Tampa Bay Buccaneers  

 

Malcolm Glazer left winning stamp on Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The first time Bill Parcells jilted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in 1991, he said the task of assuming complete control and rebuilding the franchise was simply too big. The second time he did it, little more than a decade later -- another jilting, different owner -- it was because he could not envision immersing himself in the all-consuming job of being a head coach again.

But the team that Parcells spurned had been made respectable in the interim by a person who never had the spot in the klieg lights that Parcells did. The Bucs were a league laughingstock the first time Parcells considered them, back when they were owned by Hugh Culverhouse and had become a black hole for coaches. The second time, the Bucs were already a championship contender with a vacancy created when owner Malcolm Glazer -- who, having bought the team in 1995 after Culverhouse died, ran it with his sons -- decided that a string of playoff appearances by the Bucs under Tony Dungy, whom Glazer hired in 1996, was simply not good enough. It was a rare moment when Glazer became deeply involved with the operation of the team. Desperate to save face after Parcells said no, Glazer made the gamble that defined his ownership. In February 2002, he sent four draft picks -- two first-round and two second-round selections -- and $8 million to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for coach Jon Gruden.

It was a ransom and, it turned out, it was a masterstroke by Glazer, who died Wednesday at the age of 85 as a Super Bowl-winning owner. The Bucs compiled a .300 winning percentage in their 19 seasons before Glazer bought them for $192 million. They went to the playoffs seven times under Glazer. Gruden's Buccaneers -- largely the same team assembled during Dungy's tenure -- won the Bucs' lone championship in Gruden's first year in Tampa -- by beating the Raiders, no less.

Glazer would enjoy more sustained success as the owner of the Premier League's Manchester United. But Man U. was an old and revered soccer club before Glazer, much to the consternation of many English soccer fans, purchased it in 2005. It was his extreme makeover of the Bucs, powered by a willingness to spend for players and Gruden without a desire to meddle, that made Tampa a respectable team, and his demand that a new stadium be built -- Raymond James Stadium was publicly financed -- that has lured two Super Bowls to the city since it opened in 1998.

Rich McKay, who is currently president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, was vice president of football administration for the Bucs when Culverhouse died and worked on behalf of the Culverhouse estate to try to get the best possible price for the franchise. McKay, who ended up staying in the team's front office under Glazer as the general manager, said the estate was ecstatic with the sum, while thinking that it would be hard for the franchise to live up to what was at the time an impressive figure.

"The biggest thing he did was, he stabilized the franchise," McKay said Wednesday. "The franchise was a boat that was lost at sea. The stadium was the key to the stability of the franchise, and he recognized that. When we had the stadium vote, it was Tony's first game, and we lost. Neither Tony nor I was very popular in town at that time. That, more than anything, put us in a position to go forward. He gave all of us the opportunity to do our jobs, to do them in way we saw fit, always reserving the right to question. He would always call and have a question. They were always good questions. But they were never followed by directives. It was always followed by, 'If you think this is the right thing, we should do it.' He did that for Tony and me and for Jon Gruden after I left."

"Malcolm Glazer was the guiding force behind the building of a Super Bowl-champion organization," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Wednesday. "His dedication to the community was evident in all he did, including his leadership in bringing Super Bowls to Tampa Bay."

A former mayor of Tampa had told the Tampa Bay Times that Glazer once said he bought the team because his boys loved it.

"But you don't go out and spend that kind of money because your boys want a toy," the former mayor, Sandy Freedman, told the paper in 2004. "He knew it was going to be a smart business investment."

Glazer began building his fortune in his native Rochester, New York, when he took over his family's watch parts business at age 15 following the death of his father. He eventually built a varied business portfolio, with holdings in, among other things, real estate, Harley Davidson and Houlihan's restaurants, in addition to his two sports franchises.

Glazer is the fourth NFL owner to die in the past eight months, following the deaths of Tennessee's Bud Adams, Detroit's William Clay Ford and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson. Glazer's death is expected to have almost no impact on the operations of the Bucs, though. Glazer was mostly reclusive and had little role in the day-to-day operations of the team, leaving that job to three of his sons.

In his early years as the Bucs' owner, he would attend home and away games, commuting -- he often flew commercial -- from his Palm Beach home. Parcells, who came close to working for Glazer's team, said he did not know him at all; in recent years, Glazer, who had once been a member of the league's highly influential Finance Committee, stopped attending league events. The team announced Wednesday that Glazer's wife, Linda, and their six children will continue to own and operate the team.

Linebacker Derrick Brooks, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, was drafted by the Bucs the same year Glazer took control of the team -- at a time when people thought Glazer had made a terrible mistake by buying the moribund franchise.

"I'm proud to say that ... I'm glad he's the only owner that I ever played for," Brooks said on NFL Network on Wednesday.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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