Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden has been silent about his firing since his dismissal on Friday, January 16, but the same can’t be said for offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Muir, who served under Gruden with the Buccaneers since 2002.
Muir, who was fired two days later on January 18, spent half an hour revealing his thoughts about Gruden’s firing, the hiring of new head coach Raheem Morris, the Bucs’ 0-4 December collapse and Muir’s seven years in Tampa Bay on the offensive side of the ball with Mike Francesa on WFAN Sports Radio 66AM in New York.
The most telling details surrounded Gruden’s firing, which Muir said no one saw coming.
“It was a shock,” Muir said. “At 3:00 Friday afternoon, I left One Buccaneer Place. I had a brief visit with Jon because all week long Jon had been interviewing defensive coaches. It was documented that he was putting together a defensive staff. I did – and this is interesting – I did have the opportunity to talk to him on Thursday late in the day. He confided in me that he had a three-and-a-half hour lunch meeting with the owners – the three brothers who are basically running the team – and he said it was a very positive conversation. They recognized the problems and they were on the same page solution-wise and he felt very good about the meeting. I felt good that we at least had a plan to work our way out of this. At 3:00 Friday afternoon I left to drive to the [Florida] Panhandle. I’m on the road about two hours, two-and-a-half hours, and I see I have a phone message from Jon. He doesn’t often call me, so I picked up the phone and he said, ‘I was fired.’ He said, ‘I was just fired.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. Quit BS-ing me here. This is not funny. I’m not in the mood for this kind of black humor. I’m going to have a good weekend here and you’re killing me. What do you really want?’ He said, ‘No, I’ve been fired.’ I said, ‘Okay, the joke’s over. What do you really want?’ He said, ‘Listen to me (expletive, expletive), I’ve been fired!’
“I know it sideswiped him. I know he had no idea that it was coming. I think he took it outwardly extremely well. I think it hurt him. I don’t think he’ll ever tell anybody that. I would just say this – I’ve been here seven years. Some people label me a Jon Gruden guy. That’s probably why I’m unemployed right now, and I’m glad to be labeled that. I’ve never been with a person who worked as hard – and I mean hard – was more thorough. I’ve never seen a team been better taken care of during the course of a week physically. I’ve never seen an offense better prepared. In the big picture, I am stunned. You can go back and look and say the price that the Glazers paid to get him … there was compensation, significant draft choice compensation. Those were first- and second-round picks that in their fourth or fifth year down the road, they would be players for you. They would be key players in your system. They were missing.”
Muir implied that Gruden’s firing had as much to do with the sudden popularity of young, energetic coaches like former Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin, who is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be playing in Tampa this Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII, and Morris as it had to do with the team’s 0-4 record in December that cost the once 9-3 Buccaneers a chance to make the playoffs.
“In my opinion, I think this was a knee-jerk reaction,” Muir said. “Certainly nobody was happy with the collapse of the season. I just think it was very unfair to put it all on Jon’s feet.
“I would have to say to you I think the whole NFL is upside down in their process of selecting head coaches. I’m not saying that because I’m old or jealous. In my opinion, I just think you have to have a little more background to be a head coach. The National Football League is a copycat league, as you know, and I think the owners have looked at Mike Tomlin and they’ve looked at [Baltimore’s rookie coach John] Harbaugh and they said, ‘Maybe these guys relate better with the players. I kind of think that’s the case with Raheem. The defensive players rallied around him. He’s very – I guess the right word is charismatic – and effervescent. He’s got a good football base, too. But I think the players rallied around him and he was obviously a very popular choice to be defensive coordinator. Jon made that decision. One of the reasons Jon liked Raheem was that there was going to be a lot of reciprocal philosophy. Raheem was receptive to some input. I just think ownership – it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Raheem immediately … he hadn’t been the coordinator for 24 hours and he’s on his way to Denver to interview for the head job. Interpret that how you will. I think the owners looked at it and said, ‘All right, if we are removing Jon, in fact, maybe the first place to start is in-house with a guy that [is in demand]. Remember when you were young, you always wanted the girl everybody else wanted, right? I think their vision is that [Raheem] is Mike Tomlin. There are some similarities. Am I surprised? Absolutely. Am I mad because he is the head coach? No. I wish him well. It will be interesting. I think the more interesting thing is not who they selected as head coach, but who they selected as general manager.”
