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Bucs are back to square one

With GM Rich McKay at the controls again, the team's coaching search begins anew.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2002

TAMPA -- A day after one of the biggest gaffes in their blunderful history, the Bucs wanted to clear up a popular misconception.

TAMPA -- A day after one of the biggest gaffes in their blunderful history, the Bucs wanted to clear up a popular misconception.

Somebody will, they insist, stop laughing long enough to accept the team's coaching job.

Despite being stunned by Bill Parcells' decision Friday not to return to the sideline, Bucs general manager Rich McKay said the team will recover from the embarrassing episode.

"The reality is, obviously, that we have suffered a setback here and we are going to have to deal with it, but we still at the end of the day have an awfully good football team with a lot of pieces in place," McKay said during a conference call Saturday. "A great stadium, a great fan base -- and the issue of the head coach -- I just don't want to create the perception out there that "Geez, the Buccaneers are done and they are not going to be a good football team.' We are.

"We just have to solve that issue and it's a big issue, and it's not one we necessarily planned on solving at this time, but we will. I guess that is kind of where my focus is today. I'm not real focused on what went on in the past, about what transpired, but rather what we have in front of us."

McKay said he had not compiled a list of candidates and had no timetable to replace Tony Dungy, who was fired after six seasons Monday night.

Speculation now centers on Raiders coach Jon Gruden, 38, who has one season remaining on his contract. Oakland was eliminated from the playoffs Saturday night with a 16-13 loss in overtime at New England.

Raiders owner Al Davis has appeared reluctant to sign Gruden to an extension and his coach might not want to return for a lame-duck season.

The Bucs have to hope that Gruden becomes available or Davis allows him to move to Tampa Bay in exchange for draft picks. McKay would not discuss Gruden, who has ties to Tampa Bay. His father, Jim, was an assistant with the Bucs for John McKay and lives in Tampa. His brother, Jay, is the former quarterback for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena League and now plays for the Orlando Predators.

"My comment is that he is under contract with the Oakland Raiders," McKay said. "My other comment would be that I really won't comment on any other candidates, today or throughout the process."

McKay virtually ruled out the possibility of Parcells changing his mind or the Bucs asking Dungy to return.

In fact, the Colts have stepped up their aggressive pursuit of Dungy, who visited with the Panthers on Friday.

Before Dungy had a chance to leave for Charlotte, Colts general manager Bill Polian met with him last week at his Tampa home. Dungy was expected to have another meeting with Colts owner Jim Irsay at an undisclosed location today.

Other candidates for the Bucs' coaching position likely would include Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Louisiana State coach Nick Saban and former Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer, to name a few.

As of late Saturday afternoon, LSU officials said the Bucs had not asked for permission to interview Saban.

"I haven't made any list," McKay said. "I saw some places where there are lists out there and I can assure you we haven't made a list and don't necessarily have a time line. I kind of harkened back to '96 when we didn't get Jimmy Johnson and we didn't get Steve Spurrier and the thought was we weren't going to get a good football coach. I can assure you, we will.

"We just have to go back to the process of taking our time and doing the research and talking to the various candidates, both known and unknown, and try to figure out what is best for us."

With the withdrawal of Parcells and his prospective general manager, Mike Tannenbaum, remaining with the Jets, McKay said he will remain as the Bucs general manager and head the coaching search. He said there have been no more discussions about him taking the position of team president.

McKay said he had not spoken with Parcells but accepted the explanation of the two-time Super Bowl coach that he wasn't prepared to make the commitment.

"I did talk with (Parcells' agent) Jimmy Sexton on a couple occasions. I'm left with absolutely no doubt that he is not going to coach again."

McKay said the Parcells' episode has been damaging.

"I think this. I think we lost some credibility that we worked very hard to get," McKay said. "We'll get it back. Before we had no credibility because we deserved no credibility. This is a setback, no question. But we are still a team that has won 30 games over the last three years. I think we are still a very talented team, still an attractive place to play and so I don't think we can take as that we are back in the late '80s."

McKay spent Saturday morning meeting with his scouting staff to discuss the list of players the team will make available Tuesday for the expansion draft and he plans to attend the Senior Bowl workouts with Bucs coaches in Mobile, Ala.

"I met today with my guys and kind of went through our priorities, which include the expansion draft list on Tuesday, which include the Senior Bowl, all of us going up there on Monday, and which include searching for a head coach."

McKay said the process of finding a coach could take until the Super Bowl or beyond.

And what criteria do the Bucs have?

"This is a cliche answer and I apologize for giving it, but truly the best football coach that fits our team," McKay said. "Because I don't think it necessarily means the marquee name, it doesn't mean anything. It means: Who is the best football coach? And it could come from a lot of different places. To me, this is a process ... you don't do it by panic."

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