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Tampa Bay’s Lombardi Trophy is only four years old, but it’s becoming more and more of a distant memory these days as Bucs fans and critics are starting to call for change.

Although Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s name is mentioned quite often on sports talk radio, it’s not necessarily for the right reasons. Gruden isn’t a real popular guy in the Tampa Bay area right now, and neither are his Bucs, who have posted a 3-10 record in a season that’s been disappointing and borderline horrific, to say the least.

Different circumstances have contributed to the downfall of the Buccaneers, who entered this season as the defending NFC South division champions. Salary cap restraints, a loss of premium draft picks over the past several years and injuries at key positions are legitimate excuses, but criticism still is warranted.

Tampa Bay’s offense has failed to score a touchdown in six of its 13 regular season games this season, and it has been held without a touchdown for 11 straight quarters.

The Bucs have lost six of their last seven games, and in those six losses, the team has been outscored 147-46.

Gruden’s overall regular season record has dipped below .500, with it currently standing at 38-39. While the Bucs have posted losing seasons in three of the past four years, Gruden’s teams have also posted two NFC South division championships and a Super Bowl title since 2002.

No one is sure what the Glazers are thinking. They haven’t commented publicly on Tampa Bay’s 2006 season or Gruden’s future. That might be a good sign as some consider it a kiss of death when ownership comes out and publicly supports the head coach during a season as dismal as the one the Bucs are having.

While many have come out to voice their displeasure with Gruden, the opinion that matters the most is that of the Glazers, who gave Oakland $8 million and four premium draft picks in exchange for Gruden and his services in February of ’02.

That pricey investment was worth every penny when the Bucs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XXXVII and again when the team won the 2005 NFC South division championship.

But these days, the investment doesn’t look so good, and with the Bucs scheduled to be almost $30 million under the salary cap and have what likely will be a top 5 draft pick in 2007, critics want Gruden and Bucs general manager Bruce Allen out and new blood in at One Buccaneer Place.

It appears as though that’s a scenario that could possibly come to fruition. The Glazers did, after all, fire head coach Tony Dungy after he brought the Bucs to the playoffs in four of his six seasons with the team.

The Glazers felt the Bucs, particularly their offense, was underachieving under Dungy and that the team’s window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl was closing quickly.

That prompted the Glazers to make a change, but ownership wasn’t about to replace Dungy with just anybody. If they were going to make a change, it was going to be an upgrade, which was a tall order seeing as how successful Dungy had been in Tampa Bay.

So, the Glazers lined up future Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, who had proven twice before that he could win the Super Bowl.

But Parcells left Bucs ownership at the altar for the second time in 10 years, opting not to take the job after Dungy had been officially let go.

Bucs G.M. Rich McKay was put in charge of heading up the search for a new head coach, but the Glazers rejected McKay’s recommendation to hire then-Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

The Glazers weren’t happy that McKay brought a defensive-minded candidate like Lewis, who had no previous head coaching experience at the pro level, to the table when he had been instructed to find an offensive-minded head coach. Shortly after that gaffe, the Glazers put McKay on the sideline and took over the search for Dungy’s successor.

That search took them to San Francisco, where the Glazers inquired about trading for then-49ers head coach Steve Mariucci. But the Glazers decided to come up with another plan after catching wind that Mariucci, despite the opportunity to become head coach and G.M. in Tampa Bay, was going to turn down the job and trade.

That led them back to the head coach they wanted after Parcells turned down the job – Gruden.

Don’t expect ownership’s philosophy to change this time around. The Glazers aren’t going fire Gruden just for the sake of doing it, and if, and that’s a big “if,” the Glazers do decide to replace Gruden, they won’t just settle for anybody.

Many fans are calling for Gruden’s head, but few have offered up potential replacements. The pickings appear to be slim, which might be one of the reasons why there have been absolutely no whispers regarding ownership’s behind-the-scenes search for a new head coach.

