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It’s been a wild ride for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since head coach Jon Gruden’s arrival via a trade with the Oakland Raiders in 2002.
The Bucs have gone as high as winning the Super Bowl and fallen as low as 4-12.
This installment of Flynn’s Focus takes a closer look at the good, the bad and the ugly during Gruden’s tenure with the Bucs.
Feb. 21, 2002 – Shortly after the Bucs send four premium draft picks and $8 million to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for head coach Jon Gruden, Gruden helps persuade general manager Rich McKay, who was in danger of being fired had Bill Parcells been hired as initially planned, to remain with the Bucs. McKay signs a six-year contract extension. Dec. 29, 2002 – The Bucs record their first- ever win in temperatures below 40 degrees by defeating the Chicago Bears in the regular season finale, 15-0.
Dec. 2002 – Tampa Bay finishes the regular season, its first under Gruden, with a franchise best 12-4 record. Its defense ranks No. 1 overall, and the Bucs win the NFC South division title and secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. Jan. 12, 2003 – Despite ranking 24th overall in the regular season, Tampa Bay’s offense scores 31 points en route to the Bucs’ 31-6 win over the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Jan. 19, 2003 – Tampa Bay takes the field in freezing Philadelphia for the third-straight year in the playoffs. The Bucs, under former head coach Tony Dungy, lost those two contests to the Eagles by a total score of 52-12. Gruden manages to get the Bucs over the hump and to their first-ever Super Bowl with a 27-10 upset win over the Eagles that was sealed by cornerback Ronde Barber’s 92-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay’s offense outscores Philadelphia’s 20-10. Jan. 26, 2003 – The Bucs defense intercepts Raiders QB Rich Gannon five times and scores three defensive touchdowns while wide receiver Keenan McCardell scores two touchdowns of his own en route to a 48-21 win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. Despite the fact that Gruden arrived in Tampa on Feb. 21, assembled a new offensive coaching staff and collaborated with McKay on adding eight new starters to Tampa Bay’s offense that year, some critics suggest Gruden won the Super Bowl with Dungy’s team. However, if that logic in fact applies, it means then-Raiders head coach Bill Callahan brought Oakland to the Super Bowl with Gruden’s team. One way or another, Gruden got to – and won – the Super Bowl.
Mar. 19, 2004 – Rather than just release him, new Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, who replaces McKay, works out a deal to trade disgruntled WR Keyshawn Johnson to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for WR Joey Galloway. Galloway winds up sidelined for most of his first year with the Bucs due to a groin injury, but goes on to catch 145 passes for 2,344 yards and 17 touchdowns from 2005-06. Johnson winds up being cut by the Cowboys and Panthers, and eventually retires during the 2007 offseason. April 2004 – The Bucs use their first-round (15th overall) draft pick to select WR Michael Clayton, who goes on to set several franchise rookies records and catch a team-leading 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Three other picks, safety Will Allen (fourth round), guard Jeb Terry (fifth round) and WR Mark Jones (seventh round) are currently on the team.
Mar. 2005 – Despite their salary cap challenges, the Bucs sign several impact free agents, including defensive tackle Chris Hovan, tight end Anthony Becht, quarterback Brian Griese, kicker Matt Bryant and cornerback Juran Bolden. April 2005 – Tampa Bay’s coaching staff uses the Senior Bowl to land several top draft picks, including first-round running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams. The Bucs add linebacker Barrett Ruud (second round), tight end Alex Smith (third round), guard Dan Buenning (fourth round), safety Donte Nicholson (fifth round) and WR Paris Warren (seventh round), who are all still on the team. In addition, Tampa Bay sends a sixth-round draft pick to Cleveland in exchange for QB Luke McCown, who likely will win the backup quarterback job behind Jeff Garcia in 2007.
Sept./Oct 2005 – Williams establishes a new rookie record by rushing for 434 yards over his first three games as a pro en route to helping the Bucs get off to a 4-0 start. Nov. 13, 2005 – Gruden elects to go for a two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game against the Washington Redskins. The Bucs convert the two-point conversion thanks to fullback Mike Alstott’s 2-yard run, and that win springs the team to a 6-2 finish to the regular season.
