He'll always be a Super Bowl champion.
No matter which side you take in the Jon Gruden debate, there's no denying that he delivered on his promise to "put the Buccaneers into championship form," leading Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl title in his first season at the helm — 2002.
Less than 11 months after Gruden replaced the fired Tony Dungy, the Bucs were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, the first (and only) championship for a franchise that had suffered through much of its first 27 seasons. The 15 wins that season are still the most in team history.
Gruden, then 39 and the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, was in essence traded to the Bucs from the Raiders, who received two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks and $8 million from owner Malcolm Glazer to switch teams. He took over a team that Dungy had built into a perennial playoff contender but had not been able to win it all.
The team responded to Gruden's high-energy style, rallying around his "pound the rock" battle cry to go 12-4 during the regular season and claim its first NFC South championship.
The Bucs went on to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-6 in the division playoff game and the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the NFC Championship Game before routing Gruden's former team, the Raiders, in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.
Times staff, wires
Jon Gruden came to Tampa Bay in 2002 with high expectations and a strong resume. In his first season as coach, he led the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory. Despite winning two more division titles after the 2002 season (2005, 2007), the enigmatic coach couldn't lead the Bucs to another playoff win and had three losing seasons. And after a promising 9-3 start in 2008, the team fell apart, finishing with four straight losses and missing the playoffs at 9-7. A (troubled) look back:
Toasting the GM
At 39, Jon Gruden had just become the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. But a few weeks later, he reportedly criticized GM Rich McKay. Meanwhile, the Bucs weren't big players in free agency because of salary cap restrictions that came with fielding the league's No. 1 defense and numerous Pro Bowl players in their prime.
April 26-27, 2003
The Bucs paid a huge bounty for Jon Gruden, two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. They used their second- and third-round picks on DE Dewayne White and QB Chris Simms, respectively. Gruden wasn't a big fan of Simms, a left-hander who was immobile. The lost draft picks began to eat away at Gruden.
Monday night collapse
Oct. 6, 2003
Facing the Colts and former coach Tony Dungy on national TV, Jon Gruden's team choked. CB Brian Kelly's injury opened the floodgates. Second-year pro Tim Wansley tried to cover WR Marvin Harrison but was burned time and again. Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin refused to use CB Ronde Barber on him. The Colts, down 35-14, scored three touchdowns in the final 3:37 to tie it then won 38-35 in overtime.
Trouble with Keyshawn
At 3-2, the Bucs headed west to face the 2-4 49ers on Oct. 19. WR Keyshawn Johnson was miffed because the team was foundering on offense. Johnson thought he could help, but the ball seldom came his way. He was convinced that Jon Gruden was freezing him out. After catching just one pass for 4 yards in a 24-7 loss, Johnson remained in California for a parent-teacher conference. He told the front office he wouldn't play for Gruden in 2004 even though he was under contract. To Gruden, Johnson was a threat, undermining him in the locker room. Frustration was building as the Bucs faced falling from Super Bowl champion to out of the playoffs. Finally, Gruden pulled the plug Nov. 18. With the blessing of Rich McKay, Johnson was deactivated (with pay) for the final six games of the season. It was an unpopular decision with many veterans.
Dec. 15, 2003
Tired of being undercut by Jon Gruden and perhaps reading the writing on the wall, Rich McKay went to the Falcons to become general manager. Not only did he sell that move to the Glazers, they didn't ask the Falcons for compensation. It was getting hard to be Gruden, who went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
Jon Gruden insisted he had no clue whom the Glazers would hire as general manager, but on the same day, Bruce Allen, an executive with the Raiders when Gruden coached them, was on his way to meet with the Bucs. Did Gruden know? A week later, Allen was hired as general manager. To most, it meant Gruden had total control.
Who needs Sapp and Lynch?
Jon Gruden cemented his reputation as a great coach but lousy personnel director. His first big decisions, with Bruce Allen rubber-stamping, were to release Pro Bowl S John Lynch and allow DT Warren Sapp, a free agent, to walk.
More bad deals
With RB Michael Pittman facing a suspension for an incident with his wife, the Bucs threw good money after bad by signing four has-beens: OTs Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie, G Matt Stinchcomb and RB Charlie Garner. Their signing bonuses totaled more than $12 million. Garner blew out his knee in Week 3. Steussie was replaced after Week 5.
After 15 offensive plays in the Week 2 home opener, Jon Gruden benched QB Brad Johnson in favor of Chris Simms, who had never taken a regular-season snap. Simms fumbled and threw an interception in Seahawks territory in a 10-6 loss. Johnson started the next two games, both losses, so Gruden decided on a permanent change. He chose Simms, who lasted a half against New Orleans until an injury, and Brian Griese came off the bench and went 5-3.
Under .500 again
Jan. 2, 2005
The Bucs end the season with a four-game skid to finish 5-11, their second straight losing season since winning the Super Bowl.
Jan. 7, 2006
An 11-5 record and NFC South title earned the Bucs a home playoff game against the Redskins. But they struggled, and Edell Shepherd dropped a sure touchdown that helped seal the loss.
Four-letter bombs and a bloody QB
Sept. 24, 2006
Some suggested Jon Gruden's demeanor eroded QB Chris Simms' confidence. In Week 3 against the Panthers, Simms ruptured his spleen. Despite internal bleeding, he rallied the Bucs before they lost 26-24 late. But later, with Simms at St. Joseph's Hospital, Gruden praised Bruce Gradkowski.
Sept. 25, 2006
At 0-3, Jon Gruden stuck with rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski, essentially signaling to the veterans that the season was over.
Another tough start
Sept. 9, 2007
The Bucs had high hopes for the season with new QB Jeff Garcia, right. But in the opener at Seattle, the veteran was injured and Tampa Bay stumbled to a 20-6 loss.
Playoff slide, again
Jan. 6, 2008
After clinching the NFC South title with a few weeks left, the Bucs rested starters down the stretch — and lost the final two games to enter the playoffs in a slide. The Bucs hosted the Giants in a wild-card game but fell flat. And Jon Gruden suffered another playoff loss.
A QB breaks
QB Chris Simms said in early June that his relationship with Jon Gruden was beyond repair, and he didn't expect to be with the team in 2008. "I feel like I'm being held hostage," Simms said. The oft-injured player's plea to be released was answered in late August.
QB flip-flop, again
QB Jeff Garcia struggled in a 24-20 loss at New Orleans on Sept. 7 in the opener. What did Jon Gruden do? He benched the veteran in Week 2 in favor of Brian Griese, who had been reacquired in the offseason. Griese started the next three weeks, until being injured against the Broncos on Oct. 5. Garcia filled in then took over the rest of the season.
Dec. 28, 2008
At 9-3, the Bucs appeared on the verge of a playoff berth. Then everything went downhill. Starting with a 38-23 thumping at Carolina on Monday Night Football, the Bucs lost four straight, including the final two at home. The Bucs finished 9-7, handing Jon Gruden his first back-to-back winning seasons in Tampa Bay, but they missed the playoffs. Again.