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McKay's recommendation on hold

Bucs general manager has reached his decision on a coach, but ownership wants him to continue to pursue Jon Gruden before signing off.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


NEW ORLEANS -- Just when he thought he found the Bucs' new coach, Rich McKay was told to keep looking.

Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis will be named Tampa Bay's coach as early as this week if the Bucs general manager is given the authority to make his selection.

But vice presidents Joel and Bryan Glazer disagree with McKay's plan to hire Lewis because they fear the team will take a step backward.

After meeting with McKay at their hotel Friday, the Glazers insisted the team continue to pursue Raiders coach Jon Gruden. But at least six calls last week to Raiders offices by the Bucs have not been returned, leading McKay to believe that owner Al Davis will not part with his coach. Gruden has one year remaining on his contract and has said he will not coach the Raiders beyond next season.

It might take McKay several more weeks to convince the Glazers that the right move is to hire Lewis and make sweeping personnel changes. But the Bucs owners have grown impatient and want a coach who can win a championship immediately.

"I'm looking for this person to coach beyond when I'm here. I'm not looking for the person to come in and right the ship next season," McKay told the Times on Friday. "You're hiring your football coach to be your football coach tomorrow, next year, the year after and beyond."

McKay apparently has no interest in Louisiana State coach Nick Saban, leaving him to choose among Lewis, former Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Lewis' agent, Ray Anderson, said Saturday he could not confirm a report that the Bucs will hire the Ravens assistant this week.

"I hope it's true, but I have not heard anything from (McKay) or the Bucs," Anderson said. "We're still waiting."

McKay declined comment on the Bucs' coaching search Saturday. But on Friday McKay indicated his choice of coach may not be popular.

In fact, he said it might follow the same path as when he hired Tony Dungy in 1996.

"I know the hiring of a head football coach is the most critical hire," McKay said. "I think what we did well in '96 and we're trying to do well again in this process is hire the best football coach. Period. Don't worry about what the fans are going to say the next day, don't worry about what's going to be written or said. Just hire the best football coach and at the end of the day, you will win."

Lewis, 43, who interviewed with McKay for five hours in Atlanta on Tuesday, would draw immediate comparisons with Dungy, who was fired after six seasons Jan. 7.

Lewis, who if hired would become the third African-American coach among the NFL's 32 teams, has no head-coaching experience and would raise concerns about his ability to improve Tampa Bay's offense.

But by hiring Lewis, McKay would retain his authority on personnel matters. That's important to McKay, who rejected the Glazers' request to move to team president when the Bucs attempted to hire Bill Parcells.

McKay apparently would attempt to retool the Bucs under Lewis, a radical effort that might include trading defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

On Friday, McKay said he believed Sapp and receiver Keyshawn Johnson could play on the same team next season despite their acrimonious relationship. But he admitted the situation would have to be addressed with the new coach.

"You don't act like it's not an issue you don't have to address," McKay said. "I would say that you have to."

While the Glazers may agree to trade Sapp, an eight-year veteran who slipped to six sacks last season, they would prefer not to start over with a rookie coach. They fired Dungy because they believed he could not take the Bucs to the Super Bowl and vigorously pursued Parcells, who won two NFL titles with the Giants.

Dungy's biggest shortcoming was an offense that never ranked higher than 21st despite three starting quarterbacks and three offensive coordinators in the past three seasons.

Lewis is considered a defensive strategist and the architect of a Ravens defense that allowed the fewest points ever during their run to a Super Bowl XXXV title last season.

He would inherit a defensive staff that includes coordinator Monte Kiffin. But he would have to hire an offensive staff.

Gruden, 38, would provide the Bucs with a coach whose team was the only repeat division winner last season and came within a disputed call of playing in the AFC title game.

Gruden, who arrived in New Orleans on Friday night, also has ties to the Tampa Bay area. His father, Jim Gruden, lives in Tampa and brother Jay was coach but now plays for the Orlando Predators of the Arena League.

But Davis, who likely would ask for draft picks, players or a combination as compensation for Gruden, has shown no interest in parting with his coach.

McKay has said the Bucs will wait until after the Super Bowl to name a coach, presumably because they might want to interview more candidates.

But the only reason for waiting would be to meet with Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith or until after Wednesday's national signing day to interview Saban.

McKay apparently has no interest in hiring Saban because the LSU coach might want a bigger role in personnel decisions.

Turner and Mularkey interviewed with McKay in Tampa on Wednesday and would appear to be a better fit for the Bucs because of their offensive backgrounds. But McKay apparently is not impressed with Turner's 49-59-1 record in seven seasons as coach of the Redskins. Mularkey, who began his coaching career with the Bucs in 1994, has only one season as an NFL offensive coordinator.

"All I say is at the end of the day you hire the best coach," McKay said. "And fit is something. But you have to be very comfortable.

"Fans want to win and owners want to win and they want to win yesterday. Don't tell me about tomorrow."

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