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One guy out there is worth pursuing

By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2002

From here, there is one way out.

From here, there is one way out.

They have been dejected and rejected, cheated and mistreated, lied to and made blue. They have been humbled, laughed at and made fun of. They have been embarrassed, exposed, betrayed. They do, of course, deserve it all.

From here, there is one place for the Bucs to turn.

It is time to pick up the phone. It is time to call Al Davis. It is time to ask for a price.

From here, there is one man who looks like an answer.

It is time to bring Jon Gruden home.

As of now, Gruden should be the primary target for the Bucs. Only Gruden stops the laughter. Only Gruden ends the humiliation. Only Gruden allows the Glazers to save face.

Can you imagine the Bucs' news conference to announce another candidate as new coach? Marty Schottenheimer? Come on. Jim Mora? Please. George Seifert? No thank you. Even good candidates such as Nick Saban, Marvin Lewis or Norv Turner look like clearance rack shopping when their names are compared with those the Bucs have pursued. It's like going big-game hunting and coming back with three rabbits and a woodchuck.

On the other hand, the Bucs could introduce Gruden without blushing. He's been called an offensive genius. Didn't you hear? He's been called a wizard. Don't you want to see the clips? He knows the way to the end zone. Don't you want to watch?

Did you hear what Bill Belichick said last week about Gruden?

"He has such a wide array of not only plays, but shifts, motions, ways to disguise plays," Belichick said. "In addition to that, (the Raiders) employ just about every trick in the book that an offense could use to deceive the defense, be it cadence, no huddle, or plays that are specifically designed to attack a particular defense that might only come up once or twice in a game."

The Patriots coach went on to say that preparing for Gruden's offense in a week was "like trying to memorize the dictionary." For a team that has trouble reciting the alphabet when it comes to offense, that could give fans a tingle. Who ever feared the Bucs offense? Except for the Bucs, that is?

What wonderful symmetry. Like Rich McKay, Jon watched his father as a coach for the early Bucs, and Jim still lives in the area. Jay, Jon's brother, lives 90 miles away and works for the Orlando Predators. And after working for Davis, perhaps even Joel and Bryan, the Ever-lie Brothers, don't look so creepy.

There is one thing wrong with the picture, of course.

For the moment, Gruden is employed by the Raiders. He still has another year left on his contract.

I ask you: If you were the Bucs, would you let a little thing like that stop you?

These are desperate times for the Bucs. They should take desperate measures. They should not sit patiently and wait to see if Davis throws away a perfectly good head coach. He won't. Instead, they should take the initiative. They should pursue Gruden using all the vigor Tommy Lee Jones pursued Harrison Ford with in The Fugitive. They should pin back their ears and give chase.

Around the NFL, you hear of the small regard Davis and Gruden hold for each other. Davis hasn't offered Gruden an extension that is anywhere close to market value. He wasn't crazy that Gruden didn't reject the Notre Dame overtures out of hand. He isn't crazy about Gruden's offense. More than anything, he doesn't like how many view these as Gruden's Raiders instead of Davis' Raiders.

Still, Gruden's team has reached the second round of the playoffs. Davis isn't likely to toss that aside. Especially not if another team wants Gruden so badly. Do you think Davis wants two Mike Shanahans in the league?

So here's the deal. Rich McKay, who should be signing that new contract for gobs of money and scads of years any minute now, should get Davis on the phone (1 800-VAM-PIRE) and make him an offer he can't refuse.

"Look, Al," McKay should say. "You don't care for Jon, and he doesn't care for you. So here is your choice. You can either hang on to him and watch him coach the Raiders through another year that will drive both of you bonzo and lose him for nothing, maybe even across the bay to the 49ers. Or you can make a deal and look like a genius for getting something for a coach you don't really want."

What is the going price on credibility? What do you offer for a coach who can save your offense and save your bacon? How much do you offer for someone who makes you look smart instead of dumb, bright instead of bumbling, hungry instead of humbled?

If the Raiders want a first-round draft pick, I give it. If they want the Lawrence Welk deal, a 1, a 2 and a 3, I ask how many years the picks are spread across. If they want a player, there are only a few untouchables.

Is Gruden the only coach who could do the job? Of course not. There must be some temptation to sign someone who will provide the joy of a simple yes. When your fingers have been burned, the temptation is to shorten your reach.

The Bucs, however, need to hit a home run. After firing Dungy, after watching Spurrier head north, after being jilted by Parcells, the fences have been moved way, way back.

Turner? Couple his offensive skills with Monte Kiffen's defense, and it could work.

Saban? A lot of people think highly of him. But it isn't as if his college teams were busting at the trophy case.

Schottenheimer? He's the same coach as Dungy, only not as good a guy. Besides, he appears on his way to San Diego to take more food off Turner's table.

From here, there seems to be only one hero.

If the Bucs want him, they should go get him.

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