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In era of fresh faces succeeding, Gruden's exit from Bucs no shock

Three of the four head coaches in Sunday's conference championship games have two or fewer seasons in tow. Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin are in their second years on the job. Baltimore's John Harbaugh is in his first.

Two other rookie coaches -- Atlanta's Mike Smith and Miami's Tony Sparano -- led their teams to playoff berths. Smith did it with a squad that finished 4-12 before he arrived and with a franchise that was stuck in a Bobby Petrino-Michael Vick public-relations fiasco. Sparano did it with a team that had finished 1-15 the previous season.

These coaches produced microwave makeovers.

And that's fueling the idea among owners that if they can do it, why can't we? Owners now feel emboldened about youth in their head coaches. About change, about fresh ideas, fresh faces in attempts to reach new places.

Thus, Jon Gruden is out in Tampa Bay; general manager Bruce Allen was fired on Friday, too.

The Buccaneers were 9-3 and rolling into December. Then consecutive losses to Carolina, Atlanta, San Diego and Oakland to end the year dropped them to 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Those last two losses were at home.

It built a snowball of discontent, much like what happened with the Jets and Broncos, whose early-season division leads evaporated into a thud finish and no playoffs. Eric Mangini and Mike Shanahan were fired much like Gruden because of the finish. And because as their owners looked around them, they sensed change. They envied dormant franchises becoming alive while their own wilted. They coveted fresh ideas and fresh faces in attempts to reach new places.

It was a brutal season for Gruden.

His longtime defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, let it leak that he would be bolting for the University of Tennessee. Once that happened, the Tampa Bay defense, already an aging one, folded. The edge and fire were gone, and soon, too, was the Bucs' season.

Gruden and Allen had their problems.

No coach and general manager totally agree on personnel, but Gruden and Allen continually clashed on it, particularly at quarterback. Gruden wanted Trent Edwards (now in Buffalo) in the 2007 draft. Allen nixed it. Gruden wanted Brady Quinn (now in Cleveland) in that draft. Allen nixed it. Gruden wanted no part of Chris Simms. Allen -- until Simms finally was let go last August and later joined Tennessee -- insisted that Gruden must work with Simms.

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And after the deal with Denver for Jake Plummer never produced him in a Bucs uniform, because neither Gruden nor Allen could coax Plummer to leave retirement, the Bucs' quarterback situation always seemed flummoxed. People kept asking, why did Gruden over the last couple of years continue to roll in multiple quarterbacks through Tampa? It's because he never had one he wanted. There always was a hole there for Gruden, a hole in the area where his expertise is greatest, where his passion for the game is most intense.

He fought through it all. It wasn't enough.

The pressure kept building on Gruden. It was evident. It was internal. It was external.

Yet he was shocked by his firing. No doubt, he felt ambushed.

The late-season swoon wore on Bucs ownership. The more they considered it, the more the excitement of the current playoffs increased, the more they fumed over why they weren't participants. Like a doctor hitting a knee and the leg re-flexing in its own time, at its own pace, Bucs ownership did the same -- and finally jerked by dumping Gruden.

As a current NFL coach told me Friday, the only thing about this move that would surprise him even more is if Gruden returns to coach the Raiders. And this-week-retired Tony Dungy, moving from Indianapolis to live in Tampa, Fla., returns to coach the Bucs.

Actually, that wouldn't be a surprise. That would simply fashion an old order.

And that, alone, makes both ideas DOA. For we're in a time for ownership when change, fresh ideas, fresh faces are believed the best way to reach new places.

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