The Bucs shouldn’t hang up on Gruden

by Gary Shelton on December 14, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Thursday, 2 a.m.

In 2002, for one season, he was the best coach the Bucs ever had.

He landed in town, and he had a new energy and a new drive, and he won a championship. He went from not knowing the players on his roster to orchestrating them without flaw. He won 12 games, then the Super Bowl, with one of the most masterful Super Bowl seasons of all.

In 2006, for one season, he was among the worst coaches the Bucs have had.

He won four games that year, the same as Dirk Koetter this year. Once again, he did not develop a young quarterback.

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Again, he let a season slip away from him. His offensive magic disappeared, falling to 29th in the league. No one threw any confetti.

The overall era of Jon Gruden, frankly, is somewhere between the two seasons. Take away the Super Bowl season, and he was 45-51. He was a very good game coach, and he probably averaged 2-3 wins a season that an ordinary coach wouldn't have gotten. But his time with Bruce Allen was wasted, and the longer he coached, the more greatness disappeared from the Bucs' roster.

So what do you think?

Does anyone want to do it again?

Gruden, who comes to town with the Monday night crew this week, has been bandied about as heading a sequel for the Bucs. And while Gruden is a better football coach than Raheem Morris, than Greg Schiano, than Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter, fans should know that he isn't flawless. It will still take some bumps and bruises before the Bucs are again a contender.

All of that said, should the Bucs remarry Gruden?

Over time, and over his superb work on Monday night football, a lot of fans have forgotten that Gruden was a tough ride. In particular, his time with Bruce Allen was a waste of everyone's time. There was too much Dexter Jackson, too much Michael Clayton, too much Sabby Piscitelli. Three of his final six seasons had losing records, and in his last season, he lost his last four and missed an almost-certain playoff berth.

Yet, Gruden has been heard making cooing noises about a homecoming, and frankly, the Bucs would be silly not to at least consider it. Jameis Winston has flaws, but he would be the most talented quarterback Gruden has coached in a Bucs' uniform. Gruden would do impressive things with a receiving corps that included Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin. He'd find a better running back through the “roadkill,” as he used to call the players on the waiver wire.

Look, it's always hard to go back over an old bridge. I get that. But if Koetter is out, he's going to face a hard sell to the public. When you look at the next wave of coaches, though, none of them are a slam dunk. So why not at least think about the guy who brought you your best moment?

A friend of mine, Rock Riley, has asked me twice on his radio show if I thought Gruden was a good idea. Both times, I answered like this: Who's the general manager? The best season Gruden had in Tampa Bay was with Rich McKay, but Gruden drove McKay crazy. Instead of the Glazers insisting  that they work together, they drove McKay off, and a dark cloud set over the facility. McKay wasn't the NFL's best general manager, but he gathered enough talent to win a Super Bowl.

Look, some of the problems were beyond Gruden. I'll admit that. The team was aging, and it would lose Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice and Brad Johnson and John Lynch over the years. Derrick Brooks left when Gruden did. And the Bucs didn't begin to fill the void.

I don't know. Maybe the Bucs need a strong president in charge of football, a Tom Coughlin type. Certainly, they need a general manager with fiber.

The first thing, though, is that the team has to be convinced that the time is right for a Gruden reunion. They talk about him in New York, too. Maybe other places. Gruden has the resume, and he has a coach's personality. A lot of teams would be tempted to see how much he has left.

It didn't work for Joe Gibbs in his second go-round. Mike Shanahan, either. Jimmy Johnson wasn't the same force in Miami he was in Dallas. Mike Holmgren wasn't as good in Seattle as he was in Green Bay. Bum Phillips wasn't as good in New Orleans as his was in Houston. And so on.

But if you own the Bucs, there is this question. Who else are you going to hire who would have the same impact? Josh McDaniels? Hue Jackson?

You hire Gruden, and everyone pays attention. For a little while, at least, the franchise is intriguing. You can envision the offense getting better. You can imagine even the defense finding a new energy.

Granted, it's hard to repeat the success of 16 years ago. Heck, it would be hard to repeat it from 10 years ago.

But if I'm the Glazers, I keep talking. I keep imagining. I keep dreaming of another confetti shower.

He made it happen once.

I'd wonder if he could do it again.

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