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Gruden not likely to be available

Raiders may force coach to finish contract or demand more than Bucs are willing to pay.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

TAMPA -- Like the disputed play that eliminated the Oakland Raiders from the postseason, where Jon Gruden coaches next season will not be his call.

Gruden, 38, said Monday he plans to honor the final season of his five-year contract.

Although he did not directly mention Tampa Bay, he indicated there had been no contact with the Bucs, and the chances of Gruden coaching another team next season appear remote.

"There's been a lot of speculation since I've been here. I only deal with the facts," Gruden said Monday at his season-ending news conference. "My own personal status will be determined.

"Right now, I'm playing out the last year of a five-year contract, and we'll see. But I can't sit here and tell you that I'm going after anybody's jobs or anything at all. I'm in here working and I realize there's speculation."

Gruden's fate rests in the hands of Raiders owner Al Davis. Gruden's agent, Bob Lamont, reportedly will ask the Raiders in the next few days for the opportunity to speak with other teams, including Tampa Bay, about their vacant coaching jobs.

Because Gruden is not expected to sign an extension and none has been offered, Davis has several options.

He could force Gruden to return as coach of the Raiders, the only repeat division winner this season, and deal with more speculation next season. Gruden's link to jobs with Notre Dame and the University of Florida were distractions to the Raiders.

Or Davis could control Gruden's destination by asking for compensation from the Bucs, as he is unlikely to be with the Raiders a year from now anyway.

The Bucs, who need to improve an offense that never ranked higher than 21st overall under Tony Dungy, would be reluctant to deal draft picks for Gruden.

And because Gruden is under contract, the Bucs would need Davis' permission to talk with the coach because of the league's tampering rules.

General manager Rich McKay, attending the Senior Bowl workouts in Mobile, Ala., would not comment on Gruden. He said the Bucs have not called any candidates but are compiling a list of people they may contact this week.

That list likely will include Louisiana State coach Nick Saban and Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who is not expected to remain if Marty Schottenheimer takes over as expected.

The Bucs could wait until after the Super Bowl to interview Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, a Florida graduate whose first coaching job was with the Bucs under Sam Wyche.

"The process continues," McKay said. "It will not be one we try to do in the public eye. We'll do a lot of it behind the scenes, but be assured, we really haven't done anything concrete so far."

Gruden would be at the top of the list if he were available, and he could restore credibility after the embarrassing episode involving Bill Parcells. Gruden is 38-26 in four seasons after taking over a 4-12 team in '97 and is intense and offensive-minded, traits lacking for the Bucs under Dungy.

Monday, Gruden was peppered with questions about his future and the apparent fumble by New England quarterback Tom Brady that would have sealed a divisional playoff win for the Raiders but was ruled an incomplete pass. The Raiders lost 16-13 in overtime.

He said he was concentrating on improving the Raiders but admitted his wobbly status might negatively impact the team's dealings with free agents.

"Free agency and all those visits and all those recruiting trips are in the future," Gruden said. "This whole contract situation will resolve itself in my opinion. When it does, it does. I take a lot of pride in what we've been able to do in free agency here. And obviously, the security of a coach is a factor and we'll see what happens.

"I'd like a lot of things, but again, I'm not going to publicly talk about my contract or what I want personally."

That leaves the Bucs focusing on other candidates, but McKay said not to expect a decision soon.

"I think the bottom line is you hire the best football coach," he said. "You do try to find somebody that fits us, fits our organization, fits our football team, where we are as a football team. And that's easier said than done."

-- Staff writer Darrell Fry contributed to this report.

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