Rules might be made to be broken, but not contracts.
Well, at least that’s what many believed was the case in Tampa Bayafter watching Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen deny several assistant coaches the opportunity to accept or apply for jobs elsewhere.
As it turns out, exceptions can be made under certain circumstances.
That was the case with former Bucs tight ends coach/special teams assistant Ron Middleton, who left Tampa Bay earlier this week to take a job with Alabama and new Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.
Middleton, who recently completed his third season with the Bucs, was under contract through 2007, which has some wondering why the team apparently made an exception to its policy regarding contracts.
After all, since becoming Tampa Bay’s general manager in 2004, Allen has refused to let several coaches out of their contracts with the Bucs, including linebackers coach Joe Barry, special teams coordinator Richard Bisaccia and senior assistant/offensive line Aaron Kromer.
Barry’s situation was the most publicized after his attempt to get out of his contract with the Bucs and join new Lions head coach Rod Marinelli in Detroit during the 2006 offseason was denied by Allen.
Barry, who had one year remaining on his deal at that time, thought Allen and the Bucs should make an exception to their policy since Marinelli is his father-in-law and was set to make him Detroit’s defensive coordinator.
Allen disagreed and made Barry honor the final year of his contract so defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wouldn't be forced to break in a whole new coaching staff by himself, which merely delayed the inevitable as Barry joined Marinelli in Detroit as the Lions’ defensive coordinator on January 3.
Barry’s situation was indeed unique. Middleton’s, however, is even more unique, and certainly more unfortunate.
Unlike the other coaches that Allen had previously denied permission to get out of their contracts, Middleton didn’t want to leave Tampa Bay and didn't pursue the Alabama job.
Middleton’s wife, Mia, has been suffering from a severe medical condition that has doctors puzzled and unable to diagnose. In fact, she was hospitalized for nearly the entire month of October and is taking 20 pills per day while suffering from a battery of symptoms, including severe headaches, low potassium, high blood pressure and even paralysis.
“She’s got multiple symptoms, and that’s the frustrating part about it,” Middleton told PewterReport.com. “At one time, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Another time they said it wasn’t MS and said it was a form of arthritis. Then they ruled both of them out, and neither one of those doctors could explain her lethal drop off in potassium, high blood pressure or paralysis.
“One day, she was paralyzed on her whole left side. Two days later, it shifted and paralyzed her whole right side. It’s a quandary of things that all of these doctors and specialists haven’t been able to figure out. They said it’s a complicated case. In the meantime, my wife is down to 112 pounds and she’s withering away, man. It’s working on her psyche, it’s working on my psyche, my kids, and her standard of living. That’s no standard of life for anybody. You just feel helpless, but I’m willing to do anything to get her some help.”
Middleton’s wife was scheduled to see a neurologist at University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital in Alabama this spring and summer. The Middleton’s have three kids, and Mia and her youngest daughter, Zaria, were going to fly to Alabama to live with Mia’s mother in an effort to be closer to the hospital.
Call it fate or divine intervention, but when he received a message from Saban on January 4 asking him to call him about the job opportunity with the Crimson Tide, Middleton knew he had to consider it.
“It all happened really fast,” said Middleton. “This wasn’t something I was pursuing or looking for. It’s a situation where my wife is battling some big-time medical problems. I got a message on my cell phone a week ago Friday from Coach Saban, and he was asking me to give him a call. I called him, we talked, and it kind of went from there.”
Middleton could only hope that the Bucs would consider letting him out of his contract so that he could work and be with his wife in Alabama at the same time.
According to Middleton, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and Allen had been – and were willing to be – compassionate and accommodating by making an exception to their stance on contracts and allowing Middleton to leave Tampa Bay for the job in Alabama so he could be with his wife as she receives the medical attention she desperately needs.
“That is the Buccaneers’ stance, and it’s a business stance, so you have to respect that because you know that going in,” Middleton said regarding Tampa Bay’s policy regarding contracts. “I called Coach Gruden and told him what was transpiring and that Nick Saban wanted to talk to me. The first thing I told him was that I understood the policy. But Coach Gruden also knows the situation with my wife. He knows that she was in the hospital in October. On some days, I had to leave work early in order to go in and see about her. I mean, it truly was a family issue and a family crisis.
“When I talked with Bruce Allen, I explained to him that I wasn’t trying to go anywhere and that I didn’t want to go anywhere. I just said, ‘If you say no, we’ll have to deal with that, too. But this is an opportunity to make it easier on my family and it will allow me to continue to work and provide for my family, and at the same time, get some much-needed medical attention for my wife.’ Coach Gruden just said, ‘I don’t want to lose you, but I understand family, and family comes first.’ I really have to say that Coach Gruden and Bruce Allen really stepped up to the plate and manned up in this situation. They said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to lose you and you have a job here next season, but you’ve got to take care of your family.’ Not to comment on other folks’ situations, but this truly was a family crisis. They saw the difference in my situation as opposed to some of the other guys that were denied the opportunity to leave.”
Middleton is hoping it was no coincidence that Saban and Alabama came calling at the same time his wife was getting ready to live in Alabama in hopes of doctors diagnosing and treating her mysterious and crippling condition.
“This was like divine intervention,” said Middleton. “That’s the only thing I can say. Things happen for a reason. I mean, I loved working for the Buccaneers. I love the city of Tampa, and I loved working for Coach Gruden. A lot of people might not see the positive things or direction with the Bucs after our season, but from the inside, I can tell you that I love the direction that the team is headed in. It’s not that I wanted to jump ship. I didn’t want to go, but I had to go, and I’m thankful to the Bucs for letting me go.”
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