Schiano said of reserves such as Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer and Anthony Gaitor. "We went through some rough times, but the last couple of weeks, those young guys really battled.''
Schiano was particularly impressed with the play of his makeshift secondary during Sunday's season-ending 22-17 victory against the Falcons, who were held to 213 yards passing, the third-lowest total of the year.
Still, the Bucs barely avoided surrendering the most passing yards in NFL history, so their decision on Wright will be based as much on skills as character and reliability.
Meanwhile, Schiano also said his goal of changing the culture of the Bucs organization still has not been met.
"We've taken big steps in changing the culture, but it's not completely changed,'' he said. "What you need to do is make your culture so strong that anybody that comes in from the outside, whether it's a rookie, a free agent or an in-season signing, just gets swept up in the way things are done here. And the repeat of the (offseason) cycle is the key there.
"You have to repeat the cycle of installation of schemes, of philosophy, of just what is acceptable behavior in the Buccaneer organization. That's the end, when that culture is so established that when you're not living up to it you kind of glare out there and it's uncomfortable. That's when you've got it. And we're not there yet, but we're going to get there.''