I can remember over the past few seasons, so many of my friends saying that Bucs needed to fire Jon Gruden. Like a cow mooing, over and over again, “Fire Gruden!” “Fire Gruden!” Well, they finally got their wish and Gruden is gone.
I remember thinking that if Gruden ever was fired, he would be the first coach off the market as another team would snatch him up immediately, so I was never on the “fire Gruden” bandwagon.
It didn’t happen that way for some reason and Gruden took a job in the booth for Monday Night Football.
I remember after Gruden survived the first wave of firings after the Super Bowl this season, I thought he was safe, but one Friday night, the Bucs pulled the trigger and Gruden was gone. My initial reaction was that letting him go was a mistake because it was apparent that the only coaches that were available were retreads like Marty Schottenheimer or a complete unknown.
But as the night progressed, I started creating a mental list of Gruden Gaffes – things that really just pissed me right off as a fan. That night I drove from Land O’ Lakes to Channelside (Downtown Tampa) to meet my friends. By the time I was in the parking garage, I was convinced it was the right decision.
Now Gruden gets boatloads of credit for winning Super Bowl XXXVII, and don’t tell me he did it with Tony Dungy’s team. The only reason Dungy DIDN’T win was because he was fiercely loyal to Clyde Christianson and refused to fire him in favor of a real offensive coordinator (side note: guess who is offensive coordinator for the Colts this season? Yep! Smilin’ Clyde. I don’t think there has been a figurehead position like his this side of the Queen Elizabeth). So in my house, Gruden got a pass, for a bit anyhow. But one afternoon, in an effort to avoid doing actual work, I started writing down what was Gruden’s undoing.
I filled two pages.
Here’s the Top 5 in detail:
1. The Wide Receiver Debacle (2008): Joey Galloway is hurt in the first week of the 2008 season with what is called a “sprain” but is later revealed to be a “break” in his ankle. In steps former cast-off Antonio Bryant who was not even in the NFL last season. Bryant grabs the opportunity with both hands and racks of 83 catches for 1,248 yards and 7 touchdowns. Galloway is never a factor again despite numerous public claims that he is 100% healthy. Bryant was essentially the ONLY receiver on the team because no other Bucs receiver had more than 500 yards receiving. We were told that Galloway wasn’t on the field because he played the same position as Bryant. Now, we’ve all heard for the past seven years is that Gruden is an “offensive guru” blah, blah. It would seem to me that someone who was a true innovator would figure out a way to get his two most productive receivers on the field at the same time. The Dolphins figured out how to get two running backs on the field at the same time (Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams) by using the Wildcat Formation. In over 50 years of football, someone at sometime must have figured out how to get two receivers who played the same position on the field at some point.
2. The Quarterback Collection (2007): In our house, we have three bathrooms. Sometimes we run out of toilet paper because we use one bathroom more than another and we cannibalize the supply in the other rooms, and not realizing that we’re completely out until it is too late. When I go to the store, I tend to overbuy. Well, that’s what Gruden did in 2007 after quarterback Chris Simms got off to a dismal start and eventually left his spleen on the field in Carolina (how the offensive line was not charged with attempted murder, I still cannot figure out). Left with journeyman Tim Rattay and rookie Bruce Gradkowski, the Bucs went in the tank. Well, in a fit of “overbuying,” Gruden stocked up on quarterbacks (as I type this, the “toilet paper” analogy is quite fitting) loading the roster with the likes of Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Brian Griese, Gradkowski, Simms, and even traded for Jake Plummer (who refused to report). Now, I can understand being prepared for injury, but Gruden took it to a level that was almost laughable. Every time a quarterback was released from another team, Gruden and the Bucs were listed in the media as being “interested.” As it turned out, the Bucs went to the playoffs, but none of the six ended up being world-beaters. The only thing accomplished was Gruden’s name was tarnished just a little bit further.
