COMMENTARY: Don't Blame Jon Gruden

Get on the bandwagon or jump off. It's a crucial time and the Bucs have plenty of places to point the finger.

There are few things more pathetic than Fantasy Football Geeks, or people who listen to sports talk radio for than 10 minutes a day.

Those people deserve their own personal place in the Get A Life Hall of Fame, right next to contestants on The Batchelor.

Think about it. There are actually – no kidding, I couldn't possibly make this up – people who sit on hold for over an hour to call the local radio doofus and ask him who he should play on his fantasy football team this weekend. That's right, Fantasy Football. It's a make- believe world for people who are killing time until the next Star Wars movie comes out.

People who spend time listening to talk radio are sad and pathetic, and spending time listening to it is even worse. (By the way, the hosts of those talk radio shows never even sit with the media at the games. A random survey of the media in the press box at the Nov. 21 Bucs-49ers game indicated that not even one of those people had seen any of the radio chatterboxes at a game all season).

Anyway, I spent a few minutes recently listening to the incessant babble recently and realized that the same people who worshiped Bucs coach Jon Gruden just two years ago when he brought the Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay are now jumping ship. There are an awful lot of Buccaneer fans who must be getting dizzy by now, jumping on, jumping off, jumping back on the Buccaneer Bandwagon.

So let's address Jon Gruden. Good guy, bad guy? Even one of the local newspapers recently featured an objective story on Gruden's value to the organization.

Let's address a few issues.

First, the radio callers want to crucify Gruden because they claim he wants too many veterans and Oakland Raiders. What's wrong with veterans and former Oakland Raiders? Charlie Garner sure would come in handy now if he weren't hurt. The Bucs tried to rebuild for years and nothing happened. Gruden also didn't do a bad job turning Michael Clayton into the NFL's best rookie receiver. He also made a quarterback out of Brian Griese, something even Mike Shanahan couldn't do in Denver.

Second, everyone cried when the Bucs let loose a lot of key elements to the 2002 championship team. Where are they now? Warren Sapp is a bust in Oakland, Keyshawn Johnson has dropped more balls this season than in his Tampa career combined, John Lynch has been injured in Denver, and Keenan McCardell is just an older and slower version of Clayton.

Third, Gruden was unfairly crucified for his infamous call on fourth-and-one against the Falcons two weeks ago. There hasn't been that much second-guessing since Brittney Spears' last marriage. Ruth is, it was the right call. Kicker Martin Gramatica has been slumping and it was not out of order to think Michael Pittman could have picked up the six inches he needed for a first down. The Bucs had all the momentum at the time and the Falcons were on their heels. OK, the play didn't work. They never do 100 percent. Still, it was the right call. Gruden went for the kill. If it worked, the radio geeks would be nominating him for Coach of the Year.

Fourth, Gruden receives way too much criticism for not using the deep ball on offense. Bead Johnson doesn't have a cannon and certainly doesn't have enough time for his receivers to get down field, and neither does Griese or, for that matter, Chris Simms. The thing people overlook is that they also don't have the receivers, at least not until Galloway came back from his injury two weeks ago. The Bucs have a decent receiving corps with Joe Jurevicius, Clayton, Tim Brown, Ken Dilger, Charles Lee, but only Galloway has any speed. There's nothing wrong with possession receivers. They pick up the first downs, but in the NFL, if you want to play Long Ball, you have to have somebody who can run it down. That's why McCardell is no great loss. The Bucs have several receivers just like him.

Finally, it's not Gruden's fault there is an NFL salary cap. The league isn't the league you grew up with - unless you listen to a lot of sports talk radio or play fantasy football in which case you never grew up – because it's different now. There are no dynasties. Never will be. You have to do things the way the 49ers did in their glory days, dumping salaries of popular players before they were no longer useful. Heads up, Tampa, don't be shocked when Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott are shown the door. Maybe not this year but it's coming. And it won't be Gruden's fault.

I am not a Gruden apologist or even a fan. Heck, I root for the Jacksonville Jaguars any day. But if you want to vent frustration, Gruden is not where you want to point the finger. Point it at offensive linemen who can't count to three or just enjoy seeing festive yellow flags flying around the field.

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