|Friday, February 8
Bucs, Glazers break off talks with Lewis
By Len Pasquarelli
No Marvin Lewis. No head coach at all. No "short list" of viable candidates. No real timetable for filling a vacancy now more than four weeks old. And apparently, no sweat, at least as far as some members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers management are concerned.
That seemed to be the mindset of the Bucs on Friday afternoon, after the decision by the Glazer family to abruptly back away from a deal that would have made Lewis successor to the deposed Tony Dungy, a stunning event that cast the once laughingstock franchise into further chaos.
In essence, the jilted became the jilters, a franchise twice left at the altar by Bill Parcells in the last 10 years, including two weeks ago, pulling the rug out from under Lewis, now the jiltee.
In an interview with ESPN.com, a high-ranking Tampa Bay official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested the imminence of an agreement with Lewis, the celebrated defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, was mischaracterized by the media. The official claimed it was fueled by Lewis' agent, Ray Anderson, whom he said "tried to back (the Bucs) into a deal," and that the two sides were never really close to an agreement.
The team official, who had input into the decision not to hire Lewis, said the Bucs will continue their search, with an expanded list of candidates, and that the process could possibly take a few more weeks. He vehemently denied that Lewis, who met Thursday night in Northern Virginia with Bucs executive vice presidents Joel Glazer and Ed Glazer, the sons of owner Malcolm Glazer, was the victim of a power struggle between ownership and general manager Rich McKay, who might now leave the team.
"This is probably the most important decision in the history of the franchise," said the official. "I think it's one that we need to take some time in making, because the (implications) are huge, and so it could take a while. Marvin Lewis is a good man, and I'm sure he will be a head coach in the NFL someday, but there was no 'done deal' for him to be our coach. The meeting Thursday night was just a part of the ongoing process. (Lewis) was just not a good fit for where we are today. I think the idea we were ready to hire him took on a life of its own."
He strongly implied that after negotiations with the Raiders broke down on Wednesday, talks aimed at freeing Oakland coach Jon Gruden from the final year of his contract, Anderson quickly planted the seed that Lewis was about to be hired. The notion that Anderson used the media as his pawns, though, doesn't hold much water. Unless, of course, the ownership had granted McKay a degree of autonomy it did not intend to honor.
If there was miscommunication, much of it existed within the walls of the Bucs complex, and clearly McKay saw the Thursday meeting with the Glazers as a prelude to a hiring and not just an initial get-acquainted session. Several team officials had told ESPN and ESPN.com in recent days that Lewis would be the choice, that a contract would be completed by Friday, with the coaching staff assembled by the weekend, and an official introduction of the new head coach on Monday.
One official even joked that, without the Thursday meeting, the Glazers wouldn't meet their new coach until he strode up to the podium on Monday.
There is also, despite the contentions of the high-ranking team official, strong evidence to suggest Lewis was in line to finally land the head coaching job that had eluded him. Not the least of that evidence was the fact McKay and Lewis were working together to put together a coaching staff. Former New York Jets offensive line coach Bill Muir, as reported by ESPN.com on Tuesday, was hired in the same capacity. And McKay and Lewis had come to an agreement that former Indiana University head coach Cam Cameron, a compromise candidate for the critical job of offensive coordinator, would be hired.
A number of other possible offensive staffers -- Richard Mann (receivers), Clarence Shelmon (running backs) and Ken Zampese (quarterbacks) -- were contacted and their interest gauged.
On Thurday night, McKay phoned Anderson to tell him they would speak again early Friday to finalize details on what would have been a contract of between four and six years, and worth $1 million-$1.5 million annually. McKay even spoke to Baltimore coach Brian Billick on Friday morning to decide when the teams would issue a news release announcing the Lewis hiring.
"We were told it was a thumbs-up after the (Thursday) meeting," Anderson said. "But there must have been problems with the Glazers that only they knew about. All I know is that we went from brokering a deal to breaking up what would have been a great relationship."
None of the events from before Thursday night add up to a non-hiring. An embarrassed McKay did not return messages Friday and was said to be pondering his future with the franchise he and Dungy led from the football wilderness.
Whatever strides were made in stewarding the Bucs to respectability, though, might have been forfeited on Friday morning. All the negative connotations of the team's past were conjured up again and, no matter how hard ownership works to right the listing pirate ship, this is a club once again seen as taking on water.
