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What now for Gruden, Bucs?

TAMPA — Behind closed doors, you hope there is anger. You hope there are sleepless nights, and untouched meals. In the wake of the greatest collapse in franchise history, you hope somebody at One Buc Place is as ticked off, frustrated and heartbroken as you are today. Because, heaven help us, the early evidence is not real encouraging.

In other markets, owners are fuming and coaches are dropping. Here, we get silence and excuses. In Cleveland, a general manager is fired and the team pursues the league's hottest executive. Here, we are told to bemoan special teams injuries.

Instead of falling on a sword Monday, Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden sounded like a man unwilling to risk a paper cut. No excuses, he said, but then talked about the difficulty of the schedule and the severity of injuries. He suggested the Monte Kiffin situation was a major factor. He said the Bucs went as far as they could have gone in 2008.

And, all the while, you wondered:

Is there no one willing to take the blame?

I'm not saying Gruden is at fault for another season landing barely beyond mediocrity. It could be general manager Bruce Allen, who did not provide enough depth or impact players on the roster. It could be the Glazer family, whose spending fell tens of millions of dollars below the salary cap. Or it could be a lack of character or fight in the locker room.

The point is there are plenty of suspects, and no confessions.

Oh, Gruden occasionally says to blame him, but you never get the sense he expects the fault to reach his door. For instance, he points out that, statistically, the Bucs had the best passing season in team history. He does not mention that, during his seven seasons in Tampa Bay, the team is 25th in the NFL in scoring. He points out they lost to only one team with a losing record. He does not mention they were 1-3 against teams with a .500 record.

Turns out, the defense was not the greatest collapse in Tampa Bay this season.

Accountability went missing, too.

For something has gone wrong here, and no one is willing to say exactly what it is. The salary cap ceased to be an issue a long time ago. The lack of high draft picks is no longer an excuse, either.

That means the fault lies with the men in charge — be it Gruden, Allen, the Glazers or some combination of them all — and yet none are being held accountable. Gruden and Allen got contract extensions last season, and there is no indication their jobs are in danger today. The Glazers keep raising ticket prices, and there is no indication they feel any further obligations to their fan base.

It was right around this time, seven years ago, that the Glazers fired Tony Dungy after three successive playoff seasons. Maybe you disagreed with the decision. Maybe you took issue with the way the dismissal was handled. Even so, you at least knew Malcolm Glazer cared about winning. You at least knew the owners were demanding excellence.

It's hard to make that case today.

Only 13 teams have gone the last six seasons without a victory in the postseason, although the streak will end for either Baltimore or Miami this weekend. During that time, a dozen of those teams combined for 33 coaching changes.

The 13th team, the Bucs, have stuck with Gruden the entire time.

I'm not saying that was a mistake. Gruden won a Super Bowl, and that buys a man an awful lot of rope. Stability and loyalty are also admirable qualities in an ownership group, so I will not criticize the Glazers for that, either.

But the status quo is not getting the job done. You do not look at this franchise and say it is on the upswing. You do not look at this team and say there is a long-term plan and direction in place. You do not look at an offense that is consistently in the bottom half of the league and say Gruden's system is working.

So something needs to change. If the Glazers do not want to change coaches or GMs, that's fine. But they need to do something else. They need to spend more money on free agents, or they need to bring in a personnel guru for the front office, or they need to tell Gruden that it's time for a fresh philosophy on offense.

During the last half-dozen seasons, there have been plenty of changes in the trenches at One Buc Place. Quarterbacks have been benched, assistant coaches have been fired and hundreds of players have been released.

From that standpoint, the people running the show seem to have no tolerance for mediocrity.

Which raises the question:

What are they seeing when they look at each other?

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

What now for Gruden, Bucs? 12/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 4:16pm]
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