3. John Lynch (2004): I know it’s tough to part with long-time players, but the way safety John Lynch (NFL Network’s #10 Hardest Hitter in history) was jettisoned will forever be a sore spot for Buc fans. Lynch was 33 when the Bucs released him after claiming he failed a physical after having neck surgery to help alleviate some of “stinger” injuries that he had (no doubt as a result of his teeth-rattling hits). General Manager Bruce Allen tried to sell the story that Lynch was too beat up to justify his $4.1 million salary and released him unceremoniously. Lynch signed with the Broncos prior to the 2004 season. Lynch proved Allen and Gruden wrong by going to the Pro Bowl four times after leaving Tampa Bay (2004-2007). Lynch got his revenge in Week 4 of the 2004 season as the Broncos came to Tampa and beat the Bucs 16-13 sending them to an 0-4 start. Next to Doug Williams and Steve Young, Lynch’s departure might be the worst assessment of a player’s potential and future performance.
4. The Chinese Playbook (2002-2008): Gruden’s playbook was legendary for being an indecipherable hodge-podge of loosely connected adjectives and codes that only made sense to him. Running back Michael Bennett had a hard time getting on the field after he was acquired from the Chiefs in a trade because it was said that the playbook was too difficult to understand. NFL Films has videos of Gruden screaming at the top of his lungs at quarterback Chris Simms and Brad Johnson because they couldn’t remember the laundry list of terms in a single play. I can understand that you want to make your offense your own, but when it’s universally known that your playbook is just slightly less comprehensible than the Torah, you need to make some changes so you can get your talent on the field and out of the classroom.
5. Sickening Devotion to the Wrong Players (2002-2008): In a twist of irony, Dungy was done in by his devotion to his less than stellar offensive coordinator. I guess it was only natural that Gruden would develop some kind of attachment to some personnel that was bad for his reputation as well. Just this past year, the Bucs rushed running back Cadillac Williams back on the field despite having Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett available after Earnest Graham went down with a season-ending ankle sprain. Rather than use Dunn and Bennett, Gruden and Allen released Bennett and activated Williams from the PUP list. Bennett didn’t even clear waivers as he was sucked up by the Chargers. Gruden then leaned on the aging Dunn toward the end of the season essentially wearing him out, while Williams was used sparingly to get him accustomed to the field again. Then Williams blows out the other knee and is lost for the year. The Bucs went from three viable backs to one. Everyone was rooting for Williams to come back healthy and his recovery was nothing short of miraculous, but rushing him back to the field was the wrong move, especially with the Bucs’ depth at the position. Another example: despite a multitude of sub-par seasons, Gruden and Allen never made a legitimate effort to replace (or even get some competition for) Michael Clayton. It’s well-known that Clayton had a stellar rookie season, but that season is the exception, not the norm. Since his rookie season, Clayton has yet to match his touchdown output from his rookie season (Seven TDs in 2004. Two total since). And what’s worse, Clayton’s lone touchdown going into the 2008 season had to be reviewed in order to stand – it wasn’t even a “clean” catch. Allen and Gruden stubbornly handicapped the offense by never replacing (or attempting to replace) Clayton. It might be that Gruden thought Clayton was a tight end because Gruden was never shy about signing body after body to play tight end, sometimes getting three on the field at the same time (Hey! Don’t they all play the same position?). And for some inexplicable reason, Clayton was RE-SIGNED AFTER GRUDEN AND ALLEN DEPARTED! Why? He might be secretly married to a Glazer.
Dexter Jackson (2008): The Bucs were in need of a playmaker at wide receiver (and in other news, water is still wet). The closest the Bucs ever came to bolstering the wide receiving corps was the drafting of Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson in the second round of the draft. Gruden then drops the news that Jackson WON’T be used as a wide receiver, but will be given the opportunity to return kicks and punts. Well, that was a pick well spent. As it turns out, Jackson had worse hands than Clayton, but even more maddening was his intense fear of contact (you picked the wrong career, Dex). So, Allen and Gruden drafted a wide receiver who doesn’t play wide receiver, and subsequently is more afraid of contact than Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable. It’s the one draft pick that Matt Millen can laugh at.