Jon Gruden arrived in Tampa Bay in 2002 wielding a considerable amount of influence over personnel and other decisions.
Whether Bucs ownership ever stated this to the coach in unequivocal terms is irrelevant. When the Glazer family coughed up two first-round draft picks, a pair of seconds and a cool $8-million, well, it was certainly implied Gruden would be heard. Just ask Rich McKay, the former general manager who sensed his role was being diminished and bolted for Atlanta.
Gruden still enjoys a great deal of influence and probably always will. But here's what has changed: General manager Bruce Allen might be gaining on him.
Not long ago, Allen was thought of by some as a figurehead with a fancy title. We can debate whether that was ever true. Either way, nothing could be further from the truth today.
It has become apparent through a series of behind-the-scenes events and by reading between a lot of lines that Allen's profile has grown. He's no longer your garden-variety salary cap manager. Even Gruden seemed reconciled to this as recently as draft day when the Bucs chose cornerback Aqib Talib as their No. 1 pick.
"My guts are ripped out of my body right now," Gruden said, jokingly referring to his heart-of-hearts desire to select an offensive player in the first round. "You wake up in the morning and think about what a great thrill it would be to coach some of these guys.
"That's why they have general managers that make the tough calls, and I certainly support Bruce on this."
There you have it: Talib was Allen's pick — period. That, by the way, doesn't make it a bad pick. In many ways, it was a savvy decision. But make no mistake, it was not Gruden's call. We'll never know whom the Bucs would have picked if Gruden had made the final decision. We just know it wasn't his to make.
For more evidence, consider that seven of the team's 10 draft picks in 2007 were defensive players. That, too, probably left Gruden feeling gutted.
How did this happen? It's most likely a result of Allen's willingness to carry out the Glazers' every wish and do much of their dirty work. There has been a conscious effort to reduce expenses on both the football and business sides of the company, and Allen has been leading the charge as a tough-as-nails contract negotiator and chief cost-cutter.
Some will immediately decry this as an effort to suggest there is tension between Gruden and Allen, so let's be clear: There is absolutely no indication of that.
But even though they clearly get along and dine together often, that doesn't mean they agree on everything. And at those inevitable times when there is a difference in opinions, perhaps your money should be on Allen, not Gruden.
STAFF SHAKE-UP: It was disclosed last week that Larry Coyer no longer will coach the defensive line and will serve solely as an assistant head coach.
His exact job duties are still being defined, but he'll roam and have input with several units, including the offensive line. And Gruden suggested he'll perhaps use Coyer as a resource in offensive game-planning and decision-making.
It's a wise move by Gruden as this will enable the Bucs to take greater advantage of Coyer's four decades of coaching experience. But here's the key: We know Coyer has great advice to offer, but will Gruden accept it?
It's hard to knock his resume as a coach, but there still are occasions when someone needs to save Gruden from himself.
Former assistant head coach Art Valero wasn't the guy because he didn't have Gruden's ear. Maybe Coyer will be the one, maybe not. In the end, that will be decided by Gruden.
STILL UNSIGNED: Defensive tackle Jovan Haye, a restricted free agent who started last season and recorded six sacks, still hasn't signed his one-year contract tender. But look for Haye to accept the deal soon as Allen seems unlikely to change his stance and offer a long-term deal. Haye's tender level will require the Bucs to pay him about $2.01-million.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]