For many fans Jon Gruden is a hero; however many other fans cannot get their head around why. On one hand, it’s an easy answer, hello Super Bowl XXXVII. But still some people are not content and “he won with the team Dungy built and did it against his old team”. Well yeah, he did, but that’s why he was brought in, to do what Dungy couldn’t. By no means am I bashing Tony Dungy, the man was and is a legend on the sidelines and rightfully deserves his name in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But to all these fans who feel that Gruden wasn’t actually as good as his Super Bowl would have us believe; let’s take a trip down memory lane. (This writer is now using statistics as a drunk man uses street lights; for support rather than illumination).
I won’t go into detail about that 2002 season as any Bucs fan who hasn’t spent 20 years under a rock will know plenty about it. Instead, I’ll focus on the “barren years”.
2003 – 7-9 record and the first time the Buccaneers missed the postseason since 1998 as they finished 3rd in the NFC South. This season is probably best forgotten as that Monday Night Football against the Colts never happened. Aside from wishful thinking, this game started a slide in the dressing room the team never seemed to recover from. Frustrating last-minute defeats seemed to be the theme for 2003; although Gruden wasn’t helped by over half his starters hitting IR early in the season. A few lucky bounces or being better at killing teams off and Tampa are back in the postseason.
2004 – 5-11 and how does Gruden still have a job at this point? Actually, because a boatload of things happened, he had no control over before the season even started. The Buccaneers said goodbye to GM McKay to try and sort the salary cap and also notable players Warren Sapp and John Lynch. A hurricane, then disrupted training camp and the free agents were massive disappointments bar Joey Galloway. This was also the year we were all fooled by Michael Clayton into believing he was an NFL caliber wideout. The Buccaneers wouldn’t win until week 5 and were inconsistent at best. Also should be noted that Martin Gramatica lost his “Automatica” title. 2004 was not a good year in Tampa Bay.
2005 – 11-5 and from worst to first! In came Rookie of the Year Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and gave the Bucs a huge offensive boost. Some of you may remember Gruden calling the attempt for 2 against Washington, looking to win instead of going to the lottery that used to be overtime. Some have said he was crazy, I prefer ballsy. This is my point about Jon Gruden as well, a coach with the burning desire to win. Despite a season-ending injury to then starting QB Griese and a baffling call in the wildcard game (I still believe Shepherd caught the ball), it was a good year and showed how good a coach Gruden is.
2006 – 4-12 and the wheels truly came off. In different directions. This was a dreadful season from start to finish with coaches and backroom staff leaving and at some point, most of the team on IR. It was around this time the Glazer’s realized that maybe they paid too high a price for that 2002 season. Lack of top draft picks to supplement the aging vets. No possibility of bringing in high priced impact players. Although we did get Warrrr Bruce. Bear with me while I get the stink of this season off me in the shower…
2007 – 9-7 and again back to the postseason. A fan might get seasick from this worst to first back and back again business. As well as the playoffs (the last appearance) this was the year of “RUN MICHAEL RUN”. It was also another year when staying silent about the draft was in fashion. This season was a winning one despite the poor product on the field as a result of little financial support and abysmal drafting. Honestly, the talent level on the team didn’t justify a playoff berth. But Coach Gruden dragged them there.
2008 – 9-7 but no playoffs this year and the end of the Coach Gruden era. The offseason the team made a play for QB Brett Favre and incumbent starter Jeff Garcia was not amused. The Bucs ran away 6-0 In the NFC South and 9-3 on the season…then Monte Kiffin revealed he was joining his son in Tennessee. The defense never recovered from that sudden announcement at a terrible time and slumped to 9-7. This was only good enough for 3rd in the division and saw both Gruden and Allen leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There sums up 57 wins and 55 defeats. Personally, I think Gruden would be the right man for taking over this team. He has cap space and a GM willing to spend. He has the experience of being in the top job and has spent the last 10 years still actively in football analyzing draft prospects and current players and teams. Very often those losing seasons he was a victim of circumstance but coached his tail off with dwindling resources.