Gruden's image glares from both sides of ball

His story line is thread knitting teams together

Super Bowl, Raiders Vs. Bucs

January 23, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - Jon Gruden's past catches up with his future in the 37th Super Bowl on Sunday.

The offense he created with the Oakland Raiders meets the defense he inherited with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFL championship.

In one sense, the 39-year-old Bucs coach can't lose. He will be credited with pushing Tampa Bay over the top if the Bucs win, and for laying the foundation if the Raiders win.

Gruden is easily the biggest story line in this year's Super Bowl, in which a tangle of coaching paths and broken player-coach relationships will cross in Qualcomm Stadium.

Gruden's coaching counterpart is Bill Callahan, who joined Gruden in Philadelphia in 1995 (they were both offensive assistants), followed him to Oakland as offensive coordinator in 1998, and replaced him as head coach this season.

They are friends for life, but enemies for a week.

"It was very professional," Callahan said of his relationship with Gruden. "We were very close, and we collaborated quite a bit on everything we did from a football standpoint, and we were close personally.

"That passion has never subsided. We were always trying to stretch the envelope. He's trying to do the best he can now, and we're trying to do the best we can."

Not all the Raiders are as cordial when it comes to Gruden, although few have been critical. Wide receiver Jerry Porter, for one, doesn't miss Gruden at all.

"He created an uptight atmosphere around the practice facility and meetings," Porter said. "Coach Callahan is more laid back and lets things happen."

Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, who complained during the season that Gruden never called to say goodbye, was more diplomatic.

"He was very instrumental in me being here, in my productivity over the last three, four years," Gannon said. "Everybody knows my relationship with him, how I feel about him. He's a very energetic, enthusiastic guy. He's fun to work with."

In reality, Gruden is very demanding and intense, has a razor-sharp tongue and can deliver his message with a variety of glares and facial distortions. He is a motivator who pays great attention to the smallest detail and has no problem dressing down anyone.

Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson felt Gruden's wrath at least once this season and doesn't necessarily appear to have gotten over it.

"We're here to win this game for us," Johnson said. "We're not here to win it because [Gruden] used to coach the Raiders. We'll let him fight his own battles with those guys if he needs to."

Gruden is not about to light any fires under the Raiders. He has been respectful to Raiders owner Al Davis, supportive of Callahan, effusive in praise of such players as Gannon, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, and self-deprecating on the subject of the king's ransom the Bucs paid to get him.

He left the Raiders abruptly last February for Tampa under questionable terms, having failed to negotiate a contract extension. Rather than enter the last year of a five-year deal as a lame-duck coach, he was allowed to escape to the Bucs for four high draft picks and $8 million in cash.

"I just have a philosophy that everything happens for a reason," Gruden said. "I don't live in a rear-view mirror. I am very proud and very respectful of where I come from. I learned a great deal there and met some profound people - coaches, players - and I met an owner there who taught me a great deal. I have no bitterness. Maybe they do."

His arrival in Tampa wasn't the easiest, either. He had to replace a popular coach, Tony Dungy, who had raised the Bucs from laughingstock to playoff team. Consecutive first-round postseason losses in Philadelphia cost Dungy his job.

Upon taking over, Gruden deftly recognized Dungy's imprint and proceeded to set a new, more aggressive tone.

"In our first meeting, he walked up and recognized the job coach Dungy has done for this team," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "In the same meeting, about 10 minutes later, he squashed it, [saying] `Coach Dungy did what he had to do and if we want to win a championship, we have to move on as a team.'

"He did all of that in the same meeting and I thought that was key, and he earned our respect right there."

Eleven months and one Super Bowl later, Bucs general manager Rich McKay credits Gruden with a masterful transition.

"He figured out how the team operates," McKay said. "He did not try to change that dramatically. He did not try to change the chemistry dramatically because it had been a pretty good place. ... He did a nice job of feeling what he needed to change and how he needed to change it.

"Clearly, he re-energized us."

At a glance

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) vs. Oakland Raiders (13-5)

What: Super Bowl XXXVII

Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: Sunday, 6:18 p.m.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line: Raiders by 3 1/2

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