"People keep asking how things fell apart, and I really don't know, since we were already into issues of staffing and things like that," a shocked Lewis said on Friday afternoon. "When it is meant to be for me to become a head coach, it will happen, but this one leaves you stunned. I think we all felt it would happen."
McKay, who sources described as "stunned" and "feeling betrayed" on Friday, recommended Lewis to the Glazer family last Friday. He had selected Lewis, one of the league's top defensive minds, after also interviewing a pair of offensive coordinators, Norv Turner of San Diego and Pittsburgh's Mike Mularkey. Those interviews, of course, came in the wake of the decision by Parcells to back out of a non-binding agreement that would have made him head coach with a four-year contract worth about $17 million.
Given that fiasco, and the maelstrom of criticism which accompanied it, the Glazer family was still hoping to land a high-profile head coach. That was apparent when they nixed McKay's initial recommendation of Lewis and told him to pursue Gruden through discussions with Al Davis, the Raiders owner. Those discussions never came close to reaching a deal.
Lewis allowed that, at the Thursday night meeting, he had "a kind of uneasy" feeling, a sense that the Glazer sons still regarded him more as a candidate than the man whom they would hire as their next head coach within hours. But both McKay and Anderson reassured Lewis that there were no hitches and the deal would be completed.
But in a Friday morning meeting at the Buccaneers offices, ownership informed McKay that it would not authorize the hiring of Lewis. McKay, who could not bring himself to deliver the news to Lewis, instead phoned Anderson and apprised him of the reversal. Needless to say, Anderson was shocked by the content of the call. Instead of filling in contract numbers, McKay had phoned to kill the deal altogether.
"I feel badly that Marvin had to be the victim of what appears to be a power struggle between the Glazer family and Rich McKay," said Anderson. "Rich acted in good faith through the process but the treatment afforded Marvin by the Glazer family was shabby, to say the least. They turned this into a farce and, in doing so, put their football team in an awkward position. I mean, if you were a head coach candidate there, can you trust these people?"
The team official who spoke anonymously insisted the Bucs will recover from the mess. He acknowledged that the past month has been "a mistake from which all you can do is learn." He said the team will revisit its initial list of candidates and likely will now include some college coaches.
But sources have said Tampa Bay ownership has all but ruled out the three most viable scenarios:
"It seems pretty clear now that, whatever they do, it will be with an offensive-oriented guy," said one league official. "That was their hangup with (Lewis) from Day One."
A laundry list of potential candidates could include: New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis; University of Washington coach Rick Nueheisel; LSU head coach Nick Saban; Texas coach Mack Brown; University of Hawaii coach June Jones; the Steelers' Mularkey; and any number of current NFL staffers. Anderson said that Lewis would not reconsider meeting with the Bucs again, "no matter how much money they offered him."
Said Anderson: "The issue is dead. Somehow Marvin will get beyond this. Only time will tell, though, if the Bucs recover from it on and off the field."
The high-ranking team official declined to agree the coaching search is back to square one. He did acknowledge a hire isn't imminent and that the process will quickly pick up again. There will be some revisiting of old candidates, additions of new ones, and in the end, he hopes, a coach who will make everyone forget the fiasco of the past month.
"We will get someone, I know, who will make us proud," said the official. "We don't think we owe an apology to anyone. You make some mistakes, you learn from them, you move on."
Funny thing, but Lewis used almost the same words to express his sentiments. He interviewed for the Buffalo Bills head coach job last year, the Carolina Panthers job a week ago, and turned down the chance to become head coach at the University of California because he wanted to fulfill his NFL aspirations. Lewis will now probably become the poster boy for coaching bride's maids around the league -- and a symbol of a deserving man mistreated.
One league official, who felt good that the NFL would again have three African-American head coaches by Friday night, allowed he was "appalled" by Friday's events. He said the NFL can't be too thrilled with the actions of Bucs ownership. But even on a day of disappointment, Lewis didn't solicit any pity.
"You wake up in the morning and move on with your life," Lewis said. "My day will come. You just have to keep telling yourself that, you know?"
The news also caught four Buccaneers who were at the Pro Bowl by surprise.
"I've been trying to stay away from it. But based on what I've seen, it's frustrating," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "People out here are asking what's going on with you guys and we don't have any answers. You couldn't have written a worse script than what has been written here."
All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp is recuperating from shoulder surgery and did not make the trip to Hawaii.
"Unbelievable," Sapp said of the latest development. "That's all you can say about that."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.