After a week off due to complete computer hard drive failure, a brand new SR’s Fab 5 is back to kick off June.
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Right Move With Glazer, Gruden in Bucs Ring Of Honor
A few week’s ago I campaigned to have legendary Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber enshrined into the Bucs Ring of Honor this year as it is also the first year he’s eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Barber’s debut will have to wait another year as the team announced this week that late owner Malcolm Glazer and former head coach Jon Gruden would be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor this year.
It was the right call by the Glazers to have Gruden go into the Bucs Ring of Honor with their father, who purchased the Buccaneers franchise for a then-record $192 million in 1995 from the Culverhouse trust and owned the team until his death in 2014 at the age of 85. This season marks the 15th anniversary of Tampa Bay’s first and lone Super Bowl appearance in 2002 when the Bucs beat the Oakland Raiders, 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Glazer and his sons oversaw the rise of the Buccaneers from a 13-year playoff drought when head coach Tony Dungy guided the team to a 10-6 record in 1997, his second year on the job. Dungy, whom some Bucs fans thought should have been inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor before Gruden, would be fired after three straight playoff appearances and back-to-back first-round postseasons exits in 2000 and 2001, which was his final year.
Firing the respectable Dungy after a 10-6 season in 2001 drew wide criticism locally and nationally, and the Bucs became laughing stocks as finding his replacement became increasing difficult and lasted into February. Former general manager Rich McKay interviewed Marvin Lewis and recommended him for the job, but he was a defensive-minded head coach like Dungy, and that went against the grain of the Glazers’ specific instructions, which was to find an offensive-minded head coach to help bring balance to a defensive-laden team.
The Glazers sidelined McKay and proceeded to find an offensive-minded head coach on their own, interviewing Ralph Friedgen and Steve Mariucci among others. McKay had checked on the availability of acquiring Gruden, who was in a contract dispute with the Raiders, but McKay deemed Al Davis’ price was too high to trade for him. On the eve of making an offer to former San Francisco head coach Mariucci, who didn’t want to leave the West Coast, the Glazers circled back around with Davis and agreed to trade two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million dollars in cash.
Acquiring the 38-year old Gruden was one of the boldest trades in NFL history and it paid off for Glazer and the Buccaneers as Gruden’s West Coast offense and overhaul of the offense in free agency with McKay paid immediate dividends. With eight new players that would start at least one game on Tampa Bay’s revamped offense, the Bucs would post a franchise-best 12-4 record en route to winning Super Bowl XXXVII against Oakland, Gruden’s former team.
The usually media shy and reserved Glazer came alive with joy moments after the Bucs’ thrilling victory and taking the Lombardi Trophy from the hands of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
“First I want to thank Coach Gruden for what he did,” Glazer told Mike Tirico on the Super Bowl post-game platform on the heels of Bon Jovi playing “It’s My Life.” “He came from heaven and he brought us to heaven!
“Next I want [to thank] the players. We have the greatest players in the whole world. They’re the Tampa Buccaneers! If you haven’t heard about them, you heard about them today! And then the fans! We have the best fans in the whole world! Tampa Bay! Tampa Bay! Tampa Bay! We love you!”
Tirico then asked Glazer about Gruden’s sudden impact in 2002.
“We were waiting for the right man, and the right man came,” Glazer said. “Jon Gruden!”
The usually outspoken Gruden, who became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl, turned out to be a man of few words after beating his former club, but with class, showed respect to Dungy before a national audience.
“I knew it was going to be a very sensitive situation,” Gruden said about his arrival in Tampa Bay. “Tony Dungy did a great job, and I reaped the benefits of a lot of his hard work. But this is Tampa Bay’s night and I’m going to enjoy it.”
After remembering Glazer utter the words “He came from heaven and he brought us to heaven!” and “We were waiting for the right man, and the right man came – Jon Gruden!” it’s clear that if Malcolm Glazer were alive today and could pick one person to enter the Bucs Ring of Honor with him it would be Gruden.
The Bucs made the right call this year, and that’s no disrespect to Dungy, who will have his day for enshrinement into the Bucs Ring of Honor soon – perhaps next year.
While there is no doubt that Dungy built a Super Bowl-ready defense, he could never figure out how to fix the offense so that the team could play complementary football, going through three different offensive coordinators in his final three seasons, and going 1-3 in the playoffs from 1999-2001. That wasn’t good enough for the Glazers, who risked it all by firing Dungy and trading for Gruden, yet were rewarded in the end with a Super Bowl XXXVII championship.
Gruden’s selection this year over Dungy has revived the debate amongst fans about who was the best coach in franchise history. While Dungy only had one losing season, which was a 6-10 record in his first year as a head coach in 1996, Gruden surpassed him as the all-time winningest head coach in Tampa Bay history with 57 victories, achieving that milestone in 2008, which would be his final season with the Bucs. Like Dungy, Gruden was fired by the Glazers after a winning season with the Bucs finishing the 2008 campaign with a 9-7 record,
but losing their final four games to miss out on the playoffs.
The Glazer family was following in their father’s footsteps by not accepting mediocrity, a practice they continue today, evidenced by the firings of Raheem Morris after three years and the early dismissals of Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith just two years into five-year contracts.
Gruden won two divisional titles in Tampa Bay in 2002 and 2005, which is the most in franchise history. Dungy won his lone division title in 1999.
While some might argue that Gruden won the Super Bowl with Dungy’s team, 27 players on Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl roster were new in 2002 and never played a down for Dungy. That’s more than half the roster.
And while the Bucs defense was the star of the Super Bowl with five interceptions, including three pick-sixes, Gruden’s offense still outscored the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, 27-21. As great as Tampa Bay’s defense was under Dungy, it never achieved the No. 1 league ranking until Gruden gave defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin full autonomy to run it. The Bucs had the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 2002 and again in 2005.
If Dungy isn’t bitter about Gruden going in first, then Bucs fans shouldn’t be, either.
“I am thrilled for Mr. Glazer and for Jon,” Dungy told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think it’s very fitting they go in the Ring of Honor together. Fifteen years after the championship is special. Malcolm was so special to me as you know. I would not be where I am today without him making the decision to hire me.
“I couldn’t be happier. I’m glad they are going to do the ceremony on Thursday night so I can be there.”
Dungy has already been enshrined in the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor after helping that franchise win Super Bowl XLI, becoming the first African-American head coach to achieve that feat. And of course Dungy has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is a distinction that will likely elude Gruden.
In the end, head coaches are hired to win Super Bowls – not just make the playoffs.
History shows that Dungy was the architect of a tremendous defense in Tampa Bay and resurrected a woebegone franchise. But he didn’t win a championship.
Lightning struck in 2002 as a miraculous trade by the late Glazer produced Gruden, who indeed produced a miracle by winning the only Super Bowl in franchise history in his first year in Tampa Bay. Gruden and Glazer will forever be linked together in Tampa Bay and NFL history.
It’s only fitting that Gruden and Glazer have their names illuminated on the walls of Raymond James Stadium together this year, too.