Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running backs coach Art Valero is headed to St. Louis where he will be named as the Rams’ assistant head coach under Scott Linehan, with whom he coached at the University of Idaho and the University of Louisville in the 1990s.
On his way out the door, Valero delivered a few harsh words for Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden in a St. Petersburg Times report on Saturday. Valero spoke with PewterReport.com on Saturday and had even more to say about Gruden and the reason why he is anxious to leave and work for a coach he “can trust” in Linehan.
Valero was hired as the tight ends coach in 2002 as part of Gruden’s original staff in Tampa Bay. He was moved to running backs coach in 2004 after Kirby Wilson left and was promoted to the role of assistant head coach in 2006.
With the 2008 Senior Bowl approaching, Valero revealed that there were two incidents in the Senior Bowls that the Buccaneers coached in 2005 and 2007 that caused a divide between he and Gruden. Perhaps the most ambitious offensive assistant on the Bucs staff, Valero had set his sights on becoming Tampa Bay’s next offensive line coach after Bill Muir retires, but was dismayed to find out that Aaron Kromer, who had a history with Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, was hired to become Muir’s senior assistant in 2005.
“[The turning point was] when they hired Aaron Kromer,” Valero said. “When Aaron Kromer came in and Jon tried to dictate to me what my role was going to be [and that] I wasn’t going to be the O-line coach. I was brought in [with the understanding] that once Bill retired I was going to move to that position. That’s what they told me and that’s what [Gruden] told me many times. Then Aaron came in when Bill had the [neck] surgery and we went to the first Senior Bowl. I didn’t know what position I was going to coach at the Senior Bowl. I assumed I was going to – and there was even the reference that was made at a staff meeting – that I was going to coach the O-line at the Senior Bowl, which I was really looking forward to because that would have given me a stage in which to do my job and what I had been trained to do. Then I came to find out that Aaron was going to coach them and he had only been there a couple of weeks – a week actually – and I was going to coach running backs.”
Valero, who has designs on being a playcaller and aspires to be a head coach, saw the addition of Kromer as a roadblock in his career path in Tampa Bay. He harbors no ill will towards Muir, who has yet to retire and just signed his third contract extension with the Buccaneers less than 72 hours after the end to Tampa Bay’s 2007 season, calling him “a great coach.” But Valero believes that the path to become a head coach from the offensive side starts with becoming an offensive line coach and then an offensive coordinator. The addition of Kromer to the staff may have made Valero believe that he was not destined to be Muir’s heir apparent.
“To appease me, Jon was going to allow me to call the plays and call the game at the Senior Bowl,” Valero said. “That was when [running back Cadillac Williams] was there, and I never got the chance to. I was prepared. I was ready to go, but he called the plays. I don’t know why I wasn’t allowed to. I told him my displeasure with how they were doing it [with Kromer] and he said, ‘Well, you know that you’re going to be the coordinator here.’ I knew right there that he was B.S.ing me. Why would you want to be a coordinator for him when he is going to call the plays? That’s a paper lion, you know? That, professionally, wouldn’t have done me any good. He sits there and tells people one truth just to appease them and he thinks they are dumb, when people really do realize it. I think that was the turning point [between me and Gruden].”
Former players such as Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell have had communication issues with Gruden in the past. Off the record, others have called Gruden two-faced, which is the picture that Valero’s comments paint.
Fresh off his franchise-record third NFC South division championship in six years, there’s no denying that Gruden is a successful coach. But if he has a major flaw it is his people skills. That was most evident when Gruden and Allen distastefully neglected to inform Valero that new defensive line coach Larry Coyer was also given the title of assistant head coach one year ago.
Valero, who had heard about Coyer’s hire and his title listening to the Steve Duemig Show on WDAE 620 on his way home from work just days prior to the 2007 Senior Bowl, was resigned to asking Pewter Report to question Gruden up in Mobile, Ala. on whether he was still the assistant head coach or not. Apparently, Valero didn’t want to have a confrontation with Gruden last January as the Buccaneers were once again responsible for coaching in the Senior Bowl.
