You could see this one coming a mile away.
So forget about Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden's lame denial Friday, when he
refuted speculation he was the big reason general manager Rich McKay decided to
pursue other opportunities around the league. "It's totally untrue," Gruden
said. "If there's a perception that I tried to run him out of town, that's
It's not perception. It's reality.
McKay has been one of the most faithful Bucs employees since 1976, the year
his father took over as the first coach of the expansion franchise. Even when
the Glazer family, which owns the team, usurped McKay's authority by reneging
on his choice of Marvin Lewis as coach in 2002, McKay didn't leave.
It was only after Gruden joined the team that the problems became so
intolerable that McKay decided he had to get out. He's almost certain to end up
in Atlanta, where he interviewed two years ago before opting to remain with
Every coach-GM relationship has inherent strains, simply because the coach
wants players he can win with now and the GM must take the long-term view and
think about salary-cap implications and other factors that coaches are either
unwilling or unable to consider.
McKay has been one of the league's top executives for years, combining
forces with former coach Tony Dungy to turn the Bucs from a national joke into
a perennial playoff team. Gruden got them over the top last season with a
masterful coaching job, but his frequent disagreements over personnel quickly
wore on McKay.
For instance, Gruden politicked for Emmitt Smith, even though he's washed
up, while McKay opted to stay with incumbent Michael Pittman and trade for
contract extension, but McKay decided not to invest big dollars in a defensive
tackle who turns 31 next Friday. Wise choice, especially now that Sapp is
bothered by a foot injury.
And McKay wasn't entirely convinced Gruden needed to de-activate Keyshawn
Johnson because of his frequent run-ins with the coach. Remember, it was McKay
who traded two first-round picks to the Jets to get Johnson in 2000. In fact,
after Johnson was de-activated Nov. 18, his agent, Jerome Stanley, told us to
keep an eye on the Gruden-McKay relationship because it was about to blow up.
It just did.
In Atlanta, owner Arthur Blank fired Dan Reeves on Wednesday and is anxious
to hire a top-flight GM. There is no better man available than McKay, who is
said to have serious interest in hiring LSU's Nick Saban as Reeves' replacement
if he gets the job. Saban has indicated a preference to remain at LSU, where
he has a chance to win a national title, but at age 52 and with his best
opportunity to turn his college success into a financial windfall in the NFL,
Saban might be tempted to make the move.
McKay also would consider Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. Rams
coach Mike Martz believes Smith is ready to be a head coach, and Smith has had
a good relationship with McKay: They worked together in Tampa when Smith was
linebackers coach from 1996-2000.
As for Reeves, he's undecided about next year but will listen to any
offers. Given the uncertain situations of several other coaches around the
league, he might not be out of a job for long.
As for Gruden, he's now left to his own devices with a team that was on top
of the world last season but has quickly become old and expensive. Without a
quality personnel man such as McKay to right the ship, Chucky is in for a rude
Is Cowher Next?
The Steelers have no immediate plans to part ways with coach Bill Cowher,
who has been with the team since 1992 and is the NFL's longest-tenured coach
with his current team. But it will be revealing to see what happens during the
Cowher has two years left on his contract after this season, and Pittsburgh
has extended him in similar situations. But with the Steelers proving to be a
major disappointment this season, and with Cowher's role in personnel decisions
coming under increased scrutiny, there's a chance his time in Pittsburgh is
Could he be out after this season? Not likely. Then again, in a business in
which coaching changes are coming at an increasingly frequent pace, anything's
possible. After 12 years on the job and only one Super Bowl appearance to show
for it, Cowher might need a change of scenery and the Steelers might need a
promote offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
Don't be surprised to see the Chargers take a long look at Dolphins
offensive coordinator Norv Turner as a replacement for head coach Marty
Schottenheimer, who will be fired after the season. Turner was a runner-up to
Schottenheimer in 2002 and was a Chargers assistant in 2001.
"We looked around in our division [in 2002] and the teams that we were
Tennessee had Eddie George, Cincinnati had Corey Dillon and Jacksonville had
Fred Taylor," Davis told reporters this past week. "The division was
predominantly played in really rainy, muddy, sloppy weather. You were looking
for somebody at that time that might be more durable over the long run of a
running back's career."
It hasn't quite worked out that way. Green is in the midst of a suspension
because of repeated problems with substance abuse, and the Broncos' Portis has
emerged as one of the NFL's best running backs.
Davis will get to see his former player up close when the teams meet Sunday
Around the League
Packers officials are confident that Brett Favre, who is 34, will be back
next season. Last year Favre hinted he might retire, but he seems to have
regained a new zest for the game this season ... Vikings defensive coordinator
George O'Leary, the former head coach at Central Islip High School, is as
surprised as anyone that he got the head coaching job at Central Florida.
O'Leary thought he didn't have a chance when he asked for $700,000 per season,
about $100,000 more than Vikings head coach Mike Tice gets. But UCF officials
OK'd the asking price and hired him. O'Leary will remain with the Vikes through
the end of the regular season and the playoffs - assuming they get that far
... One reason the Patriots have been so successful under quarterback Tom Brady
is their ability to win close games. Since Brady took over as the starter
early in the 2001 season, the Patriots are 13-1 in games decided by seven or
fewer points. Brady has never lost an overtime game (7-0) and he's 22-4 in
games played after Nov. 1 ... The Panthers might be done with wide receiver
Muhsin Muhammad, who has dropped several passes the last two seasons and
admittedly shortened a route that resulted in an interception return for a
touchdown against the Falcons last week. Coach John Fox isn't blaming Muhammad
for the loss, but he could be released in the offseason in a salary-cap move.