Former Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden spoke out publicly for the first time since being fired on Jan. 17. In a conversation with ESPN, Gruden said he was proud of what the Bucs accomplished during his seven-year tenure in Tampa Bay and responded to recent criticism from some of his former players.
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had not commented publicly on his dismissal from Tampa Bay on Jan. 17 before Wednesday, which is when he broke his silence in an interview with ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen.
Gruden, who became Tampa Bay's all-time winningest head coach during his seven-year tenure with the team and won Super Bowl XXXVII in his first season with the Bucs, said he was surprised when the Glazers fired he and general manager Bruce Allen after the team suffered a late-season collapse to finish the 2008 season with a 9-7 record and out of the playoffs.
"It was rough the way it ended, losing three or four games," Gruden told ESPN. "This was the first time in my life being on the front line of the firing squad after 11 years. I've just taken a couple days to unwind with my family. A lot of people have called, being very supportive. Some people have taken shots and I understand that not everyone likes or agrees with what I do as a coach."
Some of Gruden's former players, including quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Michael Clayton and defensive end Simeon Rice, have criticized the former head coach for the way he handled players. Rice went as far as calling Gruden a "scumbag" in a radio interview earlier this week. The player accusations included telling players one thing and doing another, and putting players in the doghouse due to injuries.
"I'm not the first coach to take potshots. Hey, some people were taking potshots at Tony Dungy when I got here," Gruden told ESPN. "Jeff Garcia, Michael Clayton, I wish those guys the best. I hope [new Bucs head coach] Raheem [Morris] gets this thing going again."
Gruden, who likely will sit out of coaching for a year, is proud of what he accomplished in Tampa Bay, including three division titles and the first and only Lombardi Trophy to be hoisted by the Buccaneers organization.
"We won a Super Bowl," Gruden told ESPN. "I got a game ball for winning more games than any Bucs coach in history. I got a game ball for my 100th win [including playoff wins]. There are only six teams [actually seven] in the NFL that had back-to-back winning seasons the past two years and the Bucs were one of them. Again, it was tough the way it ended, but we did some good things and I know some people who think we overachieved.
"The reality is we came in with a bad salary cap situation and we left with some $50 million under the cap, so it's not like we went out and spent a lot of money on players."
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