Faced with the reality they would lose him one way or another, the Oakland Raiders traded Coach Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday for four draft picks--two first-rounders and two second-rounders--and $8 million.
"You never try to get too surprised in this business, but this certainly was surprising," Gruden told The Times in a phone interview from his Pleasanton, Calif., home. He agreed to a five-year deal that will pay him almost $4 million a season, more than tripling his current salary. The Buccaneers will introduce him Wednesday as their coach.
The Raiders get the Buccaneers' first- and second-round picks this year, their first-rounder in 2003 and a second-rounder in 2004.
Gruden's parents live in Tampa, Fla., and his father, Jim, is a former Buccaneer assistant. Jon's younger brother, Jay, is the quarterback for Arena football's Orlando Predators.
The move marked a startling about-face by Raider owner Al Davis, and was inspired by a need to improve his struggling team and a fear of being upstaged by the San Francisco 49ers.
The Buccaneers, desperate to land a high-profile replacement for Tony Dungy and rebuffed by the Raiders in their first run at Gruden, turned last week to 49er Coach Steve Mariucci. They received permission to interview him, and he appeared ready to leave for the right price.
That left the Raiders mulling two unsavory possibilities. First, their cross-bay rivals would receive a slew of draft picks for Mariucci, whereas Oakland would get nothing for Gruden after his contract expired in February 2003. Second, the 49ers could have used General Manager Terry Donahue as an interim coach for one season, then replaced him with Gruden in 2003.
So the Raiders took the picks and let go of their most popular and charismatic coach since John Madden. Gruden had gone from 34-year-old wunderkind, when he was hired to replace Joe Bugel in 1998, to a silver-and-black cult hero. People magazine named him one of its 50 most beautiful people, but Gruden is better known for his sideline sneer, which earned him the nickname "Chucky" among his players and devotees.
He was 40-28 in four seasons with the Raiders, leading them to the playoffs the last two seasons after a six-year drought. They hosted the AFC championship game a year ago, and this season advanced to the second round, where they lost at New England in a game that turned on a controversial instant-replay reversal of an apparent fumble.
"I learned a lot from Al Davis and I got a lot better as a coach," Gruden said. "I'll miss the fans, the players and the coaches. But don't get me wrong, I'm excited about the challenges ahead."
Most challenged are the Raiders, who begin their third coaching search since returning to Oakland in 1995.
An early favorite to fill the job is former Minnesota Viking coach Dennis Green, who was considered by the Raiders before Gruden was hired.
The Raider vacancy is less than appealing on several fronts. Davis is meddlesome, the roster is loaded with old players--including receivers Tim Brown (35), and Jerry Rice (39) and quarterback Rich Gannon (36)--the franchise is financially strapped (thanks in part to losing its most recent court case against the NFL), and former No. 2 overall pick Darrell Russell is facing rape charges.
Still, until Monday, it looked as if Gruden would be Oakland's coach for one more season. He turned down an offer from Ohio State a year ago and could have been the Notre Dame coach had he wanted the job.
Tampa Bay was desperate to save face after firing Dungy, the most successful coach in franchise history, then failing to lure Bill Parcells out of retirement. The Buccaneers briefly flirted with the idea of hiring Baltimore Raven defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis before turning to Mariucci, who reportedly was seeking a seven-year, $42-million deal.
"We talked about contract, but nothing had been agreed upon as far as solid numbers," Mariucci said Monday.
It may never be known if the Buccaneers were truly interested in Mariucci, or merely twisting the arm of the Raiders with a shrewd negotiating ploy.
"We were determined not to let outside pressures derail us from our goal to find the best person to coach the Buccaneers. Our fans deserve nothing less," Bryan Glazer, the team's executive vice president, said in a statement.
"That person is Jon Gruden, the finest young mind in the game. We took our time and got the man we really wanted and we couldn't be more thrilled."
Davis said he was approached several times in the last few weeks by Buccaneer officials who were interested in Gruden. The last contact came around 10 p.m. Sunday, when he was called at home by Joel Glazer, a Buccaneer vice president and son of owner Malcolm Glazer.
"Believe me, it was shocking," Davis said.
According to Davis, the two talked for a half-hour, with Glazer reiterating his interest in Gruden and making his final offer.
"I said, 'OK, I'll talk to our people,'" said Davis, adding he called team executives Amy Trask and Bruce Allen as well as a few scouts "just to get a feel of where the draft is headed and what's going on out there with free agency."
Davis called Glazer back, said he was interested in letting him talk to Gruden, provided Davis could talk to Gruden first. Then, Davis called Gruden.
"He said, 'Look, my family lives there. I grew up there. My father worked there. My father was a coach there. My father was a scout there,'" Davis said. "He brought up some stories that I didn't even know."
By 3 a.m., after a flurry of faxes, the deal was done.