Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden may have been the highest-paid scout-team quarterback in NFL history during practice Thursday when he was persuaded by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to demonstrate on the field just how Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon operates a no-huddle offense.
"Jon and I talked it over and I said, 'The best thing would be for you to play quarterback and do the audibles, go no-huddle and do whatever you want,' " Kiffin said. "We had a great practice. No one knows this [Oakland] offense. Gannon learned it from Gruden, so who better to put at quarterback? It was very realistic. He shifted around like Rich does and made his calls. Our players loved it, and it was good for us."
And how did the former University of Dayton quarterback fare against the NFL's No. 1 defense?
"He completed a couple of passes," Kiffin said. "And then we had to go after him."
On Sunday night at Qualcomm Stadium, Tampa Bay defenders got to play against the real thing.
They went after Gannon with a vengeance, picked off five of his passes, with a record three returned for touchdowns, and set the tone for a swaggering 48-21 rout of the AFC champion Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
"I was sharp, I was extremely sharp in that [practice] period," Gruden said this morning. "I just wanted the team to get a feel for what it was going to be like. It's hard to be Rich Gannon, obviously, but I did want them to feel a certain image that he was going to present. He changes plays, two or three times [at the line of scrimmage]. He can change protections, the flow of protection, the running game, and I wanted our players to feel like it was going to be a mind game. I enjoyed it, I really did. I was sore the next day, but I'll keep that [practice] film forever."
He likely will keep the game tape of his greatest triumph, as well. At 39, Gruden, a coach's son, became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. His players praised the way their coach and his staff prepared them. Particularly significant was the inside knowledge of Gruden, an offensive whiz who coached Gannon and many of the Raiders for the previous four seasons.
Bucs safety John Lynch, who wore a microphone during the game, said to his teammates at one point midway through the game, "Every play they've run, we ran in practice. It's unreal."
Gruden, who says he needs only five hours of sleep to function, spent most of his waking moments directing the Bucs' offense, a work in progress when the season started but a far more effective unit over the last half of the schedule and into the playoffs. Gruden had brought with him the West Coast system that involves a wide variety of receivers, backs and tight ends running crossing routes, quick outs and mostly short-to-medium-range passes.
On Sunday night, quarterback Brad Johnson, after an early interception caused when he was hit releasing the ball, came back with a typically efficient attack. The offense provided the two most critical touchdowns when Oakland trailed only 13-3 with 3 minutes 35 seconds left in the first half. The first march went 77 yards and the next 89, and each culminated in touchdown passes (of five and eight yards) from Johnson to wide receiver Keenan McCardell.
Gruden was effusive in his praise for the mostly immobile Johnson, the former Redskin with little of Gannon's flash or outward fire, when he was asked which style of quarterback he prefers.
"We're trying to create the robo quarterback," he said. "A guy that can do it all with his mind, his feet, all the intangibles. It's hard to create 'The Terminator,' as I call it. But Brad Johnson is a winner, and that's what it's all about in that position, a guy who finds a way to win. That's the number one thing we're looking for in Tampa."
Gruden also apparently has no plans to stand pat with his offense, especially in adding a bit more speed into the mix. There has been talk that wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, with a big number on the salary cap, may be offered in trade or allowed to look elsewhere (perhaps Dallas and Bill Parcells). But Gruden said today: "I fully expect him to be a Buccaneer throughout the rest of his career. . . . I mean he's got a long-term contract. We got in an argument on a Monday night game and everybody thinks he's going to be traded."
Gruden said he also expects to be able to keep his defense intact. The Bucs have few significant players up for unrestricted free agency, with the major exception of safety Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl MVP with two critical first-half interceptions. Jackson said today he'd like to stay.
Gruden, of course, is not leaving. He signed a four-year, $15 million contract to leave Oakland and owner Al Davis, who extracted two No. 1 picks, two No. 2s and $8 million from the Bucs in order to release Gruden from the final year of his contract. Gruden has been answering questions all week about the emotion of facing his former team and today he did not want to go there any more.
"I'm going to leave everyone else to talk about their [Oakland's] team," he said. "I'm done with that. It was a very tough week for me addressing those questions. No, I didn't get any [congratulatory] calls [from Davis]. You know that."