I've Been around for all the "Dump McKay in the Bay" Signs.
I listened to the "Give Leeman Bennett One more year" talk.
"Ray Perkins Must go, he is killing our boys".
Been There, Done that.
In each case, a coach with some measure of success has come through our doors at One Buccaneer Place, coming in with credentials, leaving with scribble marks on their resumes, usually never to be heard from again.
Each time, we were able to take a look back after a cool down period and see things for what they were;
- Leeman Bennett never had a chance, the Bucs were devoid of talent after spending so many #1''s trying to replace Doug Williams, they never replaced aging defensive players.
- Ray Perkins had success in New York with his defensive coordinator Bill Parcells, and excellent drafting by now legendary GM George Young.
- Sam Wyche had excellent talent around him in Cincinnati and just the right system for the right players he had. When that talent dropped off, 1991 happened in Ohio. 3-13. When he got here, he found a team without talent, and an owner who cryed poor while stuffing his coffers full of team money, trading or cutting talented players before their second lucrative contracts could take place, always posting a young team on the field. Young, Inexperience, and with limited talent.
Free Agency changed that. The salary cap not only stopped you from speding too much, it forced Hugh Culverhouse to spend at LEAST the minimum. Suddenly talent ensued. Hardy Nickerson. Jackie Harris. Alvin Harper (Ok, they tried).
Enough time has passed so we can now take a look at what happened with Jon Gruden. WonderBoy. Boy Genius. Genius. All names he did not create for himself. He was called these because thats what he was. He was a study of the game, of the offenses of Bill Walsh. He learned from the creator of the West Coast Offense, and he kept it in its purest form longer than any other disciples (Thus why no shotgun for so long. Bill Walsh did not use such a thing).
Holmgren Identified this brilliant student, and took him to Green Bay to be a quality control assistant, which turned into Wide Receivers coach. This caught the eye of Ray Rhodes, new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, who made Jon Gruden the Offensive Coordinator. Wasn't long before Gruden's offense ranked 4th and 6th, and was eyed as a head coach.
..and now super young offensive genius Jon Gruden, took over a team that went 4-12, and instantly turned them into a .500 team. He didnt have the QB to work with there, getting Jeff George and Wade Wilson. So the next year, in 1999, he signed Rich Gannon, who worked out perfectly in his system.
In only his second year, he found his QB, in a QB driven system. It was the key to his success there. Oakland had a powerful offense, with numerous weapons. The Team Ran as well as it passed. In fact, better; The 2000 Raiders had the No.1 Rushing team, with the 15th passing attack! In 3 years Gruden took a 4-12 team to 12-4 and the AFC Championship game where he lost to the Superbowl champions, and probably one of the best defenses in history, the Baltimore Ravens. In 2001, there is no telling how far Gruden and his team would have gone if not for the tuck rule game, which eliminated them.
Then came the trade. A kings ransom, and reason number..
- Why Jon Gruden did not work out? It was a deal MADE to work NOW, at the cost of later. 4 highly skilled players were missing from Jon Grudens Buccaneers from around 2004 to 2008, players that could have helped if not for anything but letting free agency money that was badly needed be used for better purposes.
- Rich McKay resigned Martin Gramatica, Simeon Rice, Keshawn Johnson, Brad Johnson, and Booger McFarlane to lucrative long term contracts. No, he didnt do it to sabatoge the team! It was the way McKay had worked for years. Lock in your core group of players, and it was a succesful system: Prior to free agency. But as life would spin, these players were NOT part of the core. Gramatica fizzled in 04, as did Brad Johnsons usefulness. Why McKay would extend Keyshawn knowning full well he clashed with Gruden so much is beyond reasoning. Only Rice would be around till '06.
- Talent. McKay could spot the talent, but was not a good Free Agency GM. Allen was a wizz at Free Agency, but it would appear not as good at spotting the talent. The Bucs did not hit home on lower round draft picks, and in a lot of occasions did not do well in higher ones either. Taking a bigger chunk from much needed and scarce free agency money.
- QB failure- One of the biggest myths (probably no. 2) is that Jon Gruden couldnt make up his mind with QBs. Gruden tried in vain to find his Rich Gannon, and probably did with Jeff Garcia, but a few years too late, both in Bucs timeframe, and Garcia's body's. But Gruden only benched a QB 3 times in 7 years at the helm. Brad Johnson was the man, and won the Superbowl with him. Brad Johnson in 7 years was the only QB to play all 16 games in one year, that was 2003, which by no coincidence was the best ranked offense for the Bucs; #10. Brad was benched first in 2004. Chris Simms was given the job, but lost it to injury. Griese took over, and started in 05. Griese went down to Knee Injury and Simms became QB again. The Bucs started the 2006 season with Simms, but due to his spleen ruptured, had to go with a backup, and chose Gradkowski who was benched for Rattay. To start the 07 Season, Jeff Garcia played until injury. Garcia was benched after game one of 2008, the 3rd benching done by Gruden. That is it. Gruden's system is Quarterback driven, and yet was never able to develop, or settle with, one QB for reasons his fault and some not of his doing.
- The Message got old. He wasnt around in Oakland that long, and there was a system of continued success there. Here, there was instant success, with mostly (key word, MOSTLY) players that were not his own. Then there were declining seasons which took their toll on his message, and his word. Players were told one thing, but when there are losses, things don't always go as planned. "Love Ya Bro" as he was fond of saying, works great when you go 8-8, 8-8, 12-4, 10-6 like he did in Oakland. But when you go to the Superbowl, then do a 7-9, 5-11, it just doesnt go over as well.
I think Jon Gruden's tenure here can be summed up simply; He took over a team of underachieving pro bowl calibur players, who after going to the NFC Championship game in 1999, never were able to recapture that fire in the two seasons afterwards. He provided the defense of that team with the fire to get back to 1999 form, and then some, and with the help of about 7 well placed free agents on offense, was able to get that side of the ball to play with the same level of intensity that was expected of the defense. The offense did not respond overnight, but they improved every week, culminating in a unit that played its best when it needed to, the playoff stretch, and in the playoffs themselves.
The improvements on offense are undeniable. Looking at the 2001 players and then the 2002, you can see "Gruden won with Tony's Team" is utter nonsense.
From Dave Moore and Todd Yoder, to Ken Dilger and Ricky Dudley.
Not to mention the additions of Romen Oben, Kerry Jenkins on the left side of the line, who really took over towards the end of the year and provided excellent protection.
The Myth that Gruden won the SuperBowl with Dungy's players is indeed the biggest myth of all.
If he did, then he beat HIS superbowl team in black, the Raiders. Anyway you look at it, Gruden took a team to the Superbowl in 2002, no matter how your point of view goes!
People tend to forget the defense in 2000 and 2001 was starting to crumble. They were having problems getting off the field on 3rd downs. They were allowing large point totals. They were NOT the units of 1999 anymore. The Fire that Jon Gruden brought helped rekindle Tony's defense, so credit needs to be given there too.
In the end though..too many factors just added up to spell doom for Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen.
The constant injuries, the handling of players, were a sore eye for Gruden whenever talked about by local Radio programs and newspapers. After all was said and done, the Glazers were ready for the same new blood Gruden provided 7 years earlier, and it was the right decision. To say Jon Gruden is not a good coach, or doesn't know offenses, is just selling the man short completely. You don't forget how to do your job, and we will see that in a few years when he is back on his feet again. I for one hope he stays out of the NFC South.