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GRUDEN NOT A GOODBYE GUY

A handshake. A pat on the back. A thank you.

Even a sigh.

That's all players are looking for from Jon Gruden when they learn they are no longer a member of the team.

But the Bucs coach admits he isn't good at breakups.

"It's hard to say goodbye," Gruden said. "It's hard."

And so it was that Simeon Rice was disappointed when he never saw or heard from Gruden upon his release from the Bucs on Thursday night.

The three-time Pro Bowl defensive end played six seasons in Tampa Bay, recorded 69-1/2 sacks, forced 25 fumbles and helped put a Super Bowl ring on Gruden's finger.

But when Rice refused to take a pay cut to remain with the team and was waived, Gruden didn't bother to wave.

It was the same with John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Shelton Quarles and Booger McFarland.

Heck, when Gruden was traded from Oakland to the Bucs in 2002, he slipped out of town without even talking to Mr. Raider, Tim Brown.

"I remember Tim Brown, he wasn't real happy with me," Gruden said. "Warren came in to see us the other day. I still love John Lynch. I talk to Brad (Johnson) once in a while. Hopefully players know that I do care about them. At the same time, this is a business in a lot of ways and it's a strange business at times, too."

Of course, despite Brown's disappointment, it didn't prevent him from wanting to play for Gruden again in 2004.

Gruden says he isn't trying to be disrespectful. Quite the contrary. He realizes that players are emotional when they change teams or their career ends and he is an emotional coach.

He says he just prefers to let things quiet down before connecting again.

"The first time I ever talked to Shelton Quarles was just about a week ago," Gruden said. "Because it is an emotional situation and I try to keep the emotion out of it.

''In some cases, I don't have all the information. There's conversations with the agent, there's conversations with the doctors, trainers. There's a lot of things that enter into the decision. The salary cap. A lot of things. The forecast of the future. Who you have now. There's 85 other guys you'd better be coaching."

STAYING ALIVE: Jeff Garcia's best trait as a quarterback might be his ability to keep a play alive when the execution breaks down.

Because of that, the Bucs' running backs and receivers are learning to never quit on a play and how to scramble with Garcia.

"We have to manufacture drills, scramble drills," Gruden said. "Basically, we've got to have study of the scramble. Some of the biggest plays in football aren't drawn up. Wow, the guy got away from somebody and somebody sprung deep. Those are the things we have to show to our players, those are the things we have to get into the practice format, sometimes in seven-on-seven. Just break the pocket and run. You saw that several times today. We're trying to script some plays where we get that and sometimes we've just got to coach it."

ALOHA STATE: Keep an eye on Jacksonville free-agent receiver Chad Owens, who has a shot to make it as a kick returner. At 5-foot-8, it's hard for Owens to stand out. But he has turned a few heads this offseason.

"You know, he's from the University of Hawaii, so a lot of us haven't seen him because we're in bed when they're playing," Gruden said. "But he's had a knack for making huge plays in the kicking game. Struggled hanging onto the ball. It's been well-documented at times in Jacksonville. He's got a real compact build, he's got power and instant acceleration and quickness and he'll be a guy that will make the kick return game interesting. And as a luxury receiver, a guy who can come in and play three or four positions, he has a knack for making plays."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.

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