Yeah, Gruden. You remember him.
I think its safe to say that the Tampa Bay Bucs coach had lost his golden-boy luster over the last two or three seasons. Even after taking the Bucs to the playoffs last year, he just didnt have the aroma of a hometown idol.
The reasons are many. Gruden has earned a reputation as a manipulative, untrustworthy guy. Inside info and rumors from players past and present have painted him as a snake. He has reportedly been big on promising players contracts and considerations, then sending them to the GMs office when the bill is due. He tends to blackball players, bury them on the depth chart and leave them there to rot.
In the preseason, all the misinformation about wooing Brett Favre took its toll on team morale and further tarnished Grudens image. It also appeared to destroy the relationship between him and QB Jeff Garcia.
It was, there goes Chuckie again cant trust him as far as you can throw him; cant believe a word he says. Worst of all, fans have felt that they're being lied to.
His antics, outbursts and facial contortions, once sorta cute, became ugly. When I saw Gruden cursing Brian Griese up one side and down the other during a preseason game, I thought to myself, This guy really is a card-carrying prick.
And now the Bucs are 5-2. Did anyone expect them to be 5-2? They are playing passionately and cohesively and they haven't defeated a bunch of stiffs (except Seattle). So Gruden justly deserves a lot of the credit.
You might argue that the Bucs defense is still the teams bell cow, and that credit goes to Monte Kiffin. But it also goes to Gruden, who apparently gets out of Montes way.
The offense looks better, although you still get the sense that it could vanish at any moment, especially against a powerhouse defense.
More than anything, I give Gruden props for how he handled he quarterback situation once the Favre thing ended. Garcia came to camp late and hurt, both physically and emotionally. He looked lousy in Game 1 against New Orleans. Gruden had the balls to yank him.
In retrospect, it looked as if Garcia needed some physical and mental rehab, to get his leg healthy and be reminded that he could be benched. To be reminded that at 38, banishment to the bench wouldn't do much for his future prospects or legacy. If that seems harsh, well, as they say, it's a tough racket.
Some players might've sulked, but Garcia just got fired up. Gruden knew that would happen. I maintained this season that Garcia should've been the Bucs QB all along, but Griese performed just well enough to snag a couple of wins.
Then he did Gruden a big favor: He got injured. That allowed for a relatively smooth transition back to Garcia, culminating in last night's win over the Seahawks, where he looked spectacular (from what I could see, switching over from the Rays game).
Tampa Bay has remaining contests against bottom-feeders Kansas City, Oakland and Detroit. Plus a rematch in Tampa against New Orleans, as well as games against Atlanta and Carolina, which the Bucs have beaten already. San Diego and Minnesota at home sure look winnable. Even next week's game at Dallas, if Tony Romo doesn't play, seems like a solid shot.
So that's it: 14-2, and the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs.
Of course not. But in this topsy-turvy NFL season, the Bucs have been one of the more consistent teams. And they appear to be getting stronger.
Give Gruden his due. And let's hope the good times roll in Tampa Bay long past the Rays and the World Series.