Mr. Forgotten?

March 27 - With head coach Jon Gruden becoming the new face of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is general manager Rich McKay becoming Mr. Forgotten? Rumors around the league this spring suggest that a power struggle over player acquisition may be brewing at One Buccaneer Place.

Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay used to be the face of the Buccaneers organization.

The son of the Bucs' legendary first coach John McKay, Rich oversaw the transfer of ownership from the Hugh Culverhouse trust to the Glazer family, was essentially forced to be a politician by vocally campaigning Hillsborough County for a new football stadium, and rolled the dice to hire Tony Dungy, the coach who ultimately turned the Bucs around and made them a perennial playoff contender after 13 years of losing.

McKay has also directed several of the franchise's most successful drafts which have brought Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers to Tampa Bay, primarily on defense.

This is the time of year when McKay usually gets praised for being a draft guru and hailed as the driving force behind the Bucs. Chances are that praise will happen again this year, although considerably muted by the star power of Jon Gruden, who is the new face of the Buccaneers after helping the team win its first ever Super Bowl championship in just his first year as head coach.

In the eyes of Bucs fans and followers of the NFL, Gruden can do no wrong. He lived up to his billing as a master motivator, a demanding hard ass and an offensive wizard, who finally got Tampa Bay's offense out of the doldrums in time for a powerful championship march in the playoffs.

While Gruden's legend in Tampa Bay grows, McKay's is pushed to the rear. One has to look no further than the Super Bowl post-game interviews to see a smiling McKay standing behind an ecstatic Gruden and overjoyed Malcolm Glazer on the mid-field podium. The praise was publicly showered on Gruden by Glazer, who treated the head coach as a savior. Yet no mention of thanks was made to McKay by the Glazers, nor were there images of McKay getting a chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy for all the world to see. McKay, once the front man of the organization, was in the back -- almost forgotten.

Ever since McKay was nearly forced out as general manager by the Glazers when they were courting Bill Parcells to replace Tony Dungy last January, things haven't been quite the same around One Buccaneer Place. McKay has had to relinquish some front office power to Gruden, who was not his choice to replace Dungy. Gruden was the Glazers' hire, a choice they made without the involvement of McKay.

The Bucs' front office, once controlled exclusively by McKay, is now run by both McKay and Gruden, who at times can be like oil and water when it comes to personnel decisions. Reports of front office turmoil last season were quelled publicly by both McKay and Gruden, but league sources say that there has been a rift between the two for some time and that it is growing in the Super Bowl afterglow.

Sources say that Gruden is a bit irked that McKay has been too consumed with his league duties as a co-chair of the competition committee this spring and hasn't been more active finding him players in free agency. He isn't happy that the front office has infuriated star quarterback Brad Johnson by leaving out some guaranteed money -- even accidentially -- in recent attempts at contract negotiations. Gruden may also view McKay as someone who is standing in the way of player acquisition.

Last year, Gruden had some interest in acquiring mercurial quarterback Jeff George, a move that McKay would have never supported because of George's character issues. Gruden had his share of players of ill repute in Oakland, such as receiver Andre Rison and defensive tackle Darrell Russell, a player who might surface in Tampa Bay if he is reinstated by the league and released by the Raiders as expected.

It would be nice to see the relationship between McKay and Gruden work out in Tampa Bay, but their philosophies have stark contrasts. McKay has always built the Bucs through the draft, eschewed free agency and taken a conservative approach to the salary cap.

Gruden loves to pick up seasoned veterans through free agency (especially on offense), has not relied heavily on the draft for talent (especially on offense), and has not always shown restraint when it comes to the salary cap due to his "win now" credo. Gruden has had more hits than misses when it has come to free agent acquisitions in Tampa Bay, and perhaps he thinks he could also handle the general manager duties as long as he has a crony who could effectively manage the salary cap.

Because Gruden is now the face of the Buccaneers, it wouldn't be surprising if McKay opts out of Tampa at some point in the future, not because he longs for the limelight, which means little to him, but to go to a team where he is more appreciated and has more control -- even though he has five years left on his contract.

Had he not won a championship, it might be a different story. However, his mission with the Buccaneers is complete and he could leave the franchise with a huge sense of accomplishment after doing the unthinkable -- bringing the Super Bowl title to Tampa Bay.

Is it better to be gone, but not forgotten, or not gone, yet forgotten?

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