Gruden’s energy led the Bucs’ biggest win

by Gary Shelton on August 3, 2017 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Gruden has become a star in broadcasting. Here with Jameis Winston.

Gruden has become a star in broadcasting. Gruden is pictured here with Jameis Winston./PHOTO COURTESY OF ESPN

Thursday, 3 a.m.

Before the trophy, before the firing, before the clashing of swords, Jon Gruden was energy. If anything was going to define his stay in Tampa Bay, that should be it.

Gruden entered by pushing, prodding and poking a pretty good Bucs' team. He put a clock on his practices, and he tried to cram more moments than he had minutes. He was go-go-go, all of the time, challenging this player or that co-worker, trying to cram 65 minutes of effort into every hour.

Those early days, perhaps, were what defined his first Bucs' team as different. Tony Dungy was a fine coach, but his own laid-back demeanor

 Content beyond this point is for members only.

Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the blog (it's at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!

Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on

could, at times, spread to his team. Gruden dealt in the energy of the moment. He was not the builder that Dungy was. He was the perfect man for his time.

Oh, it didn't last. Gruden was an excellent coach, but he wasn't much of a general manager, and it caught up to him. The Bucs simply lost too many great players and replaced them with too few. Bruce Allen was a disaster, and his draft years – Gaines Adams, Dexter Jackson – were an embarrassment.

But if one season is special enough, if one season eclipses all of the others for a team, then one season can be enough. Ask the Jets. Ask the Chiefs. Ask the Rams.

For that reason, the Bucs introduced Jon Gruden as a Ring of Honor entrant on Wednesday.

Sure, he belongs. He brought home the Super Bowl. He gave Tampa Bay a sense of identity it had been lacking. He enabled Bucs fans to think they were tough like Sapp and fast like Brooks and dependable like Lynch and instinctive like Barber.

Oh, it didn't last. Those who criticize Gruden would point that out. He never won another playoff game. He made the post-season only twice. He didn't construct excellence, the way Dungy had.

But I've said this before. If Dungy had stayed in Tampa Bay for another decade, I think the Bucs would have had a better record. I think they would have made the post-season more often. But, no, I don't think — with his staff limitations on offense – he would have won a Super Bowl.

So was it worth it?

Of course it was.

Full disclosure here: Gruden and I didn't always like each other in those years. He had three losing seasons; a coach gets criticized for that. But I was as stunned as anyone when he was fired after a 9-7 record; heck, the year before, the same record got him a new contract.

So what doomed Gruden? Aging players. The draft picks his team gave up to get him. Allen's wobbly drafts. Bad quarterbacks. It's funny. Gruden has become a quarterback expert on ESPN. But with the Bucs, after Brad Johnson, we got a lot of Bruce Gradkowski and Chris Simms and Brian Griese.

Still, he won the Super Bowl.

Any questions?

That first season, I have written, was about as good a one-year job of coaching as I've been around. Gruden wasn't a long-time assistant who got a promotion. He wasn't from the same division. Heck, he didn't know Mike Alstott's name on his first day, remember. There was tons of pressure.

It didn’t put any pressure on me (laughs),” Gruden said. “Warren Sapp told me, ‘If you don’t deliver a Super Bowl, we will kill you.’ You don’t realize the compensation until the draft comes around. You miss the first- and second-round draft choices and you really wish in hindsight that we didn’t have to give up anything.

But, it really made me work harder. It really gave me the incentive to do the very best that I could for Mr. Glazer and his family that made that trade because it was a lot to live up to. Perhaps I never will live up to it, but I’m not dead yet.”

That year gets more and more special with every defeat that has come afterward. Raheem Morris? Greg Schiano? Lovie Smith? None of them were Chuckie.

In the end, I always thought that Don Shula's failing was this: He was a fine coach, but he couldn't overcome his flaws as a general manager. That's true of Gruden, too. Those last two 9-7 teams came with five-win talent. He was a good enough coach to overcome disaster, but not good enough to be a true contender.

When Gruden left, I was sure he would find a new team to coach. I never thought the broadcast booth would hold him. He was a coach, and he was used to having a final result on Sunday.

But no one really second-guesses an analyst. The money is good, and the hours are better. He seems quite comfortable sitting above the action.

Now, in the Ring of Honor, he always will.

{ 0 comments… read it below or Subscriptions }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: