Gruden: You Hadn’t Done Anything for Us Lately

Today’s big news: Gruden fired.

  • From Sports Illustrated: “In a stunning development that no one in the NFL expected, the Tampa Bay Buccanneers fired Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden late Friday afternoon”
  • From Fox Sports: “The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have fired coach Jon Gruden and Bucs sources told FOXSports.com that defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has been tapped to be the team’s new coach.”
  • From ESPN: “A Super Bowl title bought Jon Gruden time, but ultimately couldn’t save his job. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dismissed their fiery coach and general manager Bruce Allen on Friday, three weeks after the team completed one of the biggest collapses in NFL history, losing four straight games following a 9-3 start to miss the playoffs.”
  • From TBO.com (Tampa Tribune): “With a ferocious lack of ceremony, it is over. Jon Gruden, who once was astride the football world, holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft, was dismissed by the Glazers in double secret Glazeresque fashion, his world reduced from the Roman Numerals in San Diego six years ago to a Friday Night Massacre initially relegated to the right side of the Bucs’ Web site under the heading ‘News.'”
  • From TampaBay.com (St. Pete Times): “The Super Bowl trophy Jon Gruden brought the Bucs in his first season as head coach is polished and still glistens in the lobby of One Buc Place. But the shine finally wore off Gruden. The charismatic coach, along with general manager Bruce Allen, was fired Friday after the Bucs lost their final four games following a 9-3 start and failed to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.”

And all I can say is it’s about time.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Gruden, I really do. I like his attitude. I like his work ethic. I even liked (and have a copy of) his excellent book, Do You Love Football?!: Winning with Heart, Passion, and Not Much Sleep. But it’s not like people hadn’t seen this coming. For years. Shaun King put it best when he told ESPN, “I wasn’t surprised. I thought it might have come a year or two too late. I think Jon came in touted as being an offensive guy and this team has struggled to find offensive consistency.”

So what happened? A 9-3 season became a 9-7 season, right? Wrong. As Peter King (SI) points out,

As for Gruden, six seasons without a playoff win was his undoing. The Glazer family fired Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen for several reasons. But not winning a game in the postseason since the Bucs beat Oakland in Super Bowl XXVII in Gruden’s rookie season was the biggest factor.

Since 2002, the only real light Tampa had seen was in 2007, when the team made it to the playoffs. This year looked to be just as special until Monte Kiffin revealed he’d be going to Tennessee to coach alongside his son. Some argue he should’ve gotten the top spot. Whether he was offered it or not, I don’t know, but I don’t think he would’ve taken it. And even if he had, maybe he wouldn’t have been all that. After all, some inside the team–Warren Sapp, in particular–paint Kiffin as someone who liked to take too much credit for his work while not giving any to the workhorses under him. For most in Tampa, the template of success was defined by Tony Dungy, and taking that much credit doesn’t seem like Dungy-esque move.

If you believe some of what’s coming out now, maybe that’s what went on anyway. In a recent interview with ESPN, receiver Michael Clayton hints at how things were in the sidelines, and paints a picture of a team ready for change:

Transcript:

I could see it coming. Definitely for what happened at the end of the season, but more so what has happened the five years that I’ve been here… I felt that we had to do something special this year, or it would be over for Coach. For us to start off the season the way we did–it looked so promising–and for it to come to a halt the way it did…losing the last four games, it was something that I knew it was a situation that could definitely go down. You just didn’t know when… You really didn’t feel that Coach or whoever was who had the hammer had any confidence in you, and you were out there playing for yourself. For a football team to win a championship it has to feel life family, everybody has to be on the same page. What it is, is you got a lot of guys playing while they’re hurt, giving it their all, and actually being successful on the field. And for a coach to not respect that and put a guy down… it goes from there. You reap what you sow, and there’s no way to have everybody on the same page when you have that type of treatment from your head guy… When people don’t know how it is, and for them to speculate, and for them to be right about it, I think it’s just a sense that everybody is getting a picture. I think everybody is ready to move on.

WR Antonio Bryant paints a different picture:

I’m very surprised, you know I felt very comfortable, especially in the environment. It’s a family atmosphere and everybody got along well, and it’s shocking, but that’s the nature of the business… I feel a sense of loyalty to anything that is Buccaneer. Jon Gruden was definitely a Buccaneer, he gave his all in everything. He was very devoted and a passionate guy about the game. I’m still a Buccaneer until March 1st and just the opportunity that he gave me, the organization, the ownership and the Glazers, I trust their decision in knowing that they feel they made the decision to do the right thing.

Here’s my take: The attitude in Tampa is “Gruden took Dungy’s defense to the Super Bowl, and that was about it.” Fact is that on top of that defense he put in a pretty good offense, topped off by Brad Johnson, one of the best QBs in Buccaneer history. Who he then fired, before spending the next 2 years trying to reshape the team in his own image.

Of course, this wholesale re-imaging didn’t take.

The problem with Gruden stared when he came in. He wasn’t brought in to turn around a ship that had gone off course. He was brought in to put together the final pieces of a championship team who everyone knew was a championship team. The foundation had already been built by Dungy (and Kiffin), and it was a solid one. Gruden didn’t understand that, and instead wanted to rebuild the team in his own image. The cost? Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Joe Jurevicius, Brad Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Keyshawn Johnson… the list goes on, but the most important on that list? Rich McKay, who has a very well known acrimonious relationship with Gruden.

So maybe the problem with Gruden can be attributed to timing: had Gruden gotten the job from Sam Wyche instead of Tony Dungy, he would have done a lot better. (Mostly because he really couldn’t have done much worse.) But that’s just finding excuses. The truth is that it was his heavy hand that cost him the job. Some will argue that part of his problems were due to the draft picks the Bucs didn’t have because the Glazers gave them away in order to acquire Gruden. While I’ll concede that point, I’ll also point to the fact that this bound him for at most four years (two draft years, and two more years to develop talent). It doesn’t explain the offensive inconsistency of the past seven years. That’s explained by his love affair with geriatric quarterbacks, particularly in his pursuit of the fabled 11-QB formation, where all you field are quarterbacks. (He could only ever get 10. It was a shame, really.)

Now, the future awaits. For Gruden this is actually a great time to depart. There are jobs everywhere these days for teams that need to rebuild, and who don’t already have a strong foundation: Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, New York (Jets), St. Louis, maybe Kansas City… My guess is that he’ll end up back in Oakland, given that the Glazers had to pry him from Al Davis’s hands and that Davis likes offensive-minded coaches.

What about the Bucs? Right now, it looks like Gruden’s successor will be Raheem Morris, while Allen’s successor will be Mark Dominik. Given Morris’s short history–six years as a defensive position coach in the NFL–I’m not particularly confident of the pick. Then again, last time we picked a defensive mind to coach the team (Tony Dungy) it turned out well, and this guy studied under Kiffin, who has a reputation for spitting out good coaches, so we’ll see. As for Dominik, I still don’t know a thing about him, other than he’s been with the Bucs dealing with personnel since 1995. I’m crossing my fingers.

One thing’s certain: 2009 will be a rebuilding year. While we wait, here’s video on the Gruden incident from ESPN:

Jon Gruden Fired

Why the Bucs Dropped Jon Gruden

Share your thoughts