On Monday, the day after New Year’s Eve, there were still fireworks to be heard around Tampa Bay. They were centered around the podium at One Buccaneer Place as head coach Jon Gruden addressed the media in an attempt to explain a disappointing 4-12 season.
Those fireworks paled in comparison to the ones aimed at Bucs general manager Bruce Allen on Friday as he fielded heavy artillery from the press at his season ending news conference.
With a performance that borrowed some traits from his politician brother, and his Hall of Fame father, Allen attempted to heal the wounds and put a pretty bandage on the team’s worst performance since 1991 by insisting that nobody felt more disheartened than himself.
“Do I feel responsible? Absolutely I feel responsible,” Allen said. “As the next few months occur, a lot of the wounds from the season will heal, but finishing in last place and some of the things that happened this year is a scar that will never heal. And it’s very personal because the game is personal. It’s about wining and losing.”
How the team went from first to worst in the NFC South was beyond anybody’s imagination, especially Allen’s.
Was the talent level exaggerated? No, he said.
Did the defense get old overnight? No again.
Did Gruden make a mistake by not inserting veteran quarterback Tim Rattay instead of rookie Bruce Gradkowski when Chris Simms went down in week three? Allen had no comment.
There were several things that nobody anticipated happening in 2006, according to Allen, including injuries, unlucky bounces and just poor play that included missed tackles and dropped passes from players that helped the Buccaneers win 11 games and an NFC South title a year earlier. But as could be expected, he refused to name names, talk about specifics in the past or throw his coach and friend, Jon Gruden, under the bus. Instead, he insisted on looking forward, promising the future looked bright.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Bucs’ plan is to evaluate the current talent base on the roster and review schemes on both sides of the ball. All assistant and position coaches will be conducting personnel reports on their position while reviewing film from the past year in detail.
Allen insisted there would be no knee-jerk reactions or players released without careful deliberation. Whether that holds true, only time will tell. He did say the team would be open to trades and bringing in more talent and confirmed the organization’s interest in coaching the upcoming Senior Bowl in Alabama. Allen got his wish as just a few hours after his press conference the Bucs were picked to coach in the college all-star game.
“I think the best way to improve a team is by addition, not necessarily subtraction,” Allen said.
The next few months will be the time he and Gruden evaluate college talent as well as potential free agents. First, they must wait to see which juniors might declare early or which free agents are re-signed by their current teams. Plus, there will be some players already on other team’s rosters that will be cut and become available.
At an estimated $24 million under the cap for the 2007, Allen anticipates a busy off-season as far as free agency, but reassured fans and ownership that the money will not be spent foolishly, or in full, just because it’s there. In 2004, the Bucs ranked last in the NFC in cap space and getting the team out of that hole is something he is proud of. Still, the NFL is a bottom line business and neither he nor Gruden are likely to be holding year-end press conferences next season should the team produce similar results.
“Well, when you look at the three-year span, we’ve been last-first-last [in terms of NFC South division finishes], and the first was a lot more enjoyable than the last,” Allen said. “I think we have put the club in position for success in the future.”
Like Gruden, Allen put a spin on the adversity the team endured by pointing out that it stands to reap the benefits of playing some of the young players it did while helping both players and coaches learn form the season. Experience, salary cap space and high draft picks could be the ingredients for a quick turnaround.
When addressed with questions as to whether there is a possibility that personnel decisions will be made hastily or on a short-term basis in order to win now and save both he and Gruden’s jobs, Allen unequivocally said no, insisting that the plan to build a solid foundation for year’s to come is still the top priority.
Although it may be hard to believe, he also denied feeling more pressure to win in 2007 considering the team’s finish in two of the last three seasons.
“I was raised with a person who said losing is like dying so I take it very personal,” Allen said in reference to his father, George Allen, a Hall of Fame Coach who led the Rams, Bears and Redskins. “I don’t even like losing preseason games. So no, I don’t feel any pressure.” After Gruden’s arrival and subsequent Super Bowl victory with Tampa Bay, many were anticipating him being a Hall of Fame coach as well, but does Allen think his post Super Bowl record of 27-38 has tarnished his image?
“He’s done a very good job with the franchise in many ways. It wasn’t an easy task to win a Super Bowl and he did,” Allen said. “And he ought to get compliments for winning the division [in ‘05]. That being said, we’re 4-12. I’m 4-12, our ball boy is 4-12, our coaches are 4-12, our players are 4-12 and that’s unacceptable right now and we have to rectify that.”
As for Allen himself, his record as general manager with the Buccaneers is 20-29.
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