And we thought the Glazers weren't paying attention.
In a terse statement on their website, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced just before 6 p.m today that they had fired head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen .
Here's the team's statement:
"We will be forever grateful to Jon for bringing us the Super Bowl title, and we thank Bruce for his contributions to our franchise, however after careful consideration, we feel that this decision is in the best interest of our organization moving forward."
Maybe the move doesn't qualify as a shocker, but it's definitely a surprise.
This is not the way head coach firings generally go down in the NFL. The rumor mill usually churns and the community has a sense of what's in the offing. Locally, the sports media was definitely not abuzz with the idea that Gruden was on his way out. Further, most coaches are dismissed within a few days after the end of a season. Gruden's ouster comes 19 days after the Bucs final game, a home loss to the Oakland Raiders that eliminated them from the playoffs.
My hunch is that the Glazer family came to the decision after considerable thought and deliberation. The owners have always been a group that seemed detached from the Tampa Bay community, but you get the sense that they were hearing the Gruden/Allen-bashing that was taking place on sports radio and in other forums.
There were a lot of empty seats in Raymond James Stadium this season, even though the Bucs sprinted to a record of 9-3 (only to lost their last four games in a historic collapse). The fans have been in a generally dour mood since the season's end, and maybe top team brass realized it and took action.
So the topic of the moment — other than speculation about who will replace the coach and GM — is: Should Gruden and Allen have gotten the axe?
If I were in the owners' chair, I would not have pulled the plug now. The late-season cave-in obscures the notion that the Bucs 9-7 record was about what fans should've expected, given the team's level of talent. The Bucs put a roster together for the 2008 season that left an estimated $35-million of space under the NFL salary cap. If Allen was relucant to spend it, then he should certainly have been dismissed.
But there's been a lot of speculation that the Glazers, leveraged to the teeth with their ownership of the British soccer franchise Manchester United, were running the Bucs on the cheap. If that is indeed the case, then the fault lies with ownership. Allen, hamstrung by tight purse-strings, could only do so much, and I honestly think Gruden did a decent job this year with the players he had.