A Buccaneer Farewell: End of the Jon Gruden Era in Tampa Bay

Gators FirstCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2009

Written by Ryan Crutchfield, Gatorsfirst.com Contributor

As coach, Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen say goodbye to the Buccaneers after their firings on Jan. 16. It's time to reflect on just what happened and where the team is headed.

It’s been rare to see a coaching change in Tampa Bay in the last 15 years, but if history is any indication, next year could be a good year for the Buccaneers.

In 1996, the Bucs hired first-time head coach named Tony Dungy and were rewarded a year later with their first winning season since 1982. In 2002, the team traded four high draft picks and $8 million for Jon Gruden—and immediately got a return on their investment with a Super Bowl win.

Now, in 2009, the Buccaneers have taken a new risk: Raheem Morris.

One month ago, Morris was a defensive backs coach who has never held an NFL coordinator position, let alone head coaching job. He is younger than 10 of his own players.

Now he’s in Mobile, Ala. scouting talent at the Senior Bowl and trying to put a staff together. I have to admit this concept is a little unnerving, but change is sometimes necessary, and the Bucs felt it was time to change and let "Chucky" go.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of the Gruden pitfalls that led to this transition.

1)  First, the catastrophic collapse to end the 2008 season. After winning the division the year before and beginning the season 9-3, Gruden’s Bucs proceeded to drop their next four straight games to miss the playoffs.

     The issue was actually defensive breakdowns, but when you lose to the Raiders at home with the playoffs on the line, fingers have to be pointed. Monte Kiffin announcing he’s off to Tennessee shouldn’t have had an effect on the ability to tackle.

 2) Ever since he took over in 2002, Gruden has had a piss-poor eye for talent. Two years later, he brought in Allen as the GM and the draft failures continued.

     Losing all those high draft picks left the cupboard a little bare, although in the years to come, they drafted Michael Clayton, Cadillac Williams, Davin Joseph, Gaines Adams, and Aquib Talib as their first rounders. Out of those picks, only two are starters.

In this past draft alone, their second-round pick was a Division II receiver who had never caught more than 30 passes in a season.

He was widely thought of as a mid-second-day pick, and even with DeSean Jackson still on the board the Bucs traded down and selected “the bum,” as my father and I like to call him, a few picks later. The fourth-round pick didn’t even make the team.

 3) The QB carousel. Gruden could never decide on a quarterback, not even through a full season. There is a theory that a coach will always be tied to his early drafted franchise quarterback. If the QB fails, so does the coach.

     Apparently, Gruden subscribed to this theory, because the highest he ever drafted a QB was the bottom of the third round, when it was still Rich McKay’s decision.

     For one season, he started little baldy Bruce Gradkowski for 11 freaking games. This season, he went to camp with five QBs and kept four on the active roster throughout the season.

 4) Gruden's constant attribution of season failures to injuries. In this year’s postseason wrap-up, he used the word injury 26 times. Every team has to deal with injuries. A good coach makes contingency plans with good depth.

     With crappy drafts and bringing in bad free agent backups, one injury was enough for the Bucs to lose some close games. The one silver lining was the reclamation projects.

     Some worked: Chris Hovan, Antonio Bryant. Some didn’t: David Boston, Jerramy Stevens. I don’t give this too much credit because of how low-risk these were. Invite them to camp on a minimum salary and see if they can play.

 5) Another disappointment was Gruden's offensive statistics and coaching. While the defense consistently kept him in games, his offensive ranking was never impressive. He never developed a consistent running back and the WR corps hadn’t been the same since he scared off Keyshawn and Keenan.

     Also, most long-term coaches are able to start a “coaching tree” where their disciples go on to become coordinators and head coaches elsewhere (the Belichick tree, the Cowher tree, etc.). Not one offensive assistant or position coach ever moved on to a greater coaching position.

 6) Lastly, Gruden had a short fuse. If a player had a string of bad games, they were officially in his infamous “doghouse.”

     Once prominent players such as Chris Simms, Michael Clayton, Joey Galloway, Keyshawn Johnson, and Jeff Garcia all pissed Chucky off either personally or on the field and were never treated as professionals again.

     Players on offense don’t want to re-sign when free agency comes along. Now reports from Garcia, Clayton, Earnest Graham, and Keyshawn have come out that detail Gruden's shortcomings in player relations.

That said, though, I and other fans loved Gruden. His sideline tirades and post-game interviews were priceless, even as his game management, personnel decisions, and player relations were always lacking.

At least the owners have shown they're still committed to the team and are willing to spend money (although they still owe the GruAllen machine $20+ million).

Look for Tampa Bay to make a personnel change splash this offseason, such as trading for Matt Cassel or Anquan Boldin or taking a QB in the first round. With those changes and Morris at the helm, 2009 could be a good year.