Surprise! Buccaneers Sign Gruden To A 5-Year Deal

February 18 - In a stunning turn of events, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have announced that they will hire Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden to fill their head coaching vacancy. Gruden will be introduced at a Wednesday press conference where the compensation agreement between the Bucs and Raiders will also be announced. The Bucs had just spoke with San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci on Sunday about possibly becoming the Bucs' new leader.

Just when you thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' prolonged coaching search was nearing an end, it ended Monday, but with a surprise twist. Just one day after meeting with San Francisco head coach Steve Mariucci and working out a compensation agreement with the 49ers, the Bucs stunned the football world by announcing that they have agreed to terms on a five-year contract with Oakland head coach Jon Gruden and worked out compensation terms with Raiders owner and managing general partner Al Davis.

Terms of Gruden's deal were not disclosed, and the compensation package will be officially revealed when he is introduced as the team's head coach at a Wednesday press conference, but ESPN reported that Gruden will get five-year deal worth $17.5 million, or $3.5 million per season. As compensation for Gruden, ESPN reports that the Raiders will receive first- and second-round draft picks in 2002, a first-round pick in 2003, and a second-round pick in 2004. Oakland will not receive any cash or any players.

"We were determined not to let outside pressures derail us from our goal, which was to find the best person to coach the Buccaneers," said Bucs executive vice president Bryan Glazer. "Our fans deserve nothing less. That person is Jon Gruden, the finest young mind in the game. We took our time and got the man we really wanted, and we couldn't be more thrilled. This was one of the most important decisions in the history of this franchise."

What an ending to a story that had more twists and turns than a Hollywood blockbuster thriller. The Bucs' hiring of a young, proven, innovative offensive mind like Gruden might be more exciting than any offense he or the Bucs could generate during any given year. Perhaps the Bucs should just cancel the 2002 season so all parties, including the tormented Buccaneers fans, can catch their breath.

The 38-year old Gruden is the league's youngest head coach and has compiled a 40-28 record in four years with the Raiders. He guided the team to the AFC championship game in 2000 before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore. Gruden's Raiders lost a 10-point fourth quarter lead in this year's second-round playoff game at New England. The Patriots wound up winning this year's Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Gruden replaces Tony Dungy, who was fired on January 14, and becomes the franchise's seventh head coach. The Glazers' first choice to fill the head coaching vacancy was Bill Parcells, who turned down the Bucs job at the last minute on January 17. The Bucs had also let Florida head coach Steve Spurrier slip away to Washington before even considering him due to heavy indications that Parcells was ready to get back into coaching.

After being jilted by Parcells, general manager Rich McKay interviewed LSU head coach Nick Saban, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularky and former Washington Redskins head coach Norv Turner before suggesting Lewis to the Glazers.

But because the Glazers felt they were being pressured into signing Lewis by McKay and the fact that they desired an offensive-minded head coach, the Glazers told McKay to attempt to procure Gruden, who had one year left on his contract with Oakland and a bitter relationship with Davis, from the Raiders.

After Davis' alleged asking price, which may have included four No. 1 draft picks, cash and a veteran player, was deemed to steep, the Glazers, without McKay's help, interviewed Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen and Mariucci. Although reports varied about the Bucs' counter offer to the Raiders or if they had even made a counter offer to Oakland.

It is believed that the Glazers were trying to call Davis' bluff, or at least soften his stance on the compensation it would take to pry Gruden, who said he would not sign an extension and would not coach in Oakland past 2002, away from the Raiders. It worked.

Gruden fits the bill as the offensive-minded head coach the Glazers were looking for. The Bucs' offense hasn't ranked higher than 20 since the 1992 season and has had to rely primarily on defense to make the playoffs in four out of the last five seasons.

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