From the Sidelines: With Gruden out, Shanahan in?

Published 6:41 pm Friday, January 16, 2009

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped the hammer late Friday afternoon when they announced the firing of head coach Jon Gruden.

The move comes just 10 days before the sixth anniversary of Gruden’s Super Bowl XXVII win over the Oakland Raiders.

While the prevalent reaction is one of amazement by many, the move likely has less to do with JG’s four-game losing streak at the end of the season as it did with the availability of someone TB management considers a better candidate than the now-unemployed Gruden.

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Exactly who that someone is remains a mystery. However, if I had to place a bet, I’d go with former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

Don’t buy it? Fair enough. Shanahan is 146-98 over a 16-year NFL career and claimed back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997-98.

Moreover, Shanahan likes to make the personnel decisions. That prospect is available to him since the Bucs canned general manager Bruce Allen as well Friday.

Bringing in Shanahan would allow Tampa Bay to maximize the strengths of its roster, defense and the running game.

Renowned as one of the better defensive units in the league, the new head coach will be charged with replacing now-departed mastermind Monte Kiffin, who bolted for the University of Tennessee to coach alongside his son, Lane.

Shanahan, despite having a porous defense in 2008, is certainly capable of making the right hire for that position. Additionally, his affinity for the running game could properly utilize the talents of current Buccaneers Earnest Graham and Carnell Williams.

Yes, the argument could be made that Shanahan experienced a stretch fade similar to that of Gruden. However, the fact that running backs Selvin Young, Andre Hall, Ryan Torain, P.J. Pope, Michael Pittman, Anthony Alridge and Peyton Hillis all landed on injured reserve dictates that Shanahan can be given a bit of a pass for his late-season failures.

While the Broncos reached for the unproven Josh McDaniels to replace Shanahan, the Bucs aren’t likely to go a similar route in their quest to fill Gruden’s shoes.

The other side of this equation is of course Gruden. Where does he go from here?

There are a number of openings, but only one that is remotely appealing. The Raiders and Rams clearly offer very little to attract a coach of Gruden’s caliber. While he could wait and see if Herm Edwards is indeed let go by the Chiefs, Gruden’s most likely destination is the New York Jets.

While I have maintained since the Eric Mangini firing that the Jets would ultimately hire prominent Giants assistant Steve Spagnuolo, Gruden seems to make a great deal more sense.

His track record speaks for itself. The Jets desire to win is apparent considering the bank-breaking amount the organization spent in free agency last offseason and its lack of patience for Mangini’s shortcomings.

So, enter Gruden. He would instantly add credibility to a franchise that considers itself a contender. His charismatic personality would be well-suited for the New York microscope. And, interestingly enough, he would given his opportunity to work with Brett Favre.

It was just last summer that Tampa Bay emerged as one of the prime suitors for Favre once the Packers made it known they were willing to trade the embattled veteran.

However, the Pack’s unwillingness to move Favre within the NFC and the Bucs’ inability to construct an attractive package landed Favre with the Jets.

Now Gruden, who collects quarterbacks like the Bengals collect convicts, could finally have the opportunity to make his run with Favre, who incidentally has yet to announce whether or not he will return for the 2009 season.

Either way, there exists no shortage of Super Bowl winning coaches on the market and odds are that one team will benefit from another’s hasty decision is 2009.