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Gruden Is Grooming Bucs for a Repeat

Tampa Bay coach goes to great lengths to figure out a way to get his team, which might be more talented this season, another Super Bowl title.

August 31, 2003|Fred Goodall | Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — At the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix last March, Jon Gruden played a round of golf with Charles Brewer, a personal injury attorney from Arizona who's never lost a case.

He was just doing his homework, talking to successful people who might provide him with motivational tools for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to repeat as champions.

"He's in his 70s. I would have talked to him even if I was still coaching at Southeast Missouri. He's just a guy who's found his passion, is a stickler for details, and enjoys getting up early and staying up late working to try to win," Gruden said.

"I try to be around people that have juice, that have had success, guys who have dominated."

Brewer was just one of the many people whose brain the NFL's youngest coach picked as he prepared to try to win his second consecutive title.

He also talked to Denver's Mike Shanahan, the last coach to lead an NFL team to back-to-back championships, and baseball managers Tony La Russa and Lou Piniella. He brought in other winners to speak to his players -- former NFL players Reggie White and Joe Morris and boxer Roy Jones Jr.

For Gruden, who turned 40 during training camp, there's no substitute for hard work. He rises at about 3:15 a.m. every day during the season and is a master motivator who's convinced his players they'll get what they want if they put in an honest effort.

Teams have successfully defended Super Bowl titles just seven times, with Shanahan's Broncos the last to accomplish the feat in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Three other teams returned to the Super Bowl the year after winning, but didn't repeat as champions.

"It's hard for a number of reasons, and it's hard to get there anyway," safety John Lynch said.

The last three Super Bowl winners -- St. Louis, Baltimore and New England -- failed to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs the following season. The Patriots didn't even make the playoffs last season.

"You can't be complacent. You can't worry about anything except improving," receiver Keyshawn Johnson said.

"You better tackle, you better block, you better protect the passer, you better score more than the other team or you're not going to get to the playoffs, let alone repeat," Gruden said. "Everybody's got a lottery ticket to the Super Bowl."

The Bucs cashed in last season, riding their No. 1-ranked defense to a franchise-best 12 regular-season victories before dominating San Francisco, Philadelphia and AFC champion Oakland by a combined score of 106-37 in the playoffs.

On paper, the defense looks as if it could be even better than a year ago when Tampa Bay allowed just 196 points, the fifth-fewest in league history since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule.

The offense figures to improve, too, in its second year in Gruden's system.

Still, there's the question of whether Gruden can help a roster full of stars avoid the distractions that typically undermine a team's chance to repeat.

All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp's contract status will be a focal point as the season progresses. The same goes for running back Michael Pittman's legal problems, stemming from his offseason arrest on charges he used his Hummer to ram a car carrying his wife, 2-year-old son and a baby sitter.

Still, Sapp thinks the Bucs are equipped to handle the pressure. "Joe Morris sat in front of us and talked about how everything changes, guys getting book deals, commercials, all the distractions in the world that come with a championship," Sapp said.

"The one thing about this team that's unique for me and everybody else involved is the Super Bowl didn't make Warren Sapp Warren Sapp. It didn't make Derrick Brooks Derrick Brooks or John Lynch, Keyshawn, Brad Johnson, Simeon Rice, none of our core guys."

What Gruden has instilled in the players is that they're defending their title every time they step on the field, whether it's practice or a game.

"His whole thing is if I've got a car that goes 120, I want to go 140," Sapp said. "And we like that because we know we're driving in the proper direction. If this thing comes out in two or three years and we haven't won two or three more, it ain't because we're not trying to work it.

"The whole thing was not letting our window of opportunity close. Once you win a championship, you got something to wedge in that window. We've got a nice trophy to wedge in this window, and we're going to see what we can do with it."

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