Dec. 2005/Jan. 2006 – The Bucs’ defense finishes the season ranked No. 1 overall for the second time in four seasons under Gruden. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s streak of having his defense finish a season ranked in the top 10 is extended to nine straight. Williams rushes for a franchise record 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns. Jan. 2006 – Tampa Bay becomes the only team to win the NFC South division twice since it was formed in 2002 by finishing the 2005 regular season with an 11-5 record. That record, which is tied for the second-best in team history, earns the Bucs a home playoff game vs. the Redskins. April 2006 – Tampa Bay selects guard Davin Joseph (first round), tackle Jeremy Trueblood (second round), wide receiver Maurice Stovall (third round) and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (sixth round) in the 2006 NFL Draft. All four players see playing time as rookies, and three of the four likely will be starters in 2007. Oct. 2006 – The Bucs trade defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland, a 1999 first-round pick, to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a second-round draft pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. McFarland, who was often injured and underachieved in Tampa Bay, helps Indianapolis win a Super Bowl. The pick acquired for McFarland, who will miss the 2007 season with a knee injury, nets promising strong safety Sabby Piscitelli.
Jan. 2007 – Gruden and Allen allow tight ends coach Ron Middleton out of his contract in Tampa Bay to take a job with Alabama after learning that Middleton’s wife has severe health problems that need to be evaluated and treated at a Alabama hospital. Jan. 2007 – Just one year after hiring them, the Bucs fire defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Greg Burns and replace them with Larry Coyer and Raheem Morris, respectively. Mar./April 2007 – For years, Gruden has justifiably complained about having little if any salary cap room. Thanks to restructuring several players’ contracts and parting ways with others, Allen manages to get Tampa Bay out of salary cap hell, allowing the Bucs to sign quarterback Jeff Garcia, fullback B.J. Askew, left tackle Luke Petitgout, center Matt Lehr, defensive ends Kevin Carter, Patrick Chukwurah and linebacker Cato June in free agency. For the first time since he arrived in Tampa Bay, the Bucs did not have to release any player prior to the start of free agency to get under the NFL-mandated salary cap. April – 2007 – Something good came out of Tampa Bay’s 4-12 season, or at least that’s the Bucs’ hope. The Bucs own the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. They use it to select defensive end Gaines Adams. The team also drafts potential first-year starters in guard Arron Sears (second round) and Piscitelli (second round). Aug. 2007 – The Bucs hire former linebacker Shelton Quarles, who was released earlier in the offseason, as their new pro scout.
Feb. 21, 2002 – Tampa Bay surrenders two first-round picks and two second-round selections to Oakland in exchange for Gruden, essentially setting itself up for future personnel and salary cap challenges.
April 2002 – With Gruden arriving in Tampa in mid-February as opposed to January when most new head coaches take over, McKay leads the Bucs’ draft – and bombs. Tampa Bay is without its first- and second-round draft selections due to the Gruden trade. With its first pick, which comes in the third round, Gruden wants running back Brian Westbrook. McKay decides to ultimately draft Michigan wide receiver Marquis Walker, who is later placed on injured reserve and traded one year later to Arizona in exchange for RB Thomas Jones. Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick is used to select RB Travis Stephens, who couldn’t catch the ball and is released the following season. Only one of the eight picks from this draft class, fifth-round safety Jermaine Phillips, ends up sticking around and making an impact on the Bucs’ roster. Mar. 2003 – In Tampa Bay’s attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions, McKay signs several players, including defensive end Simeon Rice, quarterback Brad Johnson, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and kicker Martin Gramatica to long-term, lucrative contract extensions, which later turns out to have serious salary cap ramifications and helps put the Bucs in cap hell. April 2003 – The Bucs are without their first-round draft pick due to the trade for Gruden. Tampa Bay selects defensive end Dewayne White and quarterback Chris Simms in the second- and third-round, respectively. On the second day of the draft, the Bucs use their fifth-round pick to select guard Sean Mahan and a sixth-round selection to pick cornerback Torrie Cox. Fourth-rounders, tackle Lance Nimmo and center Austin King, do not stick around. Aug. 2003 – McKay signs defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland to a long-term, lucrative contact extension that includes a $9.5 million signing bonus. That deal all but seals defensive tackle Warren Sapp’s fate as a Buc and further handcuffs the Bucs from a salary cap standpoint. Oct. 2003 – Despite starting the season with a 2-1 record, including a 17-0 Week 1 win over Philadelphia, the confetti from Super Bowl XXXVII stops falling when Tampa Bay blows a 35-14 fourth quarter lead at home to Indianapolis and allows the Colts to win in overtime on Monday Night Football, 38-35. With this loss, the bloom comes off Gruden’s rose.
