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Let’s get one thing straight. Jon Gruden isn’t leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite implications from Sunday’s Tampa Tribune report that alleges the head coach is putting out “feelers” throughout the league looking for employment after the 2007 season. The key word in that sentence is “leaving.”
Former Bucs general manager Rich McKay was putting “feelers” out there to the Atlanta Falcons when he wanted to leave Tampa. And that’s what McKay did. He “left.”
McKay was not forced out of the organization by Gruden, as some would have you believe. He left on his own volition. There are plenty of NFL front offices right now that have some friction (see Tennessee, Jacksonville and San Diego) and still coexist and still win football games. In fact, McKay and Gruden coexisted in 2002 and won a Super Bowl together.
With the former G.M. not feeling much love from the Glazers despite going against their wishes and offering up defensive-minded Marvin Lewis when they were trying to replace Tony Dungy, nor from Gruden over personnel and philosophy clashes, McKay wanted to abandon ship – especially with the team entering salary cap hell for several years. He wanted out so bad and so fast that he actually left during the 2003 season – not even a full year removed from winning the Super Bowl.
With McKay’s primary duty being in charge of the salary cap and the Bucs entering a morbid cap situation for years to come, it’s easy to see why he wanted to bail. I don’t see any reason why Gruden would want to bail on the Buccaneers, and the people close to the situation that I have spoken to find absolutely no reason why Gruden would want to leave. In fact, there is a litany of reasons why he wants to stay.
When rebutting the Tribune report after Sunday’s win over Washington, Gruden acknowledged that the Buccaneers job is the only NFL head-coaching job that he’s ever wanted. The guy grew up in Tampa and worshipped quarterback Doug Williams when his father, Jim, was the Bucs running backs coach. Now, Gruden works with Williams, an up-and-coming front office executive, on a day-to-day basis, in addition to working with his dad, who is a front office consultant.
After wanting to get out from Al Davis’ clutches in Oakland and going through an ego clash with McKay, Gruden wanted to work with a general manager he trusted and could coexist with. He has that now in Bruce Allen, who inherited a terrible cap situation, but through some tough maneuvering, has positioned the team to be approximately $26 million under the $109 million salary cap in 2007.
After years of suffering through a tough cap situation in which the Bucs could really only afford the second-tier, yet big-name free agents who were past their prime (see Todd Steussie, Charlie Garner and Derrick Deese) instead of the younger, stud free agents like quarterback Drew Brees and guard Steve Hutchinson, why would Gruden want to leave now? Yes, he’ll be on the hot seat to produce in 2007, but he should have the ammunition in free agency and the draft – with three picks in the top 64 – to battle back to the playoffs.
Aside from Gruden’s parents living in Tampa and his brother, Jay, living in Orlando and working with him as an offensive assistant, Gruden has a lot of reasons to stay in Tampa. He’s remaking this team with his players, especially on offense. The process has taken longer than he would have liked and been more cumbersome than he imagined, but he still took advantage of a softer schedule last year, coached up his squad and won 11 games. After years of investing draft picks and dollars into rebuilding the roster the way he wants it, why would he want to leave – only to have to start over elsewhere?
It has never been about money with Gruden, who has made millions in Oakland and Tampa Bay and is set for life financially. With his looks, charisma and Super Bowl championship, Gruden has maintained a low profile even after 2002 when his popularity was at its peak. His agent, Bob LaMonte, has turned down hundreds of endorsement opportunities simply because Gruden doesn’t want or need the extra money.
Leaving Oakland wasn’t about money, either. He wanted to get out of Davis’ shadow so he could exert his own influence on an organization and build a team his own way. Gruden wasn’t the only one who wanted out of Oakland, either, as Allen and key front office staffers such as Mark Arteaga, Paul Kelly and Roxanne Kosarzcki left the Raiders to follow Gruden, followed soon after by offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
After years of putting up with the faulty premise of “winning the Super Bowl with Tony Dungy’s team,” do you think Gruden actually wants to go to Dallas to try to “win with Bill Parcells’ team?” If Gruden has the unstoppable ego that some claim he has, why in the world would he want to work for a general manager like Jones, whose ego and meddlesome ways drove away a Super Bowl-winning coach such as Jimmy Johnson and is currently driving away Bill Parcells, with the Terrell Owens acquisition. Gruden has an ego – all NFL coaches do – but do you think it is actually bigger than Jones’ ego? No way.
So aside from his family being in Tampa, working with people he trusts, such as his dad, Allen and Williams, getting handsomely paid by the Glazers, having the most favorable cap situation he’s had since arriving in Tampa Bay in 2002, having four first-day draft picks (and maybe more with trades) and several of the players he acquired already in place, why would Gruden want to leave? Why would he put out “feelers” for other jobs?
Let’s examine Gruden’s response to the question I posed to him regarding the Tribune story after Sunday’s game:
“Some [expletive] idiot wrote that article, okay?” Gruden said. “I’m committed to being in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s the only job I’ve ever wanted. I’d like to let you feel this (Chucky face) right now – anybody saying that. Do you know what I mean? I’m here as long as the Glazers will have me. It’s the greatest franchise in football. We’re on our way up and we have a lot of young guys playing. Somebody pointed that out to me (the article) and that’s laughable, really. I like the Tampa Tribune. I subscribe to it, but whoever wrote that article needs to have his head examined. I don’t like that.”
Notice that he didn’t say “no” to the more plausible part of Kaufman’s story, that he (likely through his agent, Bob LaMonte) is putting feelers out to other teams. Why would LaMonte, who is probably Kaufman’s source, be putting “feelers” out there to other teams? Not so Gruden could jump ship, but rather as a safety net in case LaMonte’s client were to get fired by the Glazers for producing two losing seasons out of the last three.
One could hardly blame LaMonte, if that was indeed the case. He’s only looking out for his client's best interests, and in all likelihood, did not want the story to come out publicly if he was Kaufman’s source.
But it is not far-fetched to believe Gruden completely. He came out after Tuesday’s practice with a more definitive statement when asked if the Tribune report had served as a disruption.
“No, not really, when you’re dealing with stupidity,” Gruden said. “False things like that I try not to worry about. That’s the way it is. I’m not going to keep addressing a rumor that has no validity at all, so that’s that.”
Does Gruden really need his agent to put “feelers” out throughout the league for him? With a Super Bowl ring, a good reputation as an offensive playcaller and the charisma to help fill up stadiums, Gruden could easily land another head coaching position right away if the Glazers did fire him. Tony Dungy did it – and he still doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring.
As Allen said during a one-hour interview with Steve Duemig on WDAE 620 AM, Gruden has won four division championships over the past six years (not including 2006, but including his last two years with the Raiders). That would certainly catch an NFL owner’s eye – and that owner wouldn’t need LaMonte to sell him on that.
“Feelers” or not, my sources tell me that Gruden does not want to leave and won’t leave unless he were to be fired – and I also have it on good authority that he’ll get 2007 even with the way things are headed this year. And that was the most troubling part of the article – the suggestion or implication that Gruden was actively looking to leave. That part is certainly not true.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org