Coach's move proves to be win-win situation

January 23, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

SAN DIEGO - Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls. Don Shula had the perfect season. Vince Lombardi seemed to set the standard for every NFL coach, and Bill Walsh was the first modern-day "genius."

But none of them achieved what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jon Gruden did this season. He became the first coach to get two teams to the Super Bowl in the same season.

Call the folks at Ripley's.

In four years in Oakland, Gruden ticked off the Raiders so much that they wanted to prove he was the reason they didn't win a Super Bowl. In Tampa Bay, the Bucs needed a shot of adrenaline to overcome the passive and player-friendly work of Tony Dungy.

So they hired Gruden, who always has a boulder-sized chip on his little shoulders and is nicknamed "Chucky" for his resemblance to the evil doll in the Child's Play horror movies.

Thus, Super Bowl XXXVII was born.

Check that. It's being called the Chucky Bowl.

We've seen this act before. Owners like to hire coaches in good cop, bad cop succession. The change can provide a spark, break clubs out of several-year doldrums. When the Dallas Cowboys got tired of Jimmy Johnson's foot- stomping, hell-raising, detail-oriented methods in 1994, they brought in good ol' boy Barry Switzer, who won a Super Bowl in his second season.

San Francisco 49ers players were so tired of Walsh declaring himself a genius that they rallied around his replacement and first-year coach, George Seifert, to win Super Bowl XXIV, and let the world know that great players like Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and John Taylor make great teams, not the coach.

We can look back to Baltimore in 1970, when Don McCafferty, nicknamed "Easy Rider," replaced Shula, the coach many of the Colts despised. The Colts beat Dallas, 16-13, in Super Bowl V, basically because they were on a mission.

"There was a lot of animosity toward Shula, especially from Unitas [late Colts quarterback John Unitas], and that kind of spilled over to the rest of the players," said former Colts running back Tom Matte. "Shula had lost the '64 title game to Cleveland and the '68 game to the Jets, so when he left, we wanted to prove to the world and to Shula that we had a great team.

"McCafferty kind of left it up to the players. He spearheaded it, but the players had a major input into the game plan. He was always looking for that from the veterans. He would say to the younger guys: `I don't have time to go through this, but go over there and live with Matte.' "

Sound familiar?

That's what happened in Oakland this season.

Mr. Nice Guy, Bill Callahan, replaced Gruden, Mr. Nasty. Basically, Callahan offered direction, but he let veterans like Rod Woodson, Jerry Rice, Rich Gannon, Tim Brown and Bill Romanowski have major input.

He wanted to be the anti-Gruden.

It was great motivation because the Raiders often complained about Gruden's long meetings and practices. They said he changed team policy too often and had more faces off the field than he showed on game day. One minute he said he was going to defend the players, the next day he would rip them in the media.

The Raiders owe a lot to Chucky.

"He wants to rule the world," said Raiders offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy. "I'm 6-7, he is 5-foot-nothing. ... He has this little scrunch on his face when you are around him. He takes little shots at you. It's funny. I laugh every time I see him. I think he likes having the attention. That is just the type of person he is. It's just tickling to me to see someone of his stature act like that."

Oakland receiver Jerry Porter said: "When Gruden left, I breathed a sigh of relief. I talked with Coach Callahan and got back to football. He [Gruden] created an uptight atmosphere around the practice facility and at meetings. When he was here, did we get to the Super Bowl? He might have been holding us back."

Maybe.

But Gruden was the spark the Bucs needed. Dungy is a good football coach, and his players love him, but he lacks a killer instinct. In the NFC title game on Sunday in Philadelphia, there is no question Dungy would have been content with field goals. Gruden went in attacking, having so many weapons that UN inspectors were contacted.

OK, maybe Gruden is a hot dog. No, he really is one.

Those sideline faces and antics are contrived, but he doesn't get any more mug time than Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher, Washington's Steve Spurrier or the Ravens' Brian Billick.

Gruden can be a jerk at times, but his energy and emotion are almost unmatched in the league.

"Gruden gives you those speeches in meetings and you're like, `What is this guy talking about?' It's almost comical," said Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber. "But you buy into it. You love his energy and what he brings to the table, because it's right on his sleeve. I think we needed that in a head coach, and we got it with Jon."

Defensive tackle Warren Sapp said: "If he would tell me to jump off the Walt Whitman Bridge, I would jump off."

Yep, that's exactly what the Bucs needed, and the Raiders needed the complete opposite.

In one city, Gruden is the villain. In another, he is the hero.

He is the story here, the coach who won two AFC West titles in Oakland, but then left last offseason in exchange for two first-round and two second-round draft choices, and $8 million.

It's a deal that worked out for the Bucs and the Raiders, who went in different directions, but got most of what they needed from the same guy, Jon Gruden.

"It becomes a pride factor," said Troy Aikman, the former Cowboys quarterback who played for Johnson and Switzer. "Whenever or whatever the change, players want to prove it's never their fault. They always want to show they have talent. Sometimes a change of pace is a great thing."

Welcome to the Chucky Bowl.

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