Dec. 2003 – Gruden’s offense finishes the season ranked 10th overall, but Martin Gramatica makes just 61.5 percent of his field goal attempts after undergoing hernia surgery during the ’03 offseason, Brad Johnson throws a career-high 21 interceptions and the defense ranks fifth overall but only 13th against the run, which all contributes to Tampa Bay’s 7-9 record. Feb. 2004 – Bucs general manager Bruce Allen informs the media that Tampa Bay is unable to use its franchise tag until the contract that defensive end Chidi Ahanotu signed after being franchised by McKay in 1999 expires in 2005. Ahanotu was released during the 2001 offseason, but McKay’s blunder prevents the Bucs from using the franchise tag for another four seasons. Mar. 2004 – Allen attempts to fill voids along Tampa Bay’s offensive line and at the running back position, where Michael Pittman is facing jail time and a suspension, by signing offensive tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie, and running back Charlie Garner. All three players receive signing bonuses that total over $10 million, but none of them make a significant impact on the team. These signings further hinder Tampa Bay’s already-bad salary cap situation. April 2004 – Tampa Bay uses its first-round draft pick to select WR Michael Clayton, who turns in a record-setting rookie season, but struggles with dropped passes and injuries in the following two seasons. The Bucs are without their second-round draft pick due to the trade for Gruden. In the third round, the Bucs select linebacker Marquis Cooper, who winds up being a bust and is released during the 2006 preseason. Tight end Nate Lawrie (sixth round), fullback Casey Cramer (seventh round) and cornerback Lenny Williams (seventh round) do not stick around.
Sept./Oct. 2004 – Tampa Bay begins the regular season 0-4.
Jan. 2005 – Tampa Bay’s offense ranks 22nd (29th-ranked rushing offense), the defense ranks 5th, including 19th against the run, and the Bucs produce their second straight losing season with a 5-11 record. April 2005 – The Bucs waste another third-round draft pick by selecting tackle Chris Colmer, who was sidelined with a nerve condition in college and was released earlier in the offseason due to the same nerve ailment. The team also rolls the dice and selects WR Larry Brackins in the fifth round. The former JUCO player fails to grasp Gruden’s complicated playbook and is released during the 2006 offseason. Defensive tackle Anthony Bryant (sixth round), fullback Rick Razzano (seventh round), safety Hamza Abdullah (seventh round) and WR J.R. Russell (seventh round) are no longer with the team. Jan. 7, 2006 – Tampa Bay’s defense holds Washington’s offense to a playoff-record 120 yards, but three turnovers from Gruden’s inept offense prove to be costly in the Bucs’ 17-10 loss to the Redskins in the Wild Card playoff game.
Jan. 2006 – The Bucs lose two defensive assistant coaches – assistant head coach/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin – who become the head coach in Detroit and defensive coordinator in Minnesota, respectively. The Bucs replace both coaches with two former USC coaches in Jethro Franklin and Greg Burns. Both new hires turn out to be busts and never earn the respect of the defensive players.
