Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gruden season has begun, and it could get awkward

TAMPA — One week before Christmas, Jon Gruden will walk out of the ESPN broadcast booth during Monday Night Football and onto the 50-yard line at Raymond James Stadium.

The man who was responsible for winning the Bucs’ only Lombardi Trophy with a 48-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXVII will watch as his name is unveiled Dec. 18 into the team’s Ring of Honor.

Men will scream. Women will weep. The place will go Spider 2 Y Bananas.

GRU-den! GRU-den! GRU-den!

He’s deserving of it all. So why is this suddenly a thing to worry about at One Buc Place?

Because after Sunday’s 15-10 win over the New York Jets, the Bucs are 3-6. By the time Hank Williams asks his rhetorical question before the MNF game against the Falcons, they could be 4-9 or 3-10.

On Sunday before the Jets game, NFL insider Jason LaCanfora of cbssports.com became the latest to report speculation of Gruden returning to the Bucs as head coach, saying it is ‘‘hardly out of the question," citing league sources.

You have to believe Dirk Koetter wasn’t one of those sources.

Gruden was fired by the Bucs along with general manager Bruce Allen after losing the final four games in 2008 to finish 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. It’s true that since then he has mended fences with the Glazer family, attending several team events over the years.

He is only 54. By comparison, Koetter got his first NFL head coaching job with Tampa Bay last year at 57. What’s more, last week Gruden told the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen he hasn’t ruled out a return to the sideline.

"It’s in your blood," Gruden said. "You get some people calling maybe to see if you’re interested in coaching again and maybe if you can help recommend a couple guys. I’m pretty much involved with every level of football every day of the week, so I try to help if I can.

"One of these days, who knows, Rich? One of these days, you never know."

Gruden Hog Day officially began Sunday when the University of Tennessee fired head football coach Butch Jones. Gruden began his coaching career there as a grad assistant, and it’s where he met his wife, Cindy.

This has become an annual routine for Gruden’s agent, Bob Lamonte.

If it’s November, college football programs from the Power Five conferences are calling to inquire whether Gruden is ready to trade in his microphone for a whistle. If it’s December, it’s the NFL owners looking for a head coach who come calling.

For the last nine years, Gruden’s answer has been no thanks. But there are reasons to believe if he ever is going to return to coaching, it will be sooner than later. His youngest son has two years remaining in high school. ESPN is expected to announce 100 layoffs sometime after Thanksgiving, Sports Illustrated has reported. That doesn’t mean Gruden will be among them, but it’s evidence that the Disney-owned cable company isn’t doing great.

Remember when Gruden visited One Buc Place in August before his news conference announcing his election to the Ring of Honor? He stuck his head into the quarterbacks meeting room to offer words of encouragement to Jameis Winston.

When Gruden left, there were chuckles and a comment, "He doesn’t miss ball much." But that’s why he studies film in his role at ESPN, the Fired Football Coaches Association and Gruden’s QB camp.

Who knows what the Glazers think of the job Koetter is doing this season. But he’s only in his second year as an NFL head coach. And it’s undeniable that the Bucs’ season got away from them after Winston’s shoulder injury. He fought through the pain but went 0-4, scoring only nine points combined in the first half of those games.

The Packers, Dolphins, Texans, Cardinals and Vikings all have lost starting quarterbacks. Only Minnesota with Case Keenum is thriving playing their backup.

If the Glazers believe Koetter was the right coach to turn things around the way he did last season, not much has changed other than Winston’s sore right throwing shoulder. The defensive line hasn’t played great, but it’s hard to sack the QB when you never have a lead. The run game has stalled, but teams have stacked the line of scrimmage daring the Bucs to beat them deep.

Maybe between now and Dec. 18, the Bucs will go on a little win streak. In the meantime, Gruden will be linked every coaching job, including the one he got fired from.

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud

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