Buccaneers' clumsy search for coach ends with Gruden

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay's long, embarrassing search for a coach ended Monday with the hiring of Jon Gruden, one of the elite candidates they had sought all along.

Not only was he the one the Buccaneers coveted after Bill Parcells turned them down, but actually prying him from the Oakland Raiders provided one last bizarre twist to a five-week saga.

The sons of Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer settled on Gruden after spending the weekend in negotiations with San Francisco's Steve Mariucci, who was offered the opportunity to become Tampa Bay's coach and general manager, but never got a chance to turn it down.

"We talked about contract, but nothing had been agreed upon as far as solid numbers," said Mariucci, who cited family reasons for wanting to remain in San Francisco.

By the time the 49ers coach called the Glazers with his answer Monday morning, the owners had already contacted Raiders owner Al Davis to revive talks that broke down two weeks ago when Tampa Bay and Oakland could not agree on compensation for Gruden, who had one year left on his contract.

Gruden has family ties to Florida. His father was a scout and assistant coach with the Bucs in the 1970s and lives in Tampa. His younger brother, Jay, is player/coach of the Arena League's Orlando Predators.

"They've got themselves a heck of a coach," said Mariucci, who didn't want to uproot his family. "The Tampa Bay situation is perfect for (Gruden's family)."

The Raiders said the Bucs will give up first- and second-round draft picks this year, a No. 1 in 2003, a second-round pick in 2004 and $8 million over the next three years.

The price was steeper than the Glazers would have paid for Mariucci, who has two years left on his contract. The 49ers were offered first- and third-round picks in 2002 and second- and third-round picks next year.

"We let Jon make the decision. If he wanted to go, we'd let him, provided we got our demands," Davis said.

The Bucs said Gruden had received a five-year deal. Terms were not disclosed, however ESPN.com reported it was worth $17.5 million, or about $3.5 million per season.

The 38-year-old Gruden, the NFL's youngest head coach, had a 40-28 record in four seasons as the Raiders' coach. He led the team to the AFC title game a year ago losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore.

This year, the Raiders again lost to the eventual champion, dropping a second-round game in overtime at New England after blowing a 10-point lead in the final quarter.

Gruden replaces Tony Dungy, who was fired Jan. 14, leading to a search that made the Glazer sons the laughingstock of football.

"I'm glad we finally got this out of the way and we can move forward," said Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks, one of several Tampa Bay players who have expressed concern about the damage the search has done to the franchise's image.

First, the Bucs were rejected by two-time Super Bowl winner Parcells, with whom they were said to have a deal in place even before Dungy's dismissal.

Then they then failed to reach agreement with the Raiders on a deal for Gruden, who let it be known through his agent, Bob LaMonte, that he did not plan to remain in Oakland beyond 2002.

The search hit a low point when the Glazers vetoed general manager Rich McKay's plan to hire for Baltimore assistant Marvin Lewis as Dungy's replacement.

"We were determined not to let outside pressures derail us from our goal to find the best person to coach the Buccaneers. Our fans deserve nothing less," Bryan Glazer, the team's executive vice president, said in a statement.

"That person is Jon Gruden, the finest young mind in the game. We took our time and got the man we really wanted and we couldn't be more thrilled."

It's unclear how McKay now fits in the Glazers' plans. Mariucci would have replaced him as well as Dungy.

The Atlanta Falcons would like to hire McKay as their GM, but likely would have to compensate the Bucs unless he's fired.

Gruden is an offensive specialist, a plus for a team that was strong on defense but weak on offense under Dungy. So is Mariucci, who had been at least the eighth candidate the Bucs approached after firing the popular Dungy, who has since been hired as head coach in Indianapolis.

"I'm excited and look forward to flourishing in his system," Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson said.

Defensive end Simeon Rice envisions the team prospering under the new coach, too.

"You put a guy on the rise with a team on the rise and we're going to reach the top of this game," Rice said. "The situation didn't look good for a while, but you put a guy like him in the mix and everything looks beautiful now."

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