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Ex-Bucs on what it was like to play for Jon Gruden

The persona Jon Gruden presented to the media was often different from the one players saw away from the public eye, several former Bucs say.
Jon Gruden ponders a question at the Raiders' minicamp in Alameda, Calif., in June. [AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File]
Published Jul. 26, 2018
Updated Jul. 26, 2018

The persona Jon Gruden presented to the media was often different from the one players saw away from the public eye, several former Bucs tell Sports Illustrated in  a story published today on the new Oakland Raiders head coach.

"To discuss Gruden with members of his Buccaneers teams is to hear about two different men," Conor Orr writes.

While Gruden came across to many players as open, inspiring and funny, others found him to be backhanded and difficult to trust, changing the public narrative to suit his purposes, according to the story.

The divide between players who liked Gruden and those who didn't was wider than in most locker rooms, wide receiver Joey Galloway said.

"It was a situation where it worked for some guys and it didn't work for some guys," said Galloway, who played for the Bucs from 2004-08.

For the most part, it didn't work for former Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, a Buc from 2003-07.

Simms said Gruden told reporters Simms was healthy but just not practicing well as the QB recovered from emergency surgery to remove his spleen after Simms was injured during a game against the Panthers in 2006.

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"(Gruden) tried to run me out of town 10 months after I almost died on the field," Simms told Sports Illustrated.

Before that, Simms said, Gruden tried to publicly embarrass the signalcaller.

During his rookie season, Simms said Gruden would ask NFL Films to mic Simms during practices, then throw him into the huddle  without warning, watching to see if he would stumble through one of the coach's notoriously complicated play calls.

"The games were easier," Simms said. "I didn't have this psycho five feet behind me yelling at me all the time."

Another Bucs signalcaller, Jeff Garcia, who played for six organizations during an 11-year NFL career, called the Bucs quarterback room in 2008 "probably the most uncomfortable quarterback room I've ever been a part of in my entire career."

"The mix of personalities didn't blend, and there wasn't any support for whoever the starter was at the time," Garcia said.

While Garcia didn't care for his on-again, off-again status as the Bucs' starter (along with Brian Griese), he did appreciate Gruden's offensive play sets, which he said forced opponents into basic zone defenses, making Garcia's job easier at the line of scrimmage.

Ex-Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, deactivated by the Bucs less than a year after helping the franchise to a Super Bowl championship, said he never knew who he was dealing with when it came to Gruden.

"He's a football coach, and most football coaches play a game (with players) because they know they have to," Johnson said. " The successful ones, in my opinion, stay true to who they are and their true values."

Former Bucs defensive end Stylez White, who played for Gruden in 2007 and '08, said he thought Gruden was "a stand-up guy."

"Maybe some of his ways people didn't agree with it, but his ways worked," White said. "You can't make everybody happy, and what he thought was best for the team was what he did."

It should be noted that none of the stars from the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII championship team — Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Brad Johnson, Simeon Rice, etc. — were quoted in the story.

The Raiders did not respond to requests for Gruden to comment, according to the story.

Read the full story here.