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Correct change

Some league observers applaud the Bucs for their adaptability this offseason.

DAVE SCHEIBER
Published May 23, 2004

So how does the football world at large view the new Bucs? Opinions are mixed, but various league observers like what Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen are doing.

Ron Wolf, retired general manager of the Packers and an early Bucs executive, says their 21 free-agent signings won't affect team chemistry, because chemistry "is an overused phrase" and no longer exists due to free agency.

"It's adaptability today, not chemistry," Wolf says. "The only business left today is "Can you win?' It's different than five years ago. Now it's the new football: What did you do for me yesterday? The ownership wants to win. It's not about building or anything else."

As for character concerns, Wolf says: "You're trying to take every tool that's available to you, and if it requires that you move down a little and take a turn in the road to better your team, you do that."

Ken Herock, former player personnel director for the Raiders and Bucs, worked with Gruden and Allen in Oakland and says he understands their approach:

"What they've done, really, is just change the offense. That was the problem. Defensively, they've lost (Warren) Sapp and (John) Lynch, and that's a problem, but they feel they have good replacements for them."

He has no problem with the Darrell Russell signing, because Gruden knew Russell in Oakland, signed him for the minimum of $535,000 and will keep him on a short leash.

Former Redskins quarterback and ESPN analyst Joe Theismann defends the Russell addition on similar grounds and says too much is made of the character issue.

"Jon has brought in a bunch of good character players: Derrick Deese, Matt Stinchcomb, Todd Steussie," Theismann says. "Wasn't Warren a bit of a stinker at times? So people are out there saying, "My gosh, what's he doing?' What he's doing is bringing in, No. 1, football players he's familiar with and, No. 2, football players he feels can help the Bucs win."

Theismann played for a coach known for building his team around high character players, Joe Gibbs. Still, says the former quarterback, "There were a lot of things our guys did in the '80s that people today would look at and say, "Are you kidding me?' We had a great time. This has never been a league of angels."

Theismann doesn't fault Gruden for releasing Lynch and likens the situation to the 49ers' release of the popular Ronnie Lott, who went on to play several seasons for the Jets.

"People are looking at it like he didn't do John Lynch right," Theismann says. "Hey, this isn't a fraternity. It's a business."

"If we didn't have the salary cap, it wouldn't be as much of a business as it is right now," says Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and Fox Sports pre-game co-host Terry Bradshaw. "In Lynch's case, I thought he was one person they should definitely keep. He's a good man, a team guy, a leader. ... So I thought he was their one bad moment this offseason.

"Getting rid of Warren Sapp? Not a problem. Unload him. Selfish player. Keyshawn? Selfish player. You don't need that."

"I think the way John left was unfortunate," says ESPN's John Clayton. "He was owed as much contact and communication as he possibly could get. It's not the decision to let him go, but the way they did it."

John Feinstein, best-selling sports book author, contends that the hardest thing to do in sports "is to figure out at what moment you let go of a star, a fan favorite and how to handle it."

There are two different issues at play, says Feinstein: the football decision vs. the interpersonal.

"There are ways to do it," he says. "First, you talk to the guy and say, "We've decided to do this.' Then you say, "What's the best way to make this happen - how do you want to make your exit?' Let him choose his exit line. If he goes kicking and screaming, that's his choice. But then you all you have to do is defend the football decision, not try to defend being insensitive to a guy who's given 10 years or whatever to his team."

Lynch's exit line didn't come for two months, at a hockey venue, not the sold-out football stadium he always imagined. The new Bucs, meanwhile, still are being viewed as by many fans as insensitive and callous.

Come December, it could either be much worse, or all but forgotten.

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