|Wednesday, February 13
Bucs are making Notre Dame look good
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com
Memo to the good denizens of Notre Dame: Rest easy. Your epic search for the next great Fighting Irish football coach no longer commands the page. No more cheap jokes, no more easy one-liners (not on an hourly basis, anyway). You can exhale. You've been replaced.
I don't want to say things have gotten bad in Bucville, but on Tuesday the head coach at Maryland, Ralph Friedgen, withdrew his name from consideration for the Tampa Bay job before the Good Ship Glazer had taken a moment to actually offer it to him. You get pre-emptively rejected by a college coach with just one full year at the helm (no matter how good Friedgen is), you're awfully close to running aground.
With Notre Dame, the talk around campus was mostly fixated on the idea that the Irish supporters had a higher opinion of their program than did the current crop of coaches available to lead it. Then came George "Johnny Heisman" O'Leary, and that was pretty much all she wrote.
But with Tampa, we're going in a different direction altogether. Forget inflated self-assessment; these guys just scare people.
The Glazers have suddenly raised dysfunctionality to an art form, assuming such a thing is possible. (We won't even discuss desirable.) The Friedgen flirtation, which came after the Marvin Lewis debacle, which came after the Jon Gruden collapse, which came after the Bill Parcells stunner, was commenced, conducted and ultimately concluded without so much as a peep of input from Bucs GM Rich McKay.
McKay thus is said by those closely reporting the story in the Tampa and St. Petersburg newspapers to be considering resigning. Gee, ya think? Dealing with the Glazers sounds every bit as fun as an extended one-on-one with the neighborhood tax auditor.
Joel and Ed undercut McKay once already, when they strung out futile negotiations with Oakland owner Al Davis for the right to hire Gruden while McKay had Lewis cooling his heels in Baltimore, waiting for a call. Once the Gruden thing fell through, the Glazers brought in Lewis for a protracted interview that was so transparently going nowhere that Lewis later told McKay it was obvious the men were never seriously considering hiring him.
Lewis is African-American, but let's not get carried away: The Bucs are making doofuses out of themselves regardless of race, color or credo. Whatever limitations Tony Dungy may have suggested as a head coach, he stands as a towering monument of competence when compared with the circus sideshow going on right now.
(Has Dungy ever looked better professionally, by the way? The man guides his team into postseason after postseason, gets dumped in the aftermath of a first-round defeat and lands softly in Indianapolis, where his defense-minded approach seems such a good fit with a Colts franchise itching to take a step forward. Meanwhile, his former organization falls apart as though he were the toothpick at the bottom that had entirely held the model together. Not a bad epitaph, if that's what you're going for.)
It's no fun saying Tampa Bay stinks, because that's the old news. The Bucs were an NFL cocktail-party joke for long enough. Their climb to respectability over the past several seasons, a rise predicated in large measure on the work of Dungy and McKay, has been a great story for pro football. There's no joy in watching a team slip right back down the sinkhole after the work it took to get out in the first place.
But sinkhole, here we come. You look back now, and Parcells doesn't appear a cold-footed flip-flopper nearly so much as he resembles a calculating professional who went to Tampa, took a close look at an operation that was beginning to sputter and smoke, and decided that not even the Mighty Bill could make things right.
That's not necessarily exactly what Parcells was thinking, mind you, but it sure is possible. Put it this way: If GlazerMania is enough to scare off Ralph Friedgen from far away, imagine what it must be like up close. Sleep well, Notre Dame. You're officially off the hook.
Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.