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Friday, February 8
McKay's future with Bucs unclear

By Len Pasquarelli

In the midst of its latest fiasco with Bill Parcells last month, Tampa Bay Bucs ownership turned to one person to move it beyond the embarrassment of being jilted for the second time by a man coveted as the next head coach, and asked general manager Rich McKay to bail the club out of yet another sticky mess.

But on Friday morning, the Glazer family turned its back on McKay, and the chaos which ensued was more akin to much of the franchise's miserable history instead of its recent successes.

In rejecting McKay's recommendation of Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis as the successor to Tony Dungy, and embarrassing the widely-respected general manager in the process, Bucs officials might have irreparably damaged the franchise. So emotional was McKay, he could not bring himself to tell Lewis of the reversal, preferring instead to phone agent Ray Anderson and break the stunning news to him.

"He was," assessed Anderson, "in a state of semi-shock. I think that's a fair description of how he felt. It was like ownership usurped his authority, cut him off at the (knees). He really didn't know quite what to say. He was supposed to be calling to finish the deal. Well, he finished it, all right, but not the way either of us thought it would (culminate)."

McKay, who did not return phone calls on Friday, was said to be reconsidering his future in Tampa Bay. There were rumors on Friday night that McKay will tender his resignation, and there is a strong possibility that will occur by early next week.

But because McKay still has a year remaining on his contract, Tampa Bay ownership could keep him from working the entire 2002 season.

The story of the fractured relationship between McKay and Bucs management is a compelling one.

In the days following Parcells' decision to back out of a non-binding agreement that would have made him head coach, ownership offered McKay the team presidency and a huge raise. At the same time, McKay was being courted by new Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who wanted him to become the team's general manager in a restructured front office.

McKay's plan had been to work a week or so with Parcells, to see if the two could co-exist, and then to make a decision on the Atlanta job. But with Parcells out of the picture, it looked as if McKay's power base was secure, and that he would stay in Tampa Bay. Now with the events of Friday, the Falcons could be back in the picture, assuming the Glazer family will permit McKay to leave.

That, of course, is no given. The Bucs desperately need McKay, no matter how upset he might be with them, to stay aboard. Since the Atlanta job represents a lateral move, they don't have to give the Falcons permission to pursue him again. The two teams will play in the same division in the realigned NFL, beginning with the 2002 campaign. Unless the Falcons offer McKay the team presidency, they might not be able to land his services.

ESPN.com confirmed McKay never signed the contract extension the Glazer family offered him in the days after Parcells' snub, but the year remaining on his current contract is still a sticking point. Essentially, McKay could be trapped in Tampa Bay, or the Bucs could try to elicit some form of compensation from the Falcons, likely draft choices, to allow him to depart.

Said one Bucs middle-level official: "There's definitely been a split now. Maybe it was just a rift before but it's a lot more now. If you're Rich, you say to yourself, 'How can I still work for these people after what they did to me?' And, of course, you think, 'How can they have done it to me, given everything I did for them?' I don't see how he can stay unless they make him."

One high-ranking Bucs official, who was a part of the decision-making process on Lewis and who spoke to ESPN.com only on condition of anonymity, attempted Friday to downplay the seriousness of the rift between McKay and ownership. He insisted that the alleged power struggle was a media creation and that McKay, when the dust settles, will still be with the Bucs.

"All of this (enmity) is overblown," he said. "Rich is here and he'll continue to be here."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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