Jon Gruden: Does He Have a Legacy?

Football ManiaxsSenior Writer IJanuary 19, 2009

I don’t think there has ever been a season where so many Super Bowl winning coaches are leaving their teams. In the case of Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren, it was due to retirement.

In the case of Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden, it is the team deciding to go in a different direction with 32-year-old assistant coaches.

Many people think of Gruden as being too young to have a legacy. Despite being only 45 years old, he has been in the NFL as an assistant or head coach since 1990. That’s 18 years of NFL experience. He has been a head coach since 1998.

Compare that to Dungy, a person everyone believes has a legacy. Dungy has been a head coach since 1996. Therefore, even though Gruden has a lot of coaching left to do, he has already built an impressive coaching resume despite only being 45 years old.

Gruden helped turn the Oakland Raiders around. When you look at where that team is today, that is pretty impressive. Prior to his arrival in 1998, the Raiders had been out of the playoff hunt since 1993. Mike White was a failure. Joe Bugel lasted only one year, thanks to a 4-12 record.

Gruden guided the Raiders to 8-8 records in 1998 and 1999. He brought in veterans like quarterback Rich Gannon—guys that could help him win now and were perfectly suited for his system.

By 2000, he had them in the AFC Championship Game. They lost to eventual champion Baltimore. In 2001, he brought in Jerry Rice. They lost in the Divisional Round to the eventual World Champion New England Patriots in the famous Tuck Rule Game. He would then go to Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay was a team that many people believed would never get over the hump.

Tony Dungy had teamed with Monte Kiffin to form one of the NFL’s best defenses. The problem was that the offense could never hold up its end of the bargain. Dungy was viewed as a great person and motivator that many people thought was too nice to hoist the sport’s most prized trophy.

Gruden retained Kiffin to run the defense and brought in his West Coast offense. Just like Gannon, Brad Johnson excelled in that offense, throwing for 3,049 yards, 22 touchdowns, and six interceptions in 2002.

The Buccaneers finally advanced to the Super Bowl, where they met Gruden’s old team, the Oakland Raiders. The Buccaneers knew everything that was coming their way.

They dominated the entire game and won 48-21, thanks to five Rich Gannon interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Gruden cemented himself as the premier young coach in the game, winning the Super Bowl at the age of 39.

Gruden just wasn’t able to do much after that.

The Buccaneers would go just 45-51 the next six seasons. They won the division twice and missed the playoffs four times. The year after winning the Super Bowl, they went just 7-9 and dipped to 5-11 the following year. They were 0-2 in the playoffs after their Super Bowl run with both losses coming at home. Compounding that, they started the 2008 season 9-3.

They lost their last four games, including a season ending loss to Oakland. The result? No playoffs.

 That is a six-year run that is going to result in a head coach losing his job. It’s a “What Have You Done for Me Lately” League. Gruden hasn’t done a lot since 2002.

Gruden was just never able to replace Brad Johnson at quarterback. They tried going with Brian Griese in 2004. They went to Chris Simms. He led the Buccaneers to the playoffs in 2005.

However, injuries and a lack of Gruden confidence prevented him from going much further. Gruden began stockpiling quarterbacks. Bruce Gradkowski, Tim Rattay, Jake Plummer, Jeff Garcia—the list goes on and on. Garcia led the Buccaneers to the playoffs in 2007, but the Giants knocked them out in the first round. He is going to be 39 years old this season.

The Buccaneers are an offense without a future.

Since Gruden came to the Buccaneers in 2002, the Buccaneers never ranked higher than 18th in points scored. They ranked in the top 10 in yards only one time, finishing 10th in 2003. This is a team that was carried by the defense for most of Gruden’s run—that was a unit that was run by Kiffin.

All and all, Gruden had a pretty successful run in Tampa Bay. He was brought in to get an underachieving playoff team over the top and he did that in his first year. He had a winning record four times in seven seasons. When you consider where Tampa Bay was as a franchise prior to 1996, it was a very productive run. It was well worth their while to hire him.

What is more puzzling about this is not the firing, but the timing and the new hire.
It confuses me that would feel the need to replace a Super Bowl winning coach three weeks after the end of the regular season for a guy that is 32 years old and has been a coordinator for one season. Raheem Morris was the defensive coordinator in 2006 for the 7-6 Kansas State Wildcats.

Gruden will definitely get another shot in the NFL. Whether that will be this year or next year, someone is going to give this guy another shot. He is only 45 years old and has a wealth of coaching experience. He has been very successful everywhere he has gone.

The Buccaneers many not have had as much success as they had hoped for the last six seasons, but what they did have is one of the most intense and most prepared head coaches in the NFL. Morris is going to have some big shoes to fill in Tampa Bay.