Muir, who has been a polarizing figure in Tampa Bay due to the struggles with consistency of the Bucs offensive line during his tenure, noted that former players had been outspoken in the media when it came to Gruden after his dismissal. Muir didn’t name the names, but wide receiver Michael Clayton and quarterback Jeff Garcia had their feuds with Gruden over the past couple years and supported the decision to fire him.
“What type of job you do does not depend on the people you have around you,” Muir said. “That’s why I laugh when people say, ‘I didn’t like that guy or he didn’t treat me right.’ Hey, I’ve been not liked and disliked and not treated right, but hey, I got paid to do a job I went and did my job, you know?’
“I’ve been with him for seven years and what we did in year one we did in year seven. Did we become a little more sophisticated in what we were doing over the seven years? Yeah. If you were someone who came in year six, might some of this stuff be foreign to you or maybe seem extravagant compared to where you were? But if you were with us for the evolution of this, it was amazing to me how well the players received what we would do week-to-week. I would say this often in the meetings often in the early part of the season and in training camp, ‘This is not for everybody. We challenge you mentally and physically.’ The great thing about Jon is that he never beat these guys up physically in training camp or during the regular season.”
Francesa then engaged Muir in a conversation talking about whether Gruden was hard or demanding on his quarterbacks. Although Muir did not mention Garcia by name, it was pretty clear that he was talking about him with Francesa.
“Demanding and hard are two different things,” Muir said. “If you are the quarterback, you are the bell cow. It’s proven – put on the tape – it’s proven that his system works. Buy into it and you’ll be successful. Look at the quarterbacks he’s resurrected and they have been successful. Now some quarterbacks fought this. ‘I’m an older quarterback. I’ve never done this. I don’t want to do this.’ They were reluctant to buy into it. Some of the reluctance stalled the offense. [Gruden] doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who don’t want to buy in to what he does because what he does works. It’s undeniable if you are a football person.”
Pewter Report has heard from multiple Bucs sources since the end of the season that Garcia resisted the offense and often went rogue during games, needlessly straying away from the game plan and the called plays. An example was on a key fourth-and-4 situation in the season finale against Oakland where Garcia threw an errant pass to Clayton that was high and outside instead of hitting tight end Jerramy Stevens, who was open for the first down on the play. Stevens was the primary read on the play.
So why did Gruden stick with him throughout 2008 if Garcia was doing too much improvisation? That’s a question only he can answer if he breaks his silence to the media.
Muir said that despite not having an offense that was talent-rich, the Bucs were competitive. In their final season directing Tampa Bay’s offense, Gruden and Muir produced the 14th-ranked offense in the league and amassed 5,456 yards of offense, which is the most in franchise history.
“The job of a coach is to give the players a plan they can win with. The job of the players is to go out and execute that plan,” Muir said. “I can tell you this, we overachieved on offense given the talent that we had here in the seven years that I was here. The ability for us to be competitive offensively, you can put it all on right at the feet of Jon Gruden with his preparation. He’s got a great football mind and he’s got a hell of a work ethic.
“It’s always the kind of deal where coaches get released and all of a sudden the players [start talking about him]. A collapse of four games under the circumstances, everybody better step up and take their share of the blame. To put it on Jon like that, I think it’s wrong. It’s wrong. I think he’ll be back in the National Football League better than ever. He hasn’t won his last Super Bowl in my opinion.”
Muir and Francesa discussed the team’s December collapse, which started with a 38-23 loss at Carolina on Monday Night Football on December 8. The Panthers rolled up 299 yards rushing on Monte Kiffin’s defense in that defeat and it appeared as if the Panthers crafted a blueprint that Atlanta, San Diego and Oakland would follow in the last month of the season as Tampa Bay surrendered 756 yards on the ground.
