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Gruden out as Bucs coach

TAMPA — The Super Bowl trophy Jon Gruden brought the Bucs in his first season as head coach is polished and still glistens in the lobby of One Buc Place. But the shine finally wore off Gruden. The charismatic coach, along with general manager Bruce Allen, was fired Friday after the Bucs lost their final four games following a 9-3 start and failed to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.

The team will introduce 32-year-old Raheem Morris, recently promoted to defensive coordinator, as the new head coach and pro personnel director Mark Dominik as general manager today. Morris has never been a head coach at any level. He recently interviewed for the Denver Broncos head coaching job.

Team co-chairman Joel Glazer said Friday night that his family was "extremely frustrated" by the historic collapse, which included blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the 4-11 Oakland Raiders in the regular-season finale at Raymond James Stadium.

"The losses are as hard today as they were 14 years ago," Glazer said, "and the way the season ended obviously was terribly disappointing. But, you know, it's not just one thing. It's four losses at the end of the season."

Glazer said Friday night that the family waited several weeks to pull the trigger on Gruden and Allen because they didn't want to make an emotional decision after missing the playoffs.

"After a lot of careful consideration — a lot of thought went into this — and in our mind there's a plan where we want to head with this whole thing," Glazer said. "And we'll keep you up on that as things unfold. I think after a lot of careful consideration, letting emotion die down, we just felt that it was time for a change."

Glazer said he met with Gruden and Allen to inform them that the owners had decided to go in another direction, one year after signing both to three-year contract extensions through the 2012 season. The decision to terminate the two could cost the Bucs approximately $25-million.

"Bruce and Jon are consummate professionals," Glazer said. "I want to respect what was discussed between us and them. But we had discussions today and they've done a lot of great things for this franchise. And this is never something that's easy. These are very difficult decisions and very difficult times because you see how hard people work."

ESPN quoted a source saying Gruden was "blindsided" by his firing. Gruden was not at his north Tampa home or Redington Beach condo Friday night. Allen came to the door of his Avila home in Tampa but had no comment.

Gruden posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time since coming to Tampa Bay. But the Bucs became the first team in 15 years to start 9-3 and miss the playoffs.

The Bucs entered December tied for first place in the NFC South. But losses at Carolina and Atlanta, and at home to San Diego and Oakland, cost them a playoff spot. A win in any of those games would have earned the Bucs a postseason berth.

Gruden was 57-55 as the Bucs head coach, but failed to win a playoff game after the Super Bowl season, going 45-51 after his first year.

The Bucs apparently are convinced that Morris — a protege of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin — is ready to take over the reins.

Morris may have begun to fill his coaching staff vacancies Friday. The Bucs announced that recently fired Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry had been hired as linebackers coach — a position he held from 2001 to 2006. And multiple reports named recently fired Saints defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs as the Bucs assistant head coach for defense.

In addition, former Ravens secondary coach Dennis Thurmond was expected to interview Friday for the Bucs defensive backs coaching job.

Glazer indicated that the team planned to continue its structure of separating the general manager and coaching duties.

Dominik, 37, has spent 14 years with the Bucs, joining the team in 1995 as a pro personnel assistant under then general manager Rich McKay. He recently interviewed for the general manager position with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We've been pretty happy with the setup we've had here," Glazer said. "We've always been very comfortable with a coach and a general manager. It's one of our fundamental beliefs."

Players were understandably stunned by the timing of the news of Gruden's dismissal, but not entirely surprised.

"How do you build a championship team with all the inconsistency?' receiver Mike Clayton said. "You have to do it the right way. I've always been a person who feels like you reap what you sow. You have to treat people fairly."

When asked what he wished Gruden would've done differently, Clayton said: "It's about showing more confidence in your players. He was kind of a turncoat. He'd tell you one thing and then do something else."

Gruden won three NFC South titles with the Bucs and became the youngest coach, at age 39, to win the Super Bowl.

The Bucs traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8-million to the Oakland Raiders for Gruden.

But a rift between Gruden and then-general manager McKay developed in 2003 and ended with McKay accepting a similar position with the Atlanta Falcons with a few weeks remaining in the season.

Gruden was responsible for the hiring of Allen, whom he had worked with at Oakland. But Allen's strength was salary cap management, not player personnel, and the talent level may have dipped as a result.

"Our ultimate goal every year is to win a championship," Glazer said. "And that's always been our goal and it will remain our goal and we're going to go about things to attain the goals we believe in. And we have core fundamental beliefs that we've had since the day we got here. And we thought it was important for our core fundamental beliefs that we make a change."

Gruden out as Bucs coach 01/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 12:38am]
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