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Assistants awaiting word on 2008 status
About two dozen staff members to meet with GM.
By RICK STROUD
Published January 8, 2008
TAMPA - Jon Gruden says he plans to build around a team that already has the heart of a champion.
But some heads could roll on the coaching staff after Sunday's 24-14 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC wild-card game.
The contracts of about two dozen members of the coaching and football support staff are set to expire, including that of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
In a five-minute staff meeting Monday morning, Gruden told coaches to make an appointment with general manager Bruce Allen to discuss their future.
Most changes are likely to be made on the offensive staff, where line coach Bill Muir, receivers coach Richard Mann, running backs coach Art Valero and assistant line coach Aaron Kromer are among those without contracts for 2008.
The Bucs (9-8) finished 18th in total offense and averaged 20.9 points a game this season.
In fact, the Bucs have expressed interest in Bill Callahan, whose four-year stint as Nebraska's coach ended Nov.24. He led the Cornhuskers to their only two losing seasons in 45 years.
Callahan succeeded Gruden as Raiders coach for two seasons, losing to the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII. Callahan spent four seasons as Oakland's offensive coordinator under Gruden.
By far, the biggest concern for the Bucs is locking up Kiffin, who is among the league's highest-paid coordinators at $1.7-million per year. The Bucs improved from 17th overall in defense to second this season despite not having a single Pro Bowl player.
Gruden said he expects Kiffin to return to the Bucs.
"I hope so," Gruden said. "Again, there's a lot of things that have to be worked out as you know. But Monte Kiffin is a great friend, a great coach and a hell of a leader."
On thing that might hamper the Bucs' ability to attract coaching candidates is Gruden's status. He has one year left on his contract and is likely to get an extension after leading the Bucs to their second NFC South title in three years.
"I don't even really know the status of my contract other than I'm going to fulfill the contract that I signed. I'm going to work as hard as I can to help this team get back to the Super Bowl," Gruden said. "All those issues will take care of themselves. As I said earlier this year, this is the best job in football. I'm fortunate to have the job, and I'm content, and I'm working hard at it."
In many ways, the Bucs overachieved this season, especially considering the vast array of injuries to key players like Cadillac Williams, Mike Alstott and Luke Petitgout.
But Gruden said the team showed a lot of character and got huge contributions from seldom-used players such as running back Earnest Graham, tackle Donald Penn and defensive end Greg White.
"We may not have won a Super Bowl championship. We won a division championship, and that's a great accomplishment in itself," Gruden said. "But in the National Football League, it's not enough. But we do have the heart of a champion."
The Bucs will start by trying to add playmakers on offense and upgrading team speed.
Guys do make profound impacts in games," Gruden said. "You turn on SportsCenter and you see week in and week out some of the greatest plays you'll ever see. We need that here certainly. ... We did have a guy lead the (NFC) in yards per catch. Almost 18 yards per grab - (Joey) Galloway - and we missed him (Sunday). We lost a guy we think can hit the ball out of the park in Cadillac Williams. We need these guys."
Gruden said he believes the Bucs can win a title with quarterback Jeff Garcia next year.
"He certainly showcased that he has juice left," Gruden said. "Obviously we have to keep him healthy for 16 games, but I think there's a lot left in Garcia's tank, I certainly do."
Gruden said it was tough to address his players for the final time Monday morning.
"The best way to explain it, I guess, was that the stadium atmosphere yesterday was unbelievable," he said. "The flags, the noise, the passion, the excitement, and now it's suddenly quiet. To say goodbye to these guys this morning was very emotional for me and very hard because they mean a lot to me and I'm proud of them."