In a game of word association played not too long ago, if someone mentioned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first thing that came to mind was an awful record that was completely reinforced by their extremely ugly uniforms.

Now there is a new era in Tampa Bay, the Gruden era. The Bucs traded away four top draft picks and paid eight million dollars to the Oakland Raiders just for the right to pick up the tab for Jon Gruden’s five-year, $17.5 million contract. In exchange the Buccaneers aquired one of the most masterful offensive schemers ever to coach, Gruden.

Gruden has come into Tampa Bay and done the job he was asked to do. He turned a mediocore offense into a good offense, but more importantly he has won in the playoffs, advancing the Bucs to the big game in just his first season.

Tampa Bay was not exactly an awful team when Gruden took over, but shortly after saying hello, Gruden found himself saying goodbye to 11 players from the previous season’s squad. Most notable amongst these players are halfbacks Warrick Dunn and Rabih Abdullah and wide receivers Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green.

With the abrupt exodus of talent, Gruden found himself without a solid quarterback or halfback, but at least he still had the one man team — or so he seems to think — in receiver Keshawn Johnson. On top of all this, as a result of his own trade, Gruden was guaranteed that he would not receive help within the next two years from the drafts — since the Bucs gave up first and second round picks.

Through the trade Gruden inherently had an immense amount of pressure on him. Anything short of the Bucs regular season record would have been viewed as a failure, but Gruden came through. He has lit a fire under his team that has carried Tampa Bay to their first Super Bowl appearance in the team’s 27-year history.

Ironically enough, Gruden will face the team from which he was traded, the Oakland Raiders, in Sunday’s Superbowl matchup. So the question arises, who got the better of the Gruden trade? Some will say whoever wins the Super Bowl wins the prize of making the better trade, but I would say otherwise. Sure, Oakland received an immense amount of money and talent, but Tampa Bay received a coach that knows how to win.

As far as the logistics of the trade, both clubs got what they wanted out of the deal. Tampa Bay got past the acceptance of being a good team, this is the same hump that teams like the Dolphins and Jets are still trying to get past. Making the playoffs is not good enough, you have to win to get to the big game. When the Raiders got rid of Gruden they replaced him with a very likable coach that was already inside the Raiders’ organization, not to mention they also made it to the Super Bowl.

To truly judge who got the better end of the deal, you have to quantify the value of a coach, which is an unenviable and nearly impossible task. Gruden’s presence was felt from the beginning in Tampa Bay. In addition to having the genius of strategic design and philosophy, Gruden has served as a teacher and leader for the Bucs.

Gruden has inspired his players to do things that they have not done in the past. The Bucs worked harder, and did not settle for being a good defensive team, they knew in order to win they had to be great. Gruden has a flare to him that has lifted the Bucs past free agency, injuries, egos and mediocrity. His offensive genius has brought a creative edge to the Bucs playbook, which they have missed in previous years.

Tony Dungy lifted the Bucs out of the dungeon that they previously existed in, but Dungy took the team as far as he could and only won one playoff game in four attempts. The Bucs needed a change and Gruden has come through. With Gruden in place for five years the Bucs have ensured a winning presence for the future of the organization.

The mindset is different in the clubhouse as a result of Gruden and look for Tampa Bay to come out fired up on Sunday. The game should be a classic battle of the number one offense versus the number one defense, but I look for the Buccaneers to come out on top.

The coaching staffs of both clubs are hard at work, but there is no doubt Gruden and his coaches can find a weakness in any team, especially after their dissection of the Eagles’ fourth ranked defense last Sunday. The game should be high-flying and a good amount of points will be put on the board.

Even if the Buccaneers do not come out on top on Sunday, I still feel they received the better end of the trade. Regardless, both clubs have come away with superb teams and when pitted head to head, they should make for a heated contest.

Gruden will be in Tampa Bay for a long time. At 39, he has a long career ahead of him, should he choose to do so. As long as he sticks to his regard for details he will continue his winning ways.



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