Mar. 2006 – Salary cap problems force the Bucs to release QB Brian Griese, which leaves no legitimate competition for Chris Simms, who signs his one-year restricted free agent contract. Since the salary cap would keep them from being active in free agency, the Bucs elect to spend what little salary cap money they have on keeping their NFC South division championship team intact for the most part. April 2006 – Tampa Bay uses a fourth-round pick to select cornerback Alan Zemaitis in the 2006 NFL Draft. He never sees the field in a regular season game as a rookie and is eventually placed on injured reserve. He’s in danger of not making the 53-man roster in 2007. The Bucs also use a fifth-round draft pick to select defensive lineman Julian Jenkins instead of DE Mark Anderson, who goes to Chicago later in the fifth round and records 12 sacks as a rookie for the Bears. Tight end T.J. Williams (sixth round), cornerback Justin Phinisee (seventh round) and TE Tim Massaquoi (seventh round) are no longer with the team. Sept. 2006 – Simms and Tampa Bay’s offense struggle and fail to score a touchdown in the first two games of the regular season. Simms tosses just one touchdown and seven interceptions in the first three games before suffering a season-ending spleen injury against the Carolina Panthers. Simms’ injury forces rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski, who had clearly beaten out Tim Rattay for the backup job in training camp and preseason, into the starting lineup, but the task at hand would prove to be overwhelming for the rookie sixth-round pick. Oct. 2006 – A rash of injuries and poor play on both sides of the ball contribute to Tampa Bay starting the season off 0-4 for the second time in three years. Dec. 2006 – Tampa Bay’s offense fails to score a touchdown in six games and scores a total of just 20 touchdowns for the season. The Bucs’ defense fails to rank in the top 10 for the first time in 10 years, dropping all the way to 17th overall. The Bucs finish the 2006 season with a 4-12 record, their worst since 1991 and their third losing season in four years. It also puts Gruden’s overall regular season record with the Bucs below .500 (39-41).
Mar. 2002 – The arranged marriage between Gruden and McKay features its first disagreement when McKay allegedly tells Gruden he must choose between re-signing either running back Warrick Dunn or defensive end Simeon Rice. Gruden picks Dunn, but McKay tells him he’s already decided that the Bucs will re-sign Rice and let Dunn go in free agency.
Sept. 2002 – Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson verbally attacks Gruden on the sideline during a Monday Night Football home game vs. the St. Louis Rams because he disagrees with Gruden’s decision to pull Johnson out of the game on a particular play in favor of WR Keenan McCardell. Feb. 2003 – Tension builds between Gruden and McKay when Gruden doesn’t find out that McKay has made defensive end Simeon Rice the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL until the media asks the head coach about it shortly after he arrives in Hawaii for the NFL Owner’s Meetings.
Mar. 2003 – Several reports surface that Gruden has badmouthed McKay and his abilities as a general manager in front of several reporters at an offseason meeting in Arizona.
Mar./April 2003 – Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson’s agent, Phil Williams, goes on record with a local newspaper regarding his displeasure with the McKay’s dubious attempt to remove a bonus from Johnson’s contract once the two sides had already agreed to terms on a restructured contract for his client. Johnson is an unhappy camper, but McKay and Williams manage to work through it and eventually get the contract, which includes the original bonus Johnson was due, finalized. April 2003 – Gruden continues to criticize and question McKay’s work ethic when the general manager allegedly takes vacation time during Tampa Bay’s organized team activities for the second straight year. July/Aug. 2003 – Tampa Bay suffers a rash of injuries along its offensive line during training camp. The Bucs need to make several roster moves, but McKay is nowhere to be found. Sources close to the situation allege that McKay is off golfing with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank in a calculated move to get out of Tampa Bay. Nov. 2003 – The Bucs decide to deactivate wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for the remainder of the 2003 season for conduct detrimental to the team. Neither the player nor the coach like each other, and their relationship will soon end, but not before the Bucs take a serious salary cap hit to the tune of $7 million. Dec. 2003 – Per his request, the Glazers allow McKay out of his contract to become the new general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. The Glazers seek no compensation from their division rival in exchange for McKay’s services.
Jan. 2004 – With Gruden’s recommendation, the Glazers hire Oakland senior assistant Bruce Allen to replace McKay as general manager in Tampa Bay. Allen, who hired Gruden in Oakland back in 1998, immediately inherits a horrific salary cap situation that features average overages of $19 million for the next three years.
Mar. 2004 – Wide receiver Keenan McCardell attempts to use the deactivation of Keyshawn Johnson and his Pro Bowl status from 2003 to earn a new contract despite having two years remaining on his current one. McCardell alleges that Gruden said McCardell would get a new deal, but the new contract would never come under Allen, which leads to a nasty holdout. Mar. 2004 – Tampa Bay elects to allow defensive tackle Warren Sapp to test free agency and does not even make him an offer due to the fact that McFarland was signed to a long-term, lucrative deal the year before and the fact that the team is in cap hell. Sapp eventually signs a contract with the Raiders that includes a $7.5 million signing bonus. April 2004 – The Bucs approach safety John Lynch about taking a pay cut after he fails a team physical due to a neck injury that requires offseason surgery and threatens his career. Sources suggest that Lynch agrees to restructure his deal on the condition that he is guaranteed a starting job. The Bucs refuse to guarantee Lynch a starting job, citing the fact that they want to open up the competition to include Jermaine Phillips. Lynch rejects those conditions and the Bucs release him, creating over $4.5 million in salary cap room. Lynch does not pass some other teams’ physicals, but Denver passes him and signs him to a contract. Lynch goes on to make three straight Pro Bowls.
