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In search of a face-saver for Bucs

The team's hunt for a coach requires both patience and urgency.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002


TAMPA -- General manager Rich McKay represents the last hope for the Bucs to restore credibility and resuscitate their coaching situation.

When you let Steve Spurrier go to the Redskins, fire Tony Dungy and get double-crossed again by Bill Parcells, your expectations should be just north of Sam Wyche.

The Raiders' Jon Gruden is an enticing pursuit. After the Parcells fiasco, hiring Gruden would represent the best rescue since Apollo 13.

Here, then, a look at just the obvious candidates McKay must consider:

Jon Gruden, Raiders coach

Gruden's agent, Bob Lamont, is trying to keep the heat on Davis, saying there's "zero percent chance" Gruden will return to the Raiders after 2002. That's roughly the odds McKay believes the Bucs have of hiring Gruden for next season

Davis could ask for a No. 1 pick, Warren Sapp, cash and a Glazer or a combination of the same. But NFL insiders suggest Davis will be more inclined to wait until no openings exist in late February before cutting Gruden loose than to knuckle under.

WHAT McKAY IS THINKING: At 38, Gruden already is among the top five coaches in the NFL. He'd light a fire under the Bucs, and more importantly, bring a proven offensive system and play-calling acumen never seen in Tampa Bay. McKay doesn't believe he has a chance. But just in case, he's in no hurry. Good things come to those who wait.

WHAT THE THINKING IS HERE: McKay also didn't believe the Jets would trade Keyshawn Johnson. But he has to consider Gruden as off-limits as Mike Martz. Hiring a coach for one year on the hope that Gruden will coach the Bucs in 2003 smacks of Richard Williamson. I'll need smelling salts if Gruden coaches the Bucs next season.

Nick Saban, LSU coach

Saban, 50, has few peers as a defensive strategist and is likely waiting for the right invitation to leap to the NFL. This could be it.

He has six seasons as a defensive coordinator or secondary coach in the league. His teams at Michigan State and LSU have been constant overachievers. He brings discipline and is such a taskmaster that few assistants want to work for him. After Saban was hired at LSU from Michigan State, LSU sent a plane north to pick up any members of his staff who wanted to follow him to Baton Rouge. The plane returned empty.

No problem. Monte Kiffin and the Bucs entire defensive staff is under contract for another year.

WHAT McKAY IS THINKING: Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo, the director of player personnel in Tampa Bay for more than a decade, likely would have hired Saban to replace Dick Jauron had the Bears not gone 13-3. All those years with Angelo converted McKay.

Saban also is represented by Parcells' agent, Jimmy Sexton, who's still on the Glazer's speed dial. But national signing day is Feb. 6 and you don't get caught talking with Saban unless you're ready to pull the trigger.

WHAT THE THINKING IS HERE: Before this is over, Saban will get strong consideration. Heck, he might even be who McKay hires. But timing is everything and the window for college coaches jumping to the NFL began to close about the time Spurrier resigned. Of course, sandbagging recruits doesn't bother everyone. Just ask Butch Davis.

Norv Turner, Chargers offensive coordinator

Nobody wants the Bucs' job more than Turner, who will be passed over by the Chargers for Marty Schottenheimer.

Turner has a perfect opportunity to join buddy Dave Wannstedt as o.c. in Miami and will do so in a heartbeat if he discovers he's not on McKay's short list.

WHAT McKAY IS THINKING: Some guys make better coordinators than head coaches and McKay is wondering if Turner fits that description. Turner had some rough years in his only head-coaching stint with the Redskins (49-59-1), reaching the playoffs once in seven seasons before he was fired with three games remaining in 2000.

There's no disputing, however, his brilliance as an offensive strategist and play-caller. Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson passed for more than 4,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl for Turner. He would be a perfect complement to Kiffin's defense. But does he have the right temperament to lead the Bucs after the passive Dungy?

WHAT THE THINKING IS HERE: If you believe, as the Bucs say they do, that Tampa Bay is Super Bowl ready with just a little tweaking on offense, Turner is your guy. He's the reason you keep Kiffin and company chained up. It's a perfect fit, so naturally, it'll probably never happen.

