- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

SAN DIEGO. — One year is a coincidence, two years is a trend. So what are we to make of the fact that the last two Super Bowl champions traded for their coaches?

The Patriots gave the Jets a No. 1 pick for Bill Belichick, and two seasons later they were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The Bucs didn't even have to wait that long. Less than a year after they handed the Raiders two first-rounders, two second-rounders and $8#million for Jon Gruden, they won their first NFL title.

Maybe the 49ers, currently searching for somebody to replace Steve Mariucci, should ask the Eagles if they'd be interested in dealing Andy Reid. Who knows, they might catch Jeffrey Lurie in a weak moment, still despairing over his club's loss in the NFC title game. It would be worth a try. Reid is, after all, a branch on the Bill Walsh coaching tree (having worked under Mike Holmgren).

NFL teams have directors of college scouting and directors of pro scouting. Perhaps they should have directors of coach scouting, too. So much time is spent analyzing college prospects, evaluating talent on other clubs. But sometimes what a team most needs isn't a stud running back from State U. or a prime free agent who can rush the passer, it's a coach who can pull everything together.

And if he happens to cost a high draft pick or two or four who's to say he isn't worth it? Especially if he takes your club "to heaven," as Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer put it?

Teams paying compensation for coaches used to be extremely rare, but we've seen more and more of it in recent years. Obviously, it doesn't always work out the Redskins giving up two No.#3s for Marty Schottenheimer comes to mind but often it does. The Packers' renaissance, you may recall, began when they forked over a second-rounder to San Francisco for Holmgren, then the 49ers' offensive coordinator. And the Jets' rejuvenation started when they sent New England a pile of draft picks for Bill Parcells. The Chiefs haven't made the playoffs yet, but they don't appear to regret sending a No.#1 to St. Louis for Dick Vermeil. Vermeil has given them the most exciting offense in the league, a welcome departure from the staid Schottenheimer era.

Super Bowl week was a Gruden lovefest. One Buc after another talked about him being the missing piece of the Tampa Bay puzzle. "You felt something special about him the first day he was in the building," Brad Johnson said after the 48-21 earholing of the Raiders.

Since the Gruden trade left them no high draft picks, the Bucs had to upgrade their roster specifically their offense through free agency. They showed it can be done, though, by adding six veterans who played key roles for them: receivers Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, running back Michael Pittman, tight end Ken Dilger and linemen Roman Oben and Kerry Jenkins.

McCardell scored two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Jurevicius caught four passes for a game-high 78 yards. Pittman led all rushers with 124 yards. Dilger set up a TD with his one reception. And Oben and Jenkins did an admirable job of holding down the left side of the line.

Because there were so many new faces on offense and because Gruden was himself new the unit started slowly. During one three-week stretch in the middle of the season, it averaged just 13 points a game. But by playoff time, the offense was more than just functional, it was productive. "We peaked at the right time," said Gruden.

And that has to do as much with the coach as anyone else. He's the guy with the whip in his hand.

If there was a surprise in the Super Bowl, it was how effective the Bucs' running game had become. People figured Gruden would spruce up the passing game, but who would have guessed that three of the Bucs' five biggest plays against the Raiders would be runs of 24, 23 and 19 yards by Pittman?

"Their running game was a definite factor," Oakland coach Bill Callahan said. "They caught us [a few times]."

I've gotta admit I thought Tampa Bay was nuts to pay such a high price for Gruden, especially since he had only one year left on his contract. The Bucs could have gotten him for nothing if they had just waited a little longer.

But theirs was an unusual situation. They had a Super Bowl defense already in place, and they feared the window would close on them if they didn't find a coach who could straighten out their offense fast. So they swallowed hard and made the deal for Gruden.

Right now, it's looking like the trade of the year.


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