Wide receiver Michael Clayton, for example, offered up this comment, courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times:
"How do you build a championship team with all the inconsistency? You have to do it the right way. I've always been a person who feels like you reap what you sow. You have to treat people fairly.'' When asked what he wished Gruden would've done differently, Clayton said, "It's about showing more confidence in your players. He was kind of a turncoat. He'd tell you one thing and then do something else.''Some of the harshest criticism came from analysts Pete Prisco and Shaun King. Prisco offered up some scathing criticism of Gruden's revolving door at the quarterback position, which never really seemed to be settled this season.
"Jon Gruden never understood that it's the quarterbacks that drive NFL teams. And it cost him his job. Gruden was arrogant enough as a coach to think his schemes could overcome the lack of a quality quarterback."Ouch. Tampa Bay entered the season with Jeff Garcia as its starting quarterback, and after he struggled in the season opener -- and also suffered an injury, which seemed to be open to debate as to how serious it really was -- Gruden turned the job over to Brian Griese for four weeks. After Griese struggled in his four starts -- and also suffered an injury -- the job became Garcia's again as the Buccaneers roared out to a 9-3 start, entering a Monday night contest in Carolina in control of their own destiny for a division title.
And that's where things started to go wrong.
From that point on, the Buccaneers' rock-solid defense turned into a gaping hole of futility, as they dropped their final four games of the regular season, including a Week 17 game, at home, against Gruden's former team, the Oakland Raiders.
Shaun King, currently an analyst with ESPN and a former Tampa Bay quarterback, said he wasn't surprised by Gruden's firing, and that it may have come a year or two too late.
I agree that it isn't a surprise, but I'm not sure it's "a year or two too late," either. The timing actually seems just about right.
Gruden brought a championship to Tampa Bay, and while critics will say he did it with Tony Dungy's players, the bottom line is he did with those players what Dungy couldn't do -- win a Super Bowl. That's a tremendous accomplishment and something that can never, and will never, be taken away.
The problem, however, is that since that championship in 2002 the Buccaneers have been mired in mediocrity. It's a what have you done for me lately type of business, and lately, the results weren't there in Tampa Bay. Since that Super Bowl, the Buccaneers compiled a 45-51 record under Gruden, not including the 0-2 mark in the postseason. When you combine those records with the four-game collapse at the end of the 2008 season, well, it was simply time for a change.
While Clayton, King and Prisco were somewhat harsh in their feelings towards the former Bucs coach, some players spoke out in favor of Gruden, including veteran Derrick Brooks, who called in to a Tampa Bay radio station to voice his opinion.
Antonio Bryant, who also happens to be one of the team's biggest free agents heading into the offseason, said he was surprised by the firing and that it was like a "family atmosphere" where "everybody got along." That kind of contradicts the earlier comments from Clayton.
Gruden is a fine head coach, and I'm sure there are quite a few teams around the NFL that would love to hire him today, and sooner or later, somebody will. Tampa Bay simply needed a fresh start.