Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden lost a mentor and a friend on Monday with the passing of legendary coach Bill Walsh. Walsh, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, died at the age of 75.
Gruden was an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers in 1990 under George Seifert, who replaced Walsh as head coach. Walsh led the 49ers to three Super Bowl championships in the 1980s and earned the nickname “The Genius” from coaches and players around the NFL.
“He meant a lot to me,” Gruden said on Tuesday. “I’m glad you brought that up – not only me, but a lot of people in this business and in this world. It was a tremendous loss for me personally and I know for a lot of football people, and I just wish his family the very best. I can only tell you he’ll be sorely missed by a lot of people.”
Gruden has worked under many of the disciples from Walsh’s regime in San Francisco, including Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes and Paul Hackett. Gruden received his first head coaching position with the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and has added on to the West Coast system that he learned from Walsh and his disciples every year since.
“I think Bill Walsh’s legacy will live forever,” Gruden said. “He’s one of the truly great coaches of all time, and it was a pleasure being associated with him and knowing him and I’ll miss him.”
Walsh finished with a record of 102-63-1 in 10 years as head coach of the 49ers, posting a 10-4 record in the postseason and winning six division titles. Walsh was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1984.
“He touched people’s lives, he made people smile,” said former 49ers quarterback and current Bucs signal caller Jeff Garcia. “He had an element of surprise about him – you never knew what he was going to say but he had your attention. I love that man like so many others do and I will miss him.”
Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and Gruden brought Walsh to the old One Buccaneer Place to watch Tampa Bay’s workouts and address the team during the 2005 offseason. The Bucs went on to win the NFC South division championship that season.
Gruden considered himself an acorn that fell far from Walsh’s tree and never had the opportunity to work on his staff. Gruden, however, had the freedom to be able to call on Walsh for any advice or just to chat about life in general. Gruden was quick to state that Walsh’s death settled him down and made him ponder things for a little bit.
Gruden reflected after Tuesday morning’s practice about the lessons that he was able to take away from the Hall of Fame coach.
“You better work at this business, and you better try to surround yourself with great people,” Gruden said. “You better work, and when you get tired you better work some more because the other guys are working. And don’t ever look past the player. You give everybody an opportunity to develop. You know some of their players were Hall of Fame, first-round players. Some of their guys like John Taylor, Brent Jones, Jesse Sapolu, Guy McIntyre – they slipped through the cracks. They kept working with them and developing them. And they found a lot of guys late in their careers that came to San Francisco and dominated and played great – guys like John Frank, a tight end and Fred Dean, a lot of really good players. I can remember [Jim] Hacksaw Reynolds, guys like that he was able to pick up whether it be for one year or two years. Matt Millen – guys like that who gave his team what he felt he needed. And he would coach anyone. At any time, he would coach anyone. And I have him a lot of credit for that.”
Gruden has implemented that kind of thinking into his coaching style as he believes that he can coach anyone. He also is always looking for the best player at every position no matter who is on his roster. One player that both Gruden and Walsh were willing to give an opportunity to is Garcia.
Gruden has brought Garcia in to resurrect his offense and get the Bucs back to the playoffs. Gruden courted Garcia twice before, but was never able to land the nine-year quarterback until this offseason. Walsh, who was the general manager for the 49ers from 1999-2001, gave Garcia his first opportunity to play quarterback in the NFL. Walsh saw the potential in Garcia to give him a shot and Garcia will never forget what Walsh did for him.
“There are so many people that are thankful that their lives have been touched by the man who is Bill Walsh,” Garcia said. “I am one of them. He believed in me when not many others did; he was willing to put his reputation on the line in order to give me an opportunity. I always respected and appreciated that and never did I want to fail him. Several times I went to him at moments of change in my career and asked for and leaned on his advice. Even at a time of struggle in his own life, he made time for me. He gave me advice like a father would give to his son and I know that I am not the only one he did that for.”
Garcia spent five seasons in San Francisco leading the 49ers to two playoff berths in 2001 and 2002. Walsh gave Garcia an opportunity to be an NFL quarterback when no one else believed in him.
Walsh was credited with creating what is now known as the West Coast offense, a name he was never too fond of. Walsh believed that a fundamental passing game could set up an effective running game, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the league during his tenure in San Francisco.
Walsh’s son, Steve, an ABC News reporter, died of leukemia in 2002 at age 46.
MAKING THE MOST OF HIS OPPORTUNITY Fourth-year quarterback Luke McCown is getting an opportunity to prove his worth to the Bucs and is making the most of that opportunity. McCown has received reps with the second and third team offense and has had some impressive throws early in training camp.
With the issues that have plagued Chris Simms during the offseason and so far in training camp, McCown is getting more looks in the offense. McCown is a serious threat to be the third quarterback for the Bucs and possibly push Simms off the team.
“I’m pleased with Luke,” Gruden said. “There’s another really good story here at the quarterback position. He missed last season with a serious knee injury, and he’s getting about 40 percent of the work right now. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities, and I’m pleased with what he’s doing. I really am pleased. He’s athletic. He’s managing our football team. He’s making a lot of plays.”
AFTERNOON PRACTICED CANCELLED AGAIN The weather that washed out the special teams practice on Monday afternoon returned in full force on Tuesday afternoon to force the Bucs off the practice field again. The Bucs’ afternoon practice was moved to the Omni Hotel in Orlando due to rain. This is the third time in five days that the Bucs have been forced off the field due to inclement weather. This is the second time that practice has been moved to the Omni Hotel.
BUCS SIGN FORMER USF STANDOUT Former South Florida defensive end Tim Jones was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-2, 282-pound Jones attended a rookie mini-camp as a tryout player for the Bucs in 2006. Jones came into training camp for a workout yesterday and joined the team on Tuesday.
Jones came to USF as a tight end out of Kathleen High School in Lakeland and played in all 11 games, including three starts during his freshman season. Jones helped USF capture its first bowl appearance in his senior season in 2005.
GETTING MORE REST Several veterans where given the morning off on Tuesday to rest their legs or get work on any nagging injuries.
Cornerback Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, tackle Luke Petitgout and running back Michael Pittman were just some of the names that didn’t dress for the morning practice.
Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia practiced this morning despite having a pulled hamstring.
It’s not unusual for veterans to get some practices off during training camp to keep them fresh early in the season.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the possibility of his team running some 3-4 defense:
First of all, you’ve got to run a defense or an offense that suits your personnel, no matter what you come from or what you want to do. You’ve got to be able to do things that suit your personnel. And we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens. We do feel like we’ve got some players who could thrive in that scheme, but we’ve also got a scheme that we’ve invested a lot of time and had a lot of success in. So, it’s a good front. It’s a good front. It’s not what we’ve been a part of, but that’s not to say we won’t dabble in it.
“The challenge is you’ve got to invest the time doing it. You’ve got to invest the time doing it. You’ve got to get good at something. We want to be good at our over defense, our under front. We want to be a good on-gap team. And to do that, you’ve got to invest a lot of time at it. To be a 3-4 team, obviously you’ve got to work at it because it’s a different front. The run fits are different. Everything is different. Techniques are different. So you’ve got to invest the time, and if we decide to that. I think you’ll see a lot of time invested. If you don’t, you won’t.”
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