From The Archives

How to fail spectacularly

Jason Vuic, G’97, has a Ph.D. in losing (actually, it’s in history). Two of his books chronicle ill-fated, ill-advised, and ill-managed ventures: the much-maligned Yugo car and the much-ridiculed Tampa Bay Buccaneers expansion team. The latter lost an astonishing 26 games in a row, a record for futility by a mile. Thinking of becoming an NFL team owner yourself? Vuic offers his tips for how to fail just as spectacularly.

Step 1: Pay your employees as little as possible.
In 1979, when Bucs quarterback Doug Williams lifted the team from its 0-26 start and took it one game from the Super Bowl, he was the 42nd-highest-paid quarterback in the league. There were 28 teams.

Step 2: Travel economy class.
Rather than lease his team’s plane from Eastern or United, in 1976 owner Hugh Culverhouse got a cut-rate deal from McCulloch, the chainsaw manufacturer. The McCulloch “rattletrap,” as one player called it, sat uncovered on the tarmac at the airport — because hangars cost money — so the inside temperature at takeoff was often 100 degrees.

“[The owner] installed a soda machine that charged players for Cokes.”

Step 3: Keep your facilities Spartan.
The Bucs’ first headquarters, One Buc Place, was a tiny white stucco box. It had nearly the same square footage in 1976 as the team’s current weight room. Culverhouse also bought a used couch for the lobby and painted the walls white in the film room so he wouldn’t need to buy screens.

Step 4: When it comes to employee perks … forget the perks.
While other teams had refrigerators full of sports drinks in the locker room, Culverhouse installed a soda machine that charged players for Cokes. As more than one reporter told me, players would end interviews with, “Hey, man, you got a quarter?”

Step 5: Don’t hire a general manager.
The Bucs’ first general manager was Ron Wolf, the architect of several Super Bowl teams in Oakland and later the Packers boss who found quarterback Brett Favre. Culverhouse fired Wolf in 1977, and while Wolf became the very best in the business, Culverhouse never had a GM again.

Step 6: Instead of hiring a professional designer, let a local newspaper cartoonist draw up your mascot.
The result, people, was “Bucco Bruce,” the team’s rakish, swashbuckling mascot who looked like Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees or actor Errol Flynn. (Things could have been worse; the cartoonist’s initial design was a hangman’s noose.)

Step 7: Cha-ching.
By the late 1980s, the Bucs were the second-most profitable team in the league. Culverhouse’s secret? He pocketed his share of the league’s TV and merchandising revenue even as he kept the team’s payroll and expenses so low.

As former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo put it, “Hugh was driven by the bottom line, not the goal line. … That was his philosophy, and it permeated the organization.”