“It’s obvious. I was there. I saw it,” Muir said. “I don’t think anybody puts this at Monte’s feet. You look at and it’s the same coaches and the same plan. In [11 of] the first 12 weeks of the season they don’t allow a 100-yard rusher running the same defense with the same players. In the next four weeks, people have success against us defensively that they have never had before.
“It’s a confidence factor. I truly believe that teams have peaks and valleys as the season goes on and sometimes – and I really go back to that Carolina game – I think from a standpoint of a team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, and I can’t think of another word to describe it other than to say we were gutted that day. You’ve got a veteran team and they look at it and say that’s not supposed to happen. I think there’s a confidence erosion there. All of a sudden, it comes back to the old adage, what came first – the chicken or the egg? When you have success, you breed success. You’ve been in difficult situations before and you worked your way out of them. You just know you will. … When your confidence is gutted, then I think it’s a different deal. It’s harder to get re-started.
While he did not lay blame on Kiffin despite the fact that he revealed that he would be leaving at season’s end to coach with his son, Lane, with the University of Tennessee, Muir did say that the speculation and the announcement of his imminent departure did create a distraction.
“One of the things you try to avoid in the National Football League, particularly when you are in the stretch run, are distractions,” Muir said. “Nobody can ever say that it wasn’t a distraction. Although I will say it was a veteran defense. I wasn’t in the meeting, but I did hear when Monte did tell the defense he was leaving and why he was leaving, the veteran leadership said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, but that’s not going to bother us. We’re on a mission.’ Obviously, we had a couple bumps in the road in that mission.
“I don’t mean this in deference to anybody, but we saw a lot of Oakland offensive film in preparation over the course of the year because we were in that AFC West (scheduling), and I have to say that was as well as I’ve ever seen them play.”
While Kiffin would wind up with the Volunteers in January, Muir told Francesa that he never believed that Gruden was interested in any of the college jobs, such as Notre Dame, Tennessee and Michigan, that he was linked to over the years.
“I don’t know, maybe because he’s one of the 50 beautiful people in the world and they think with that face he can recruit,” Muir said regarding the possible reasons for Gruden being rumored to be interested in college gigs. “To my knowledge, he never pursued those. Those were all rumors. I will say this to you, and I used to say this to him all the time – the 20-hour rule. Do you realize that if you are a head coach in college you can only have your players for 20 hours a week? Your goal [in the NFL] is to have them for 20 hours a day!”
Muir indicated to Francesa that one of the irritating issues surrounding Gruden’s tenure in Tampa Bay from his standpoint was the notion that Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII with Tony Dungy’s team. In fact, 26 of the 53 players on the Super Bowl team were new and never played for Dungy.
“The town has always been saying that Jon won the Super Bowl with Tony’s guys,” Muir said. “I would just say this to you from somebody who had boots on the ground, that was Tony’s defense and there was no doubt about it. Monte carried it on in great fashion. But the offense that was put together, was an offense that was put together by Jon Gruden. If you look at the team that was put together, Kenny Dilger was at tight end and he was a very solid tight end both as a blocker and a receiver. He made some big plays. Joe Jurevicius, Keenan McCardell – another player that Jon brought in. Michael Pittman, a guy that rushed for 147 yards in the Super Bowl. When we go down and play Philadelphia in the championship game, I can still remember that I was just getting my headset on and we were down six points. I think there was 15:36 left in the first quarter and we were down 6-0. It was Joe Jurevicius who catches a ball across the middle and goes 73.”
Muir, who is 66, said he has been coaching football over consecutive seasons since 1978 and is anxious to get back into the game. The only problem with being fired three weeks after the season is that most of the coaching vacancies in the NFL have already been filled.
“I kind of feel like I’m playing hooky. I kind of feel guilty like I am not doing it,” Muir said. “I don’t have any hobbies. I want to go back in.
“This happened so late, what’s left? Kansas City? I think the same situation happened to [Gruden, which is why he has not been hired].”
To hear the 30-minute interview between Francesa and Muir in its entirety, please click here.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.