“I didn’t necessarily agree with it, but I don’t have to agree with anything they do because they were my bosses,” Valero said of the way that he became a co-assistant head coach. “Just out of courtesy and professionalism, I would have hoped that somebody would have told me. I know that the way the press release came out it had no mention of whether Larry was assistant head coach on defense and I was on offense. Whatever the case was, it just came out [with no mention of me]. I love Larry Coyer. I think he’s a great football coach and a definite asset to this football team. Then they tried to blame it on [Bucs director of public relations] Jeff Kamis for the way it came out and you, me and the man on the moon know that every press release goes through Bruce. Call it an oversight, call it what it is. Whatever the case is, it had an affect on somebody and I think that’s just what they do. They don’t care about somebody. They just care about themselves and moving forward.”
When asked about the assistant head coach title squabble last year at the Senior Bowl, Gruden told PewterReport.com that the team could always use more leadership and that he didn’t mind having an assistant head coach on offense and an assistant head coach on defense. Still, Gruden and Allen could have handled the situation a lot better to avoid upsetting Valero.
“The whole assistant head coach thing, yeah, that really bothered me,” Valero said. “They didn’t see it as important enough to inform me when the entire time that they were discussing it I was sitting 20 feet away in my office. My office is 20 feet away from the head coach’s and probably 50 feet away from the general manager’s. And that really bothered me. Then the bad thing is that you have two assistant head coaches and neither one of us get to do anything. Not only was the position tainted, the responsibility wasn’t there. Titles aren’t everything, but they just give them away like candy on Halloween. Unfortunately, that is the way they do business.”
Adding to Valero’s displeasure with Gruden was the fact that he could have joined Linehan in St. Louis in 2006 but was denied the opportunity to interview with Linehan because he had just extended his contract with the Buccaneers.
“Then the next year when my contract was up, [Jon] didn’t say anything, but Bruce kind of knew that Rod [Marinelli] was going to get the Detroit job. He knew the inner-workings of the general managers, so they kind of rushed me into signing the contract and it was still as running backs coach,” Valero said.
Valero comes across as a believable guy, but the validity and personal accountability of that statement cannot be confirmed without comment from Allen, who was unavailable on Saturday.
“Then two days later, both Rod and Scott got their head coaching jobs,” Valero said. “Both of them asked permission to interview me and [Allen] denied both. I could see why because you had Joe Barry at that time [wanting to go to Detroit] and you had Aaron Kromer [being pursued by New Orleans]. Bruce wasn’t going to let anyone out. You could understand that because that’s Bruce’s policy. To appease me – that’s when they gave me the title. With the other assistant head coaches of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I felt fortunate to be able to follow a Rod Marinelli and a Herman Edwards, but they got to do more with the title than I did.
“In six years I have 113 presentations that [Jon] has asked me to do in front of the team that are still sitting in a box waiting to go that he didn’t give me the chance to talk to the team about. Those are frustrations – and I understand that all frustrations happen. I don’t know about frustrations that happened with other guys, but it got to the point where I knew I had to – for my own health and state of mind and for my own future – it was time for me to go.”
Sour grapes by an ambitious assistant or is there some or a great deal of validity to Valero’s remarks? Is Valero a bright shining star on the coaching staff or were his ideas and coaching abilities not good enough for Gruden? Gruden was unavailable for comment on Saturday and is not expected to speak with the media until Senior Bowl week, which starts on Monday, January 21.
PewterReport.com learned last week that Valero was not even offered a contract by the Buccaneers, so it was clear that both sides were ready to part ways. And while Valero clearly had issues with Gruden and Allen, it should be noted that Muir, wide receivers coach Richard Mann and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia signed contract extensions within 72 hours of the 2007 season coming to a close. That marked the third such extension for each of the three coaches since joining Gruden’s staff in 2002.
