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Trading places has been great for McKay

By HUBERT MIZELL
Published October 10, 2004

You might guess Rich McKay would be snickering.

Since his teens, the feisty son of original Bucs coach John McKay had been married to the Tampa Bay franchise, rising from ball boy to general manager, graduating along the way from Princeton University and Stetson Law School.

Last season there came a Bucs craving for a new guy (Bruce Allen) to partner with today's coach, Jon Gruden. But now, 21 months after winning Super Bowl XXXVIII, the champs are struggling with an 0-4 record.

McKay was hired in December to run the Falcons. This morning, he's living large at 4-0 in Atlanta. Rich brought in Jim Mora Jr., son of another renowned old coach, to remold the NFL house where Michael Vick lives.

Speaking of abodes, McKay's family recently moved into a palatial Buckhead residence. Life is good. "I told my wife," he said, "that since I was uprooting our family, she should could pick anywhere in Atlanta to live.

"Yes, it's a little bigger place than the one we had in Tampa." Not far from the home of Falcons owner Arthur Blank and the Georgia governor's mansion.

Positives all around.

So, is he gloating?

"No, it doesn't feel good for me to see the losses in Tampa," the boss bird said by telephone. "I've got too many friends there, some still playing and working on the Bucs' staff. I also, after 28 years, have too deep an affinity for the Tampa Bay fan base.

"In this business, it's easy to get bitter. I'm working at not being that way. I'm not reading stories about Tampa Bay games. Every ounce of my professional energy is aimed at making the Falcons better."

McKay jukes past opportunities to criticize Gruden, who became his Bucs adversary, but Rich flows with praise for Mora. "Jim's foundation is wonderful, growing up with Jim Sr., an outgoing and notably passionate NFL coach," he said.

"Jimmy had five seasons under an entirely different coaching style while San Francisco defensive coordinator for a more laid-back kind of fellow, Steve Mariucci. Mora is a great people person.

"To appreciate what has been happening so far this season, look at last year's Falcons, who were 32nd and dead last in league defense. We're defending better now and running with football better. Warrick Dunn (former FSU and Bucs standout) has been explosive."

Vick gets huge media and public attention, even if his raw statistics might not suggest the swift chap with the lethal arm belongs in the same quarterbacking paragraph with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and even Jake Delhomme.

So, what's the juice, Rich?

"Best advocates for Vick are every defensive coordinator who's preparing to play Atlanta," McKay said. "They're all extremely focused No. 1 on dealing with Michael. He is such a factor.

"One of the most rewarding feelings since I've been in Georgia has come from observing Vick's work habits and practice attitude. Last season, Michael was kind of like Trent Dilfer when we first got him in Tampa. I am the beneficiary of Vick being in his fourth season."

Atlanta was 3-11 when McKay went to work Dec. 15. Fate was rich as Rich's first game in a new kingdom was back in Tampa. "My 16-year-old son, Hunter, was wearing his new red-and-black Falcons shirt but he'd been pals with a lot of Bucs players, especially Karl Williams.

"We're sitting in the visiting owner's box, all pulling for the appropriate team. The Truth makes a nice catch and Hunter shouted, "All right, Karl!' My son would immediately become aware that was not the proper reaction in his new environment."

Hunter, a high school sophomore, and brother John, 12, a sixth-grader, are enrolled at Holy Innocence School in Atlanta. Hunter is student manager of the football team and worked the summer doing odd jobs at Falcons camp.

Not all that much different, really, from what his dad was doing in 1976, at 17, around the first-year Bucs after his famous pop left Southern California after winning four collegiate national championships.

Moving on ...

To get his Atlanta deal going, the Falcons won that game 30-28 against the Bucs, then they beat Jacksonville 21-14 to end the season. That means the record is 6-0 since McKay arrived.

"I love the spirit with which we've been playing," he said.

"Sure, it takes talent but attitude is so vital, especially on defense where Mora has things heading in the right direction."

Next up: Detroit in Atlanta today.

Hubert Mizell can be contacted at mmizell02@earthlink.net

[Last modified October 10, 2004, 00:54:25]


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