I stopped to contemplate a wood-framed picture in the stack. It had been taken our first year in Tampa, and we were all beaming: my daughter, Tiara; my sons, Jamie and Eric; my wife,Lauren; and me. The stadium grass behind us was a vibrant green, the shade of an Irish meadow, sliced into five-yard increments by crisp, white stripes. A teeming throng of humanity, dressed in orange and red and squinting in the unforgiving Florida sun, filled the stands in the picture's background. The summer of 1996 had been a long time ago.
Now, in the winter of 2002, that same Florida sky was dark. Dark, cold, and damp. The mist that had begun in the afternoon had turned to light drops. The weather mirrored my dark inner world on that night of January 14.
I finished packing the last of the items. Not that much, really. A few boxes stood by the door, ready to be carried home. Nothing else of note remained. That office of mine had been lived in pretty hard, I had to admit. Most of the homework completed by my sons Jamie and Eric over the previous six years had been done in there, and the office had seen countless games of catch, video-game competitions, and other pursuits geared around young boys. I later learned that Rich McKay, general manager of the T am pa R a i n Bucs during my tenure as head coach, had asked the facility manager to clean and paint the office that week, noting that my replacement was "about to move into an office that two boys have been living in every day for the last six years."
As I wrapped things up, I noticed that the light drops falling outside had turned into a heavy rain. I should have just walked out, since by then it was getting late. Instead, I wandered out of my office and through the building, stopping in the coaches' locker room. Standing in the middle of the room, I let my gaze sweep over the cramped, worn twelve-by-fifteen room. I looked from locker to locker, reading some names, imagining others.Monte Kiffin. Chris Foerster. Clyde Christensen. Rod Marinelli.
We had shared this locker room and many memories, these men and I. We had spent hours, weeks, and years together. These men had walked off the frozen, concrete-hard synthetic turf in Philadelphia with me just two days earlier, their careers critically stung by the Bucs' 31?9 loss. So much had been at stake for all of us -- and the players too -- yet the outcome had never really been in doubt. It was a difficult season punctuated by a painful ending. And now God had something different in mind for all of us. I tried to take solace in the things we had accomplished together -- three straight playoff appearances, more wins than any other staff in team history -- but they seemed hollow, even within me. I stared at the lockers, the enormity of the moment suddenly overwhelming as I remembered names of guys long gone from my staff. Lovie Smith. Herm Edwards. Mike Shula.