Some of you might have seen the Fox Sports Program Undisputed with Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless discussing the Oakland Raiders’ humiliating defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. Sharpe took exception to Raiders coach Jon Gruden, commenting that he’s building a championship team.
In the clip, Sharpe voices his opinion that Gruden didn’t do anything to bring the defensive core to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers his first year with the team when they won the Super Bowl.
It’s an argument that rivals that of quarterback Jameis Winston’s current value to the team. On one side, there are those who believe Gruden won with Tony Dungy’s team, whom he replaced following the 2001 season, and Dungy deserves credit for the title. On the other, Gruden got the job done that Dungy never would have.
First, if we’re going to talk about who inherited what, let’s go further back. The core in question was Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch. Sapp was picked 12th overall and Brooks was 28th overall in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft. The head coach and general manager at the time? Sam Wyche and Rich McKay, respectively. Another Wyche/McKay pick? John Lynch in the 1993 NFL draft in round 3.
Yes, Dungy tweaked Chuck Noll’s defense and created the Tampa 2 that helped those players thrive, but he was hired in 1996 after Wyche’s firing. So argument one—it was McKay that put those guys together. Dungy polished it up, and Gruden finished first.
Second, what did Gruden do to the 2002 Buccaneers that some feel is still Dungy’s team? Let’s break down the free agent acquisitions since the Bucs virtually had no picks of any value with their trade for Gruden for multiple high value picks over three seasons. Let’s start with the offense.
Michael Pittman from the Arizona Cardinals came to replace Warrick Dunn, who left for the Atlanta Falcons. He became their new primary running back to complement fullback Mike Alstott. Travis Stephens replaced Rabih Abdullah. Jameel Cook and Aaron Stecker stayed.
Reidel Anthony, Jaquez Green, Franky Murphy and Milton Wynn were the departures from the wide receiving corps. The only ones who stayed? Keyshawn Johnson and Karl “The Truth” Williams. They were joined by Keenen McCardell, a career receiving leader with the Jacksonville Jaguars; Joe Jurevicius, who spent time on the losing end of the New York Giants’ 2001 Super Bowl team; and Charles Lee, who previously spent time with the Green Bay Packers.
Bucs tight ends Sean McDermott and Dave Moore left the team following the 2001 season and were replaced by Ken Dilger, who spent time with Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, and Ricky Dudley, who spent time with Gruden during his first stint as Raiders head coach. Only Todd Yoder remained. Randall McDaniell, Pete Person, and Jerry Wunsch left following the 2001 season and in came Ryan Benjamin, Lomas Brown, Cornell Green, Morris Unutoa, Kerry Jenkins, and Roman Oben. One more addition to the offense was former Bills QB Rob Johnson, while starter Brad Johnson and Shaun King were held over from last season.
For the offense, that’s 15 additions and 11 subtractions. The offensive roster went from 23 to 26, regardless of injury reserve status. Does that make the offense his?
Now the defense, which was solely in the hands of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Defensive linemen James Cannida and Marcus Jones left the Bucs following the 2001 season and in came DeVone Claybrooks, Buck Gurley, and Greg Spires for 2002. Spires replaced Jones’ role on the line. Chartric Darby, Anthony “Booger” McFarland, Simeon Rice, Sapp, and Ellis Wyms were retained from the previous year.
Linebackers Jamie Duncan and Jeff Gooch left and in came Jack Golden, Ryan Nece and Corey Smith in 2002. Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Alshermond Singleton and Nate Webster stayed. Defensive backs Donnie Abraham, David Gibson, and Eric Vance left and in came Corey Ivy and Jermaine Phillips in 2002. Ronde Barber, Lynch, John Howell, Brian Kelly, Dexter Jackson, and Dwight Smith stayed. On special teams, Tom Tupa replaced Mark Royals on punting duties.
Defense and special team replacements were even at six a piece. There were six new free agent starters on offense, one new free agent starter on defense, two promotions on the defensive unit and a new punter. You can definitely say the offense was Gruden’s with the replacements he made. With the exception of Spires, most of the defensive moves were for depth on defense.
At the very least, it was very much still Dungy’s players on the defense. I’ll meet half way and say Gruden took Dungy’s defense to the title, but the offense is Gruden’s. So yes, Gruden inherited the star defensive players and Hall of Famers, but he made the turnaround much quicker than Dungy did with the Colts. Dungy won his Super Bowl in year four with the team with an offense built by Jim Mora and Tom Moore.
As little success as the franchise has had its entire existence, can’t we just be happy that Dungy and Gruden are the only coaches in franchise history with winning records? As far as Gruden’s record since the Super Bowl year, he’s kept the Bucs afloat, which is more than I can say for any successor of his, even when they were just one and done in the playoffs.
When it comes to Oakland during Gruden’s first stint, he worked with quarterbacks Donald Hollas, Jeff George, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon, Bobby Hoying and Marques Tuiasosopo. The only QB worth mentioning is Gannon since he’s achieved his greatest offensive success there. With the exception of his debut year in 1998, Gruden was always in the top 10 in offensive yards and scoring. His defense was 5th overall in his debut year and was 9th in points surrendered in 2000. So he’s at least put a competent staff together even if it’s off veterans like Gannon, Tim Brown, and Jerry Rice.
Gruden’s efforts got the Glazer family to cough up two first round picks and two second round picks to come to Tampa. As far as his current season in Oakland, he’s attempting to do something he’s never quite mastered his entire career, develop a core and team from the ground up. We won’t find out until 2019 if any of his draft picks will bear fruit.
Best you can say as far as Gruden’s resume is that he can polish your car and he can win the race for you, but you’ll likely have to build the frame and body of the car yourself.