I've been having forum arguments lately about Gruden and his role with the team. A number of people of turned sour on Gruden (man, are people fickle or what?) and want him gone, or would be fine with his departure. So what do I think of this?
Well, let's get right down to the heart of some of the issues here. Those who favor his departure site the following: 1) He won the Super Bowl with Dungy's team, 2) he's torn apart the Super Bowl team, 3) he's had plenty of time to rebuild this franchise, and 4) his offense is horrible, stinks, etc...
Let me address the points in order. First, the whole Dungy's team thing. Let's see, when Gruden came in, he brought his own coaches, save Muir, who was already hired but did not coach for Dungy. He then brought in WR Keenan McCardell, WR Joe Jurevicius, TE Ken Dilger, TE Rickey Dudley, and RB Micheal Pittman. These were all key skill position players. OT Roman Oben also came in that year. All of these guys were one's he recruited and all were not only key cogs in the Super Bowl team's offense, they were in fact all critical cogs in it. Does anyone seriously think that Dungy could have led our offense to come back from 7 down against the Eagles? Gruden's excellent play calling, which used Alstott to get us out of poor field position, then got a perfect match-up of JJ on a linebacker, on a pass play that crossed Johnson's face for the easy throw that allowed JJ to outrace the LB down the sidelines. That one play turned that game, as it showed that THIS offense could score on the Eagles, and it energized our defense. Dungy has had one of the most prolific offenses under his control, along with a solid defense last season, and has yet to even get to the big game. I will always have a soft spot for such a great man, but he couldn't get this team there. Gruden brought in many key players and got it done. It might have been Dungy's defense (I tend to think Monte had a big role in that D), but it was clearly Gruden's offense.
The second point about tearing up the team usually starts with Lynch and Sapp. First, if anyone remembers what happened with Lynch he was injured during the 2003 season, and appeared to be affected by it in both speed and his ability to tackle. Quite frankly, Lynch played poorly that year and he had a big cap number. The Bucs appeared to have a very good safety in Jermain Phillips and wanted to go into the next season with him starting and Lynch playing back-up, considering his slip in play. Lynch wanted to stay, but only if he started. At the time, the move looked to be an OK, though not great, decision on the part of the Bucs. I really doubt the would have let him go if they knew he would become the Pro-Bowl player again and that Phillips would go south. But the cap makes you think about the future, and Lynch was getting up there, so the decision was made. Then we come to Sapp, who's play had dramatically slipped, and who's cap value to resign was going to be tough to swallow, especially since McKay had stupidly given McFarland a huge contract extension. That made the decision one the Bucs simply had no choice on. Not too mention everyone still thought McFarland might be the next coming of Sapp, or close to it.
When you look back both of these decisions kind of hurt the Bucs as Lynch would still be solid at safety, and Sapp's numbers were better than McFarland's by a large amount, even though they aren't anywhere near his prime. But let's really evaluate what's happened here. The Bucs gave up high picks to get Keyshawn, to move up and draft Walker, and to secure the services of Gruden. In fact, these moves cost the Bucs 4 first round draft picks in the past 6 years. Gruden had nothing to do with any of these (though 2 first round and 2 second round picks were given up to secure him from the Raiders). With the big FA contracts given to guys like Rice and McFarland by Rich McKay, the Bucs have been in draft pick and salary cap hell for most of Gruden's tenure. Last year they finally had a full draft complement, but that was coming off an 11-5 season. Now the Bucs will finally have a ton of cap space as well as picks, and now Gruden can finally start the final stages of this rebuild.
Which addresses number three. Gruden has managed to put a lot of pieces together on offense, but now the defense has just suddenly fallen apart, but probably at a good time. With 4 picks in the first 70-75 draft selections, the Bucs will have a lot of chances to get the key holes filled on the defensive side of the ball. Of course, I think some key positions may be filled with young stud veteran FA's since the Bucs have the cap room to buy some help. If they can fill some of those key spots, they may be able to actually work on some offensive weaknesses such as Center, LT, and QB (assuming they don't pick up a solid Vet and decide to keep Bruce and/or Chris around). Gruden needs to be given this year to rebuild because it's the first time he's gotten to go to the grocery store with a full wallet. He can shop at Macy's this year instead of WalMart.
And the final point is about his "horrible" offense. Let's be frank (actually, I prefer to be Richard but being frank helps my point), Gruden's offense requires one thing above all else to be successful: solid QB play. Gruden has simple had a horrid run of luck at the QB spot. After winning a Super Bowl, it becomes clear the Johnson's arm was loosing strength badly. After he was shipped off to the Vikings, where he didn't play for a while, the rest allowed the arm to be effective for a while, but he's starting to look so-so again. Then Simms was going to be the starter, only to get knocked out and replaced by Griese. Then, Griese gets knocked out allowing Simms to become the starter again. Then Simms starts off slow and gets knocked out because of his spleen. So here we are with the Bucs 5th change at QB with 4 different guys, 2 of which have a season or less of starts. When your offense is so dependent on the QB position, this is not a good thing to have happen to your team. Let's be honest, how many times has Bruce failed to see or hit wide open receivers? How many passes to the backs were dropped because they were very poorly thrown? The reality is that Gruden's offense is getting guys open in the passing game, but Bruce isn't getting the ball to the right place at the right time enough to make this offense credible. Once the passing game suffers, teams load the box. Even Parcells admitted they got lucky when Bruce hesitated and threw the ball to Galloway late allowing the defender to recover and make the first pick in that game. If Bruce throws the ball on time, it's 6 points, and the Bucs are up 14-7 when Caddy's already been running the ball for 4.6 yard per pop. That one play was the catalyst that got the Cowboys in the right position to take over that game.
So we need to see Gruden get a QB, whoever it is (Gradkowski, Simms, Plummer, Favre, Green, Shaub, a draft pick, etc...) that can play solid. They don't have to be great for this offense to work. They just need to be able to exploit defenses that stuff the box to stop Caddy. You get that QB play, and this offense will put up yards and points. We did it with Johnson, and we can do it again with solid QB play from someone else. The Bucs must do everything they can to secure the QB position next year.
So, if you're in the "Gruden must go camp", try and keep these things in mind and understand that you can't hold him fully accountable until he's had a good shot at fixing this team. He deserves to be here next year. After that will depend on whether or not this team starts making real progress with the off-season they are likely to have this year.