If the Glazers were looking for an offensive-minded head coach, they could attempt to lure Dick Vermeil out of retirement. But he retired twice in a span of five years, and the third time wouldn’t necessarily be the charm for anybody, including the Bucs.

The Philadelphia Eagles have the No. 3-ranked offense in the NFL, and that unit is head up by head coach Andy Reid, who has taken the Eagles to three NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. Despite compiling an impressive résumé’, some whispers out of Philly suggest the Eagles might want Reid gone at the end of the season. In fact, the rumors suggest Philadelphia would target Gruden, who served as an offensive coordinator for the Eagles from 1995-97, as Reid’s successor. Would the Bucs and Eagles actually or essentially trade head coaches in 2007? Given Reid’s success and title (Vice President/Football Operations), that scenario seems highly unlikely.

How about Tom Moore, who serves as the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts? Indy has the No. 2-ranked offense in the NFL and has featured one of the league’s most explosive offenses over the past several years. However, there are a few questions to ask regarding Moore. Why is he still a coordinator, and what would Moore’s offense look like in Tampa Bay without Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark?

How about Saints offensive coordinator Doug Marrone? New Orleans does, after all, have the league’s No. 1-ranked offense. Although new head coach Sean Payton installed the offense and called plays for more than half the season, he recently relinquished those duties and turned the playcalling over to Marrone. The Saints put up 42 points on the Dallas Cowboys last week, and that type of production could get Marrone’s name mentioned more as a head-coaching candidate around league. However, one has to wonder how much of Marrone’s success is due to the great job Payton has done in New Orleans.

While Maurice Carthon carries the title of offensive coordinator in Dallas, Parcells has a hand in the Cowboys offense, which ranks No. 4 overall. The fact that Payton, who previously served as an assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach under Parcells in Dallas, has been so successful in New Orleans certainly could bode well for Carthon when it comes to any consideration he might receive for head-coaching gigs around the league. However, if Parcells retires, as some believe he will at the end of the 2006 season, Carthon, who has no previous head-coaching experience in the NFL and struggled as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland and Detroit, could be a candidate to succeed him in Dallas.

Other offensive coordinators that could receive head-coaching job consideration include Pittsburgh’s Ken Whisenhunt and San Diego’s Cam Cameron.

Whisenhunt has no previous head-coaching experience in the NFL and could become Pittsburgh’s head coach if Bill Cowher decides to retire at the end of the ’06 season.

Cameron has no previous head-coaching experience in the NFL, but his offense has Marty Schottenheimer and the Chargers making a playoff and possible Super Bowl push this season. Cameron is considered one of the better up-and-coming coaches in the NFL. If the Glazers were to fire Gruden and look to replace him with an offensive-minded coach, Cameron likely would emerge as a candidate.

Or, it’s possible that if the Glazers decided to fire Gruden they could go back to a defensive-minded head coach.

If that were indeed the case, some believe the Bucs wouldn’t have to look far for their new head coach. After all, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, and his defenses finished nine straight seasons ranked in the top 10 in the NFL. In fact, if the Bucs were to promote Kiffin, they would also be able to retain linebackers coach Joe Barry, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season, by promoting him to defensive coordinator.

However, Kiffin doesn’t have a burning desire to be a head coach. He turned down the opportunity to interview with the San Francisco 49ers in that same capacity after the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Complicating matters is the fact that Kiffin’s defense has been inconsistent and played poorly at times this season. While some want Gruden fired, Kiffin’s defense has also had a hand in Tampa Bay’s disappointing season.

If Kiffin were to get fired along with Gruden and Tampa Bay’s entire coaching staff, Chicago defensive coordinator Ron Rivera could emerge as a head-coaching candidate. Rivera, whose defense ranks No. 3 overall in the NFL, works under Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who worked under Kiffin in Tampa Bay for several seasons. The fact that Tampa Bay currently runs a similar style of defense to that of Chicago’s could make Rivera, 44, a good fit for the Bucs, but he doesn’t have any previous head-coaching experience in the NFL.