During his conversation with PewterReport.com on Saturday, Valero corrected two mischaracterizations from the St. Petersburg Times report. A photo caption said “Valero didn’t work for Tony Dungy, but credits him for title” and the Times also wrote “but he credited the players – not Gruden – for most of the Bucs’ success” when characterizing the newspaper’s conversation with Valero.
“I wouldn’t say that is an accurate statement,” Valero said. “I will say that yeah, Tony left a great legacy of defensive players and a core of offensive players that had great character. Jon came in and you needed somebody else to inspire and someone else to go [all the way]. Jon was the catalyst that – because it was all new – got the team up and over the hump. Yeah, I give Jon a tremendous amount of credit. Offensively, he brought in Joe Jurevicius, Ken Dilger, Keenan McCardell, Michael Pittman, Kerry Jenkins, Roman Oben – there were a lot of guys that were brought in to this offense that when we needed to be good, we were good down the stretch. That statement is incorrect.”
Despite being at odds with Gruden over the addition of Kromer and the assistant head coaching title gaffe, Valero did take the time to praise Gruden and Allen.
“I’m very thankful to Jon and Bruce for having me around,” Valero said. “I think I learned a great deal. It was a unique situation and I think the only thing they don’t understand is how many fires the assistants put out week in and week out – whether it is a winning season or a losing season, and they really don’t care as long as they don’t have the player knocking on their door. I don’t think they understand that. But [Gruden] is very, very successful at what he does. He’s successful at where he's at. If you talked to him, he could go off on what my flaws are and he doesn’t really know me. I don’t think he knows me. He doesn’t know what my capabilities are because he never gave me an opportunity.
“I think [Gruden] did a great job this year. I think he did a great job with the younger players because we had a lot of them. I think he relied on some of the older guys to lend some of their leadership. He did a really good job with that.”
While Valero was happy with the job done by Gruden and the coaching staff during a 9-8 season in Tampa Bay, he was unhappy with the decision to rest some of the team’s key starters, including running back Earnest Graham, over the final two games prior to the Wild Card playoff game against the New York Giants, who beat the Bucs 24-14 last Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Graham, who started the season as the Bucs’ third-string running back, finished the year with 898 yards rushing and missed out on a chance for 1,000 yards as he was held out of the last game and a half to avoid injury as Tampa Bay lost its final two regular season games.
“Unfortunately, we were the healthiest team that is not in the tournament,” Valero said. “It’s crazy. A lot of the time all of the pats on the back go to the skill guys, but to have the ability to have a 1,000-yard rusher – that is something that those O-linemen, they could hang their hat on and have on their mantle, and it was taken away from them. That decision is not mine to make. That was Jon and Bruce’s. They felt as though they were doing the right thing. And as we went down, there is something about momentum. Look at the Giants. They certainly have their share of injuries and are banged up.
“The one thing that I felt, again I don’t have the lineage in the league that those guys do, but I do know this – players are players and they will play. They enjoy playing whether it is Week 17 of the season or Week 1 – they are going to play. They have been playing hurt and banged up since Week 5. The ones that are hurt, yeah, certainly you are going sit them out. We sat B.J. Askew out and he was hurt long before that. But we didn’t sit him out then because we hadn’t won [the NFC South title] yet. You know, it’s funny. We sat everyone out but the O-linemen. Who hits more than anybody? The O-linemen. They were in every play [over the last two games]. And those are the guys we don’t sit out? That’s crazy.”
For every Keyshawn Johnson who exits the Buccaneers and is upset with Gruden there is a Joey Galloway who sticks around and thrives.
For every Keenan McCardell, who wants a rich contract extension from Allen there is a Michael Pittman, who takes pay cuts and restructures his contract to stay in Gruden’s offense.
And as Valero makes disparaging remarks upon his departure from One Buc Place, other key assistants under Gruden, such as Muir, Bisaccia and Mann, choose to stay.
One thing is apparent, working for Gruden isn’t for everybody.
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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