In wide receiver's mind, Les Steckel's departure brings a chance for team to "know'' its offense.
By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 10, 2001
|[Times photo: Mike Heffner]
Bucs offensive coordinator Les Steckel watches the offense walk through pregame drills as WR Keyshawn Johnson walks by.
TAMPA -- The phone's ring shattered the early morning calm at Keyshawn Johnson's Southern California home, awakening the Bucs receiver from a deep sleep.
The caller: quarterback Shaun King.
The surprising news: The team fired offensive coordinator Les Steckel.
Johnson first thought it was a joke, but the reality was not a disappointment.
"I think the (final) straw for me, ... was the Philadelphia game, when on third and 7 we ran a draw on the 14-yard line," Johnson said. "At that point, I just put my hands in the air.
"(We ran a draw) rather than saying, "Okay, try and score here,' or at least get the first down, and if we don't, it's early in the game. ... Then they have to go 90 yards-plus on our defense with their face facing the wind. That's what I was thinking."
King didn't talk to the media Tuesday but released a statement saying the decision surprised him.
"I'm just going to focus on my job as the quarterback, work hard this off-season and come back ready to go," he said.
Brought in last off-season to replace Mike Shula, who was fired, Steckelran an offense that produced more points but proved inconsistent and took much criticism from players and fans. The offense finished 30th in passing yards in 1999 and 26th in 2000.
Steckel attributed the problem to the team learning a new offense. Johnson, also new to the Bucs, had a different take.
"What? You can't learn an offense after 28 weeks straight?" he said. "It doesn't take that long to learn an offense. It takes a few weeks. We've got all of the mini-camps and training camp; you're supposed to know the offense come September.
"It's not the offense; it's the person who's controlling the offense. That's what we have to learn. You have to know on certain downs and distance, this is what he's going to do. You have to know that automatically, and I've always known that with my coordinators in the past. If it's third and 4, I always know who's getting the football, regardless. If it's a running play, I know it's going to Mike Alstott. I know it's going to Warrick Dunn if it's a screen. If we decide to throw when it's third and 4, I'm probably going to get it. If I don't get it, Dave Moore is probably going to get it. That's knowing an offense."
Asked if the team knew its direction under Steckel, Johnson replied: "No. No. Not at all. We didn't know that."
There was no chemistry between the offense and Steckel, Johnson said.
"Nothing had developed because he was here such a short period of time," Johnson said. "Being here a short period of time, you never really got a chance to deal with him that much. It was just different. He was new to everybody, and I don't think he opened himself up to meet a lot of people."
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