Baltimore’s defense, which is head up by Rex Ryan, is currently ranked No. 1 overall. Ravens head coach Brian Billick is considered an offensive-minded head coach, but his defenses have thrived in Baltimore under Martin Lewis and Ryan. Lewis eventually became the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Ryan’s name gets mentioned as a possible head-coaching candidate.

Former Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin is doing one heck of a job as the defensive coordinator in Minnesota, where the Vikings have the No. 4-ranked defense. He’ll likely become a head coach in the NFL one day, but will it be with Tampa Bay? Tomlin, who is in his mid-30s, is a great motivator and is really respected by his players, might need a couple more years as a proven defensive coordinator before he gets serious consideration for head-coaching vacancies.

If the Chargers wind up going to – and/or winning the Super Bowl – defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could emerge as a candidate, but his résumé’ as a head coach in the NFL isn’t exactly impressive.

If they were to part ways with Gruden, the Glazers would want a proven winner, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a proven winner in the NFL.

Shortly after the Glazers took over the coaching search for McKay in 2002, they interviewed Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen. While those talks didn’t really go far, the Glazers were open to the idea of hiring a head coach out of the college ranks, and they certainly could consider looking for Gruden’s successor in that arena again.

Two of the bigger names in the college ranks are USC head coach Pete Carroll and Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, both of whom have had success both in college and at the pro level.

Carroll has produced arguably the NCAA’s best college program over the last several years. While he’s a defensive-minded coach, USC has had a potent offense, which just happens to be head up by Monte Kiffin’s son, Lane. Carroll, who was hired by Monte Kiffin to be his defensive coordinator at North Carolina State in the early 1980s, also won a National Championship in 2004 and played for another one last season.

Carroll, whose Trojans have produced a 64-12 record since 2001, served as the head coach of the New England Patriots for three seasons (1997-99). He compiled a 27-21 regular season record while leading the Patriots to the playoffs in two of those years.

Weis has helped to turn around Notre Dame’s football program. He’s produced a 19-5 record in two seasons, and Weis was a successful offensive coordinator in the NFL with the New England Patriots from 2000-04. In fact, the Patriots won three Super Bowls with Weis serving as offensive coordinator.

However, luring Weis away from Notre Dame, which is his alma mater, will be a tough task for any NFL team. He signed a 10-year contract extension in 2005, and has expressed no interest in leaving Notre Dame. If Weis were to leave Notre Dame for the NFL, particularly the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he could be in position to get his franchise quarterback since Brady Quinn likely will be a top 5 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

If the Glazers are patient, just as they were in 2002 when they waited until late February to pull the trigger on the trade for Gruden, they probably would be willing to wait until after the National Championship Game between Ohio State and Florida is decided before pursuing Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel and/or Gators head coach Urban Meyer, respectively. But even discussing these coaches at this juncture seems farfetched.

There will be some candidates to replace Gruden should the Glazers fire him at the end of the season, with Cameron, Rivera, Carroll and Weis appearing to be the most attractive of the bunch.

But one question the Glazers have to ask themselves before firing Gruden is will parting ways with Gruden and hiring one of the coaching candidates mentioned here be a safer bet or more of a risk than keeping Gruden and Allen onboard and entrusting them to upgrade the Bucs roster and right their ship with $25-plus million to spend in free agency and the top 5 draft picks they’ll likely have in each round in 2007?

Remember – the Glazers are loyal to Gruden. Like him or not, he delivered Tampa Bay’s first and only Super Bowl in 2002. The Glazers have also sided with Gruden during controversial times before. For example, ownership opted to let McKay out of his multi-year contract in an effort to accommodate his request to leave Tampa Bay, and Gruden’s desire to bring in a general manager he could work with.

While there’s no guarantee Gruden will be back in 2007, the Glazers’ track record, the amount they have invested in Gruden and the list of candidates to potentially replace him suggests Gruden could still be their man for at least one more season.


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