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.

The prognosticators had been circling for weeks. And amid season-long rumors that a new head coach was being courted, their speculations had finally become reality. I had been fired.

Many of the assistant coaches—maybe all of them—would be let go as well. They would all come out fine. I knew that. But I also ached for the inevitable pain I knew they would face as they dealt with the uncertainty of their futures, that their children would face when they were uprooted from their schools, that their wives would face when ripped from their support systems.

Joe Barry. Mike Tomlin. Alan Williams. Jim Caldwell.

These men had just come that year. Why did they have to go? It was hard to figure. My family had come to Tampa for a reason. God had led us here, opened doors that we didn’t expect would be open, and allowed us to connect deeply with this community. But for what purpose?

Not football, apparently. I felt certain that the Buccaneers were my best, and possibly last, chance to lead an NFL team. For whatever reason, God had closed the door. For what?

Possibly some sort of ministry. I was heavily involved in the All Pro Dad organization and Abe Brown’s prison ministry, both based in Tampa, as well as our church,

Idlewild Baptist Central. Maybe God was trying to turn my focus toward those.

But did He have to close this door already?

And close it so firmly?

It really was hard to fathom. I had been faithful, hadn’t I? So faithful in the mission that surely—surely—it was going to be blessed by Him. I had come here in 1996 with dreams of creating an organization based on values and character, and my staff and I had succeeded in doing just that. But God obviously wanted something else from me now.

It wasn’t really the firing itself that was a shock but rather the thought that God was allowing this great experiment to end. Hadn’t we tried to do things right?

Oscar reappeared. It was late, approaching midnight.

I walked out, traversing a path between the squat racks, benches, and other weight-lifting machines in the weight area attached to the building. A cool mist blew in under the awning, dampening my forty-six-year-old face. This half of the weight room was outside and open on its ends and side, but at least the Glazers, the Bucs’ owners, had partially covered it with a vinyl awning. Although the weights were cooled and heated—mostly heated—according to the daily whims of the southwest Florida climate, they were usually out of direct reach of the elements.

I looked to my left, past the row of squat racks and away from the building. Through the dark and rain, I could barely make out the two shadowy practice fields. The runway lights of the airport were clearly visible just yards beyond.

Where was the burning bush? Where was that still, small voice? Or, even better, the loud, booming one.

The only voice I could hear clearly was my own, crying out in the wilderness. When will I hear Your voice, Lord?

I returned from my thoughts as Oscar quickly maneuvered between and around the weight machines to beat me to the next door. He pressed the electronic pad, releasing the magnetic lock on the chain-link gate that separated the weight area and practice fields from the waiting parking lot.

***