Mike Mularkey, Steelers offensive coordinator

The 40-year-old Mularkey will get a huge publicity bump if the Steelers reach the Super Bowl. He's credited with turning around quarterback Kordell Stewart, no small accomplishment, and giving Pittsburgh one of the most balanced attacks in the NFL.

A former Gator tight end, he made the short list at UF when Spurrier resigned.

WHAT McKAY IS THINKING: Mularkey started his NFL coaching career for McKay and Wyche in Tampa Bay breaking down film in 1994. This is only his first season calling plays, but some guys, like Gruden, have a knack for it. Mularkey's philosophy is ball control with explosive plays on play-action, which would play to the strength of the Bucs defense. McKay will wait until the Steelers are through playing to talk to this rising star.

WHAT THE THINKING IS HERE: This is the perfect McKay hire. It'd be his discovery, like Dungy, who had not been given a chance to see what he can do as a head coach. But the inexperience is a risk and Mularkey is not in-your-face like his boss, Bill Cowher.

Marvin Lewis, Ravens defensive coordinator

Lewis is on everybody's list these days. How can you ignore what he has done with Baltimore's defense in the past two seasons? His team shattered the NFL record for fewest points allowed with 165 in 2000.

He was overlooked in Buffalo in favor of Gregg Williams last year and finished somewhere behind John Fox last week in Carolina. With only two African-American head coaches in the NFL, Lewis faces the same prejudices of the most racially imbalanced league in major pro sports.

WHAT McKAY IS THINKING: This man deserves an interview, and not just because McKay is a puppet for Paul Tagliabue. The Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer and reached the divisional playoff with Elvis Grbac at quarterback. Lewis may not require an offense to win as a head coach, which makes him perfect for the Bucs. But Lewis' resume reads too much like Dungy's and his offensive philosophy and projected coordinator would have to sell McKay.

WHAT THE THINKING IS HERE: Lewis gets interviewed, not hired. He goes on to coach another team and makes the playoffs about 60 percent of the time, which by the way, is close to the record of African-American head coaches.

Dennis Green, former Vikings coach

Dennis became a menace for owner Red McCombs' quest for a new stadium, but nobody ever dogged his record. A year ago, the Vikings were in the NFC title game. Only Bill Cowher had been with one organization as long as Green when he was fired. You want points, hire Denny.

WHAT McKAY IS THINKING: He's admired Green's unmatched record for success and his ability to get it out of a myriad of quarterbacks or coordinators. Green gets his teams ready to play on Sunday. His weakness has been he never spent enough on defense, and the Bucs have taken care of that.

WHAT THE THINKING IS HERE: If McKay is conducting a truly open search, he contacts Green. At the end of the day, Green's friendship with Dungy and his perceived lack of discipline on his teams with Randy Moss, et al, might make it an impossible hire.

BUCS COACHING CANDIDATES

JON GRUDEN

AGE: 38.

STATUS: One year left on contract as coach of Raiders.

HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE: 38-26 in four seasons with Raiders.

STROUD COMMENT: You won't get over on Darth Raider.

NICK SABAN

AGE: 50.

STATUS: Completed second season as coach at LSU.

HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE: 18-7 in two seasons at LSU (2000-01); 34-24-1 in five seasons at Michigan State (1995-99); 9-2 in one season at Toledo (1990).

STROUD COMMENT: LSU holds that Tiger.

NORV TURNER

AGE: 49.

STATUS: Completed first season as offensive coordinator with Chargers.

HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE: 49-59-1 in seven seasons with Redskins (1994-2000).

STROUD COMMENT: Could try to get the Dolphins to San Diego for 2003 Super Bowl.

MIKE MULARKEY

AGE: 40.

STATUS: In first season as offensive coordinator with Steelers.

HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE: None.

STROUD COMMENT: Steelers' playoff run delays the search.

MARVIN LEWIS

AGE: 43.

STATUS: Completed sixth season as defensive coordinator with Ravens.

HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE: None.

STROUD COMMENT: Better luck next year.

DENNIS GREEN

AGE: 52.

STATUS: Bought out of contract as coach of Vikings.

HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE: 97-63 in 10 seasons with Vikings (1992-2001); 16-18 in three seasons at Stanford (1989-91): 10-45 in five seasons at Northwestern (1981-85).

STROUD COMMENT: Will host a fishing show and hook up next year.

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