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Firings leave Tampa Bay Buccaneers players with mixed emotions

The shock waves sent through the NFL on Friday by the news of Jon Gruden's and Bruce Allen's firings were felt most by the men who were under their charge.

About the only people more surprised than Gruden and Allen were Buccaneers players, several of whom expressed disbelief upon learning the news.

"This definitely came out of leftfield," center Jeff Faine said. "I didn't think this was even a possibility."

Said right tackle Jeremy Trueblood: "I'm totally shocked. I thought if this was going to happen it would have happened a few weeks ago. It's a big reality check."

For players who had less memorable times under Gruden, such as receiver Michael Clayton, the reaction was less subdued.

"How do you build a championship team with all the inconsistency?" said Clayton, who played for Gruden in each of his five seasons. He went on to blame Gruden for much of his lack of production in the past four seasons, citing a lack of opportunity and belief from the coach.

"He did not give me an opportunity," Clayton said. "I sat down with Coach Gruden and I told him I have too much respect for this game for him to treat me like this. How do you treat a guy like that who doesn't care about the numbers, who doesn't care about all that stuff? All I want to do is win."

Still, Faine said, a drastic decision like this always requires an extensive adjustment from players. Having been through a firing when Butch Davis was released after Faine's rookie season in Cleveland, Faine had a different perspective on the matter.

"I'm in a different position than a lot of the guys," he said. "It's a very uncomfortable situation. I was a free agent they really wanted here. I had an open door to go in and talk to (Gruden and Allen). Now, it's going to be a different coach and maybe a different system. I was really anticipating this offseason. I still am, but I just hope it's not going to be a rebuilding process. That's like starting all over again."

The decision to fire Gruden and Allen appears to have stemmed from the poor finish to the season, leaving at least Faine feeling some level of responsibility.

"I've never been a proponent of the coach taking the blame," Faine said. "We go out and we have to execute the plays."

And promoting defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to head coach was expected to be met with positive reviews.

Clayton, reached later Friday, called the impending decision to hire Morris "great news," a sentiment that likely would be shared by others. Morris is particularly popular with players.

As for Gruden and how he will ultimately be remembered in the locker room, linebacker Derrick Brooks put his spin on it when he called radio station WDAE-AM 620 to respond to callers critical of Gruden.

"We've all had our differences," Brooks said. "But I'm just here to say that you don't kick a dog when he's down. … I'm going to appreciate the body of work that Coach Gruden brought to us while he was our leader."

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

Firings leave Tampa Bay Buccaneers players with mixed emotions 01/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 16, 2009 11:45pm]
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