Oct. 2004 – McCardell’s holdout comes to an end when the Bucs trade him to the San Diego Chargers in exchange for third- and sixth-round draft selections in the 2005 NFL Draft. The Bucs eventually win their $1 million grievance against McCardell, who is also forced to pay for fines he received while holding out in Tampa Bay.
Mar. 2005 – Tampa Bay releases Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson, which frees up over $4 million in cap room.
Jan. 2006 – Allen continues to come under fire by some in the local media after he denies linebackers coach Joe Barry, who is under contract with the Bucs, to take a defensive coordinator job in Detroit with his father-in-law Rod Marinelli, who left Tampa Bay that offseason to accept the head coaching job with the Lions. Barry is one of several assistant coaches Allen has elected not to let out of their contracts with the team.
Jan. 2007 – Barry gets his wish when his contract expires, and he accepts a defensive coordinator job with the Detroit Lions. The Bucs replace him with defensive quality control coach Gus Bradley.
Mar. 2007 – Tampa Bay sends a seventh-round draft pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for quarterback Jake Plummer’s rights. If Plummer, who says he’s retiring, plays for the Bucs, that seventh-round pick turns into a fourth-round selection in 2008.
April 2007 – The Bucs release linebacker Shelton Quarles after he fails a team physical. Releasing Quarles, 35, frees up approximately $3 million in salary cap space.
June 2007 – While attempting to lure him out of retirement, the Bucs file their first grievance against Plummer after he fails to report for duty in Tampa Bay in a timely manner and elects not to show up for the team’s three-day mandatory mini-camp.
June 2007 – Gruden flies to Idaho to meet with Plummer in a “get-to-know-you” meeting, but nothing more than that comes out of the meeting and Plummer remains retired.
July 2007 – Tampa Bay releases defensive end Simeon Rice, who spent half of 2006 on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, after he fails a team physical. Before they release him, the Bucs ask Rice, who is scheduled to earn a team-high $7.25 million base salary in 2007, to take a $2.5 million pay cut and extend his contract by one year in an effort to justify keeping him while he’s still injured. Rice refuses, so the Bucs release him, a move that creates over $7 million in cap room. Rice goes on record as saying his shoulder, which was supposed to be 100 percent healthy by the time training camp started, needs 2-4 more weeks to be ready for camp, yet some local media members accuse the Bucs of lying about Rice failing his physical. Rice has yet to sign with another team or file a grievance against the Bucs.
Aug. 2007 – An unsubstantiated report in the St. Petersburg suggests quarterback Chris Simms, who is struggling in training camp and is seeing his throwing reps reduced, is suffering from proprioception, a kinesthetic sixth sense that allows you to know the position of your arms and legs in relation to your body. Hours later, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen refutes the report and deems it “completely inaccurate.” The following day, Simms denies he has the condition and states he’s never heard of it before. Despite the fact that Simms acknowledges that he simply isn’t playing well, some members of the local media still suggest the Bucs are lying about his health status. Aug. 2007 – The Bucs file their second grievance against Plummer after he fails to report to the team’s mandatory mini-camp in June. Tampa Bay likely will file a third grievance against Plummer for failing to report to training camp, which began on July 26. The Bucs are attempting to collect as much as $7 million in bonuses Plummer received while playing in Denver. Aug. 2007 – Tampa Bay holds fullback Mike Alstott out of several training camp practices due to what Jon Gruden calls “soreness.” A few days later, the Bucs place Alstott on injured reserve after he goes through further examinations that determine he has sustained his second neck injury since 2003. Alstott goes on record as saying his neck is sore, yet a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel uses a column to say the Bucs are a dishonest organization.
What will the 2007 regular season bring in terms of the good, the bad and the ugly? Tampa Bay’s track record since Gruden's arrival in 2002 suggests this season certainly will be worth watching.
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