After purchasing the Bucs in 1995, Malcolm Glazer and sons Bryan and Joel began assessing the team and found something of value among the ruins of a franchise that had gone more than a decade without a winning season: general manager Rich McKay.
"It's one of those situations where you buy something and you get, like, this box and there's a lot of garbage in the box and you say, "Hey, there's something really good in there,' " Joel Glazer said. "We just had to weed through it. We really thought we had a gem in there."
McKay, who steered the team through a difficult process to get a new stadium while helping shape the Bucs into a playoff team, proved to be a diamond and has been rewarded. McKay agreed Thursday to a five-year extension that will keep him with the team through 2002.
"I wish I was tougher when I'm negotiating for myself," said McKay, who has been in Tampa since his father, John McKay, became the Bucs first coach in 1976. "This was not a hard issue to talk about. For me, why would I want to work anywhere else?
"It's very rare in our business that you get to have a job that you want in a profession you like and you get to do it in your hometown. I've lived in Tampa for a long, long time, my wife is a native and my kids were born here. To me, it was a layup."
The team did not disclose McKay's salary, but his new deal is believed to be on par with other top NFL executives. Green Bay's Ron Wolf signed a six-year, $1.35-million deal with the Packers last year, and Kansas City's Carl Peterson and San Diego's Bobby Beathard also reportedly are making more than $1-million annually.
"He's one of the top executives in the league, and I think he's being rewarded as such," Joel Glazer said.
He called McKay, co-chair of the NFL's competition committee, one of the league's rising stars and said people don't give McKay enough credit for his involvement in the stadium, which will open Sept. 20.
"It was a very, very hard time for us because we lived in Tampa, we were here for a long time, so I knew a lot of people, and the issue got very personal," McKay said. "There were many occasions where I got a little down because I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel."
The Glazers also lauded McKay for his role in the search that brought Tony Dungy to the Bucs and for his work in the draft. Each of the Bucs' drafts from 1993 to 1997 produced at least one player who has represented the team in the Pro Bowl.
McKay deflected the compliments about his performance by thanking everyone from the Glazers to Dungy, personnel director Jerry Angelo, college scouting director Tim Ruskell and McKay's wife, Terrin. He was particularly happy the owners gave him a chance instead of cleaning house.
"The only thing I said to them was just give us a chance to compete on an even playing field," McKay said. "Just give us a chance to try to turn this team into a winning football team when we don't have so many off-the-field distractions."
Despite the new contract and the accolades, McKay said he will remain modest. As proof, he read from a letter he recently received that mistakenly complimented him.
""Dear Mr. McKay, congrats on a great career in the sports field and your other successes in life. As I'm a fan of yours, I'm also a fan of the Olympics and also your commentary,"' said McKay, reading from the letter.
The writer of the letter had confused McKay with ABC veteran Jim McKay.
"When you start to feel good about yourself, every once in a while, you just have to take a little bit of humble pie and realize you're not quite as good as you think," McKay said.
NOTES: Richard McNerney, Bucs vice president of marketing and communications, said the team remains in negotiation with four companies for naming rights to the new stadium.
McNerney would not name the companies. The team appearedclose to completing a deal with TruGreen-ChemLawn of Memphis, Tenn., in March, but the two parties still are talking.
Another company that has expressed interest is Intermedia Communications, a Tampa-based company trying to promote its image in the national telecommunications industry.
The Bucs want a multiyear deal and reportedly are asking for at least $2-million a year.