|Gruden proves how much coaching matters
By John Clayton
SAN DIEGO -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up two first-round choices, two second-round choices and $8 million to acquire head coach Jon Gruden. Following Super Bowl XXXVII, the Gruden deal looks like the steal of a new century.
Gruden taught Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis a lesson he didn't learn when Davis let Mike Shanahan go and emerge as a two-time Super Bowl winner in Denver. Coaches win championships, too. Sure, Davis always says that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, but a great coach can neutralize that. Go back in history and review the names -- Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells, etc.
The Super Bowl trophy is named after a coach, Lombardi, not a player. That's the special appeal of Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden remade the Raiders during his brief stay. On Sunday, he pounded them 48-21. The teacher, Gruden, whipped the pupil, Bill Callahan. That's coaching.
So hours after releasing the demons from the Bucs history of cold-weather losses by whipping the Eagles in the NFC championship game, Gruden went to work on beating the Raiders. He moved from his first-class seat to one near defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to discuss the ways to beat the Raiders.
By the end of the week, Gruden had the Bucs' defense knowing the Raiders better than the Raiders knew himself. Gruden stood up in meetings, and player by player, went through the Raiders' offensive roster, giving them pointers.
The highlight of the week came Thursday when Gruden took the role of the scout-team quarterback. He was Rich Gannon. He went behind center and started making the calls as though he was a miniaturized version of the NFL's MVP.
"The quarterback films verify it that I did complete two or three passes,'' Gruden said. "I wanted them to know what it's like with him in command. I was very intimidating underneath center.''
Kiffin appreciated the help because he has developed a smart defense in perfecting his "Cover 2" scheme in Tampa over the past six years. And naturally, having a coach do something different makes practices fun. Players respond.
At the same time, Gruden is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. He's 39, not much older than some of the elder statesmen on the Bucs and younger than a few of the Raiders.
"Gruden looked like Gannon, and nobody can be like Gannon,'' Kiffin said. "But he can because he knows Gannon because he put in that system with him. Also, Jon is a former quarterback. He made a couple of nice completions.''
Those 12 plays during Thursday's practice seemed like 30, and carried over to Sunday when the Bucs limited Gannon to 24 completions in 44 attempts and five interceptions. Gannon's quarterback rating was 48.9.
"(Gruden) went down the field on us during that whole thing and dominated,'' Bucs safety John Lynch said. "I think he dominated because we were laughing so hard. We couldn't believe it.''
Still, Gruden has coached long enough to know that smart players would pick up on his coaching style and the information.
"It was kinda cool,'' defensive end Simeon Rice said. "For me, I'm a guy who reacts. For a guy like Derrick Brooks, I think he picked it up and took advantage of it. It was in his head. And we were in his (Gannon's) head because of it. It was a great tip-off for someone like Derrick.''
Brooks couldn't believe what was happening on the field. He looked across the line of scrimmage at Gannon and remembered those dozen plays.
"Mainly, (Gruden) was throwing passes himself and showing us his tendencies and his audible calls,'' Brooks said. "I was kinda embarrassed because he completed a few passes. Sure enough, I'm over there during the game, and some of the words coach used in practice and some of the tendencies I heard were the same thing in the game. It was uncanny.''
It would appear to be easy to beat a team that traded you like a used car, but it wasn't as easy as you might think. Emotions are involved. The Raiders were Gruden's first head coaching job. And even though he might be verbally tough on his players, Gruden is a player's coach.
Sure, he was preparing to leave the Raiders after the 2002 season, the last year of his contract. He wasn't particularly fond of the organizational structure. But he was willing to coach his final season and do his best. All of a sudden, he got a call late in a February night from Davis saying that he could negotiate with the Bucs. He had been traded.
That hurt. The terms of the trade meant that he couldn't take along any of the coaches he had hired in Oakland. He thought people understood, but they didn't. At the scouting combine, he heard rumblings from his former coaches that they weren't happy with some of the things he was saying.
"You hear guys laughing behind your back, talking about 'he said, she said,' this thing and that thing,'' Gruden said. "I take a lot of pride in this profession. I do the best I can. To make a long story short, it's just been an emotional week.
"I apologize about how I got here, any feelings that I have hurt. I am just excited about being a head coach in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs and to win a Super Bowl is something that I can't describe how great I feel. That's the best I can give you.''
That's what he gave the Bucs. He gave them the best preparation for a game in the 37 years of Super Bowls.
But the sniping won't stop. After the game he was hearing complaints from the Raiders that he picked up some of their audibles. Duh, he put those audibles in. If they didn't change the audibles enough for this game, then shame on the Raiders coaching staff.
"That must be a conspiracy theory,'' Gruden said of the audible charge. "I am unaware of that.''
Gruden can take credit for two things. One, the Bucs are world champs because of him. Second, he had a better day passing against the Bucs' defense Thursday than Gannon did Sunday.
In the end, it was about the coach.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.