TAMPA, Fla. -- They walked out of the locker room carrying their belongings in thrash bags, which could have been symbolic.
But none of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were calling their 2-14 season garbage. Instead, they were looking at it as a step toward much better things. They saw enough bright spots in coach Lovie Smith's first season to believe that this team can be a winner.
Perhaps more importantly they saw sanity and stability in their coach. That alone puts them ahead of where they were during the tenures of former coaches Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano.
"Last year was madness," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said after cleaning out his locker Monday morning. "This year it was losing. I can handle that. I'm serious. Last year everybody was walking through the locker room and nobody knew what was going to happen. I didn't know who my teammates were going to be, my coach, GM. I didn't know anything. This year, I know all of that. We just lost this year. Seriously, compared to last year, 2-14 ain't bad."
But they're not planning on staying at 2-14.
"Things will change," McCoy said. "I guarantee that."
The reason for the optimism, the players said, is because they have faith in Smith and general manager Jason Licht.
"The team, in my mind, is headed in the right direction," center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. "Obviously we have some very high draft picks coming up here. I trust that upstairs will get that all squared away."
They also pointed to the fact there weren't any major distractions or controversies despite the losing.
"We fought as a team all year," Dietrich-Smith said. "We never really laid down. There wasn't a lot of disarray or a lot of bad reports of grumblings. Guys came to work, fought hard and were pros about everything."
Players said Smith's final message to the team was positive.
"He didn't mention much negative, if any," McCoy said. "It was all the positives. One thing he did that was awesome was he told all the guys that were on the team this year thank you. He told us this thing will turn around and a championship is coming and everybody who was on the team this year played a part in setting the foundation. Whether they're here next year or when we do win a championship, they played a role in it with setting the foundation. Stuff like that is why I believe in him."