Decisions similar but not same

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007


Let's get this straight. Only a few games left in the season. The Falcons are playing at Tampa Bay. A mutiny is about to erupt among players. And a key member of the organization bolts for a better opportunity.

Then-Falcons coach Bobby Petrino?

No, Rich McKay.

It happened with two games left in 2003. With the blessing of the Glazer family, McKay made an unprecedented leap from Bucs general manager to the Falcons as the club's president and general manager.

In fact, the next Sunday, McKay was at Raymond James Stadium sitting in the box of visiting owner Arthur Blank.

So it seemed a bit ironic when McKay was sitting at the news conference the other day in Flowery Branch, Ga., bemoaning Petrino's lack of commitment and sudden change of heart.

"I'm not going there," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of the events in 2003. "I don't want to relive that."

Certainly, neither does McKay. To be fair, these were different sets of circumstances. That's why comparisons are dangerous, if not inevitable.

What Petrino did was unforgivable. He was the guy drawing up game plans and asking the team to follow him, and he left in the dark of the night without addressing players.

If McKay wanted to leave at any time during the '03 season, Gruden probably would've held the door for him. The two had well-documented differences.

And McKay approached the Glazers about the opportunity in Atlanta a month before the deal was finalized.

The Falcons didn't really fault Petrino's decision to return to college coaching, but they had a right to be angry about the way he handled it - leaving 18 days short of fulfilling his first season.

QB SHUFFLE: It's one thing to win three division titles in six years. It's even more of an accomplishment if you do it with three starting quarterbacks.

That's what Gruden will be attempting today if the Bucs can clinch the NFC South title with Jeff Garcia under center.

"I'm just used to it," Gruden said. "We had five in Philadelphia. This has been part of my life. I've been accused of not liking quarterbacks. I actually love them. I haven't put much thought into that part of it, other than you'd like to have a stellar player there for eight or nine years. It would make life a lot easier. But you take a look at the situation and isolate it. Whoever the quarterback is, we try to get the most out of him as we can."

SIT OR PLAY?: The Bucs haven't clinched the division, so it makes it a tougher decision. But they probably need to sit fullback B.J. Askew today. For that matter, Michael Pittman and Ike Hilliard, too.

Askew hasn't been able to practice in more than a month because of a sprained ankle, and the only thing that can help is rest. Same with Pittman, who will probably try to play against the Falcons.

The Bucs won't be able to drag Hilliard, 31, off the field, but the receiver has ankle, knee and upper back injuries.

If there's a concern, it's the mounting injuries to the running back position. Consider this: what would happen if the Bucs lost Earnest Graham?