Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feed for new Blog

For those of you who subscribed to the Feedburner feed for this blog - here is the new feed -

Friday, January 23, 2009

And now..the end is here.....

By JC De La Torre

Folks, this will be the last update of this blog, we're moving on to MVN for our blogging future.

I like to thank all of our subscribers and regular followers, I sincerely hope you guys will follow me over to our new location. Bare with me as they'll like be some growing pains as I figure out how to use everything.

We are now live on http://tbsportsblog.com

Hopefully, you guys will dig the new lay out

Thanks to Blogger for all of the tools and gadgets that helped make JC De La Torre's Tampa Bay Sports Blog a fun and interesting place to check out.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Movin' On Up....Movin' On Up...to the Deluxe Apartment in the Sky!

By JC De La Torre

Please excuse our dust and lack of activity the next few days on the blog as we are transitioning into a strategic partnership with MVN - the Most Valuable Network. We'll be moving to a new URL - tbsportsblog.com with fancy smancy new layout and we'll also be participating in many MVN activities.

If you're not familiar with MVN - here's what their media kit describes it as -
The Most Valuable Network was created by accident on December 31, 2003 when friends began blogging together about their favorite baseball teams. Years later, it is no accident what MVN has become: A large sports media entity that strives to bring the most informed opinion and analysis to a community of passionate fans.

While we'll definitely miss our little home here at blogger, we're definitely excited about the opportunity and exposure that MVN provides.

For the next couple of days you may see some weird things on the blog like the formatting all screwed up or no recent posts. Once we're live on tbsportsblog.com we'll post here again to let you know to update your weblinks. In fact, if you have us linked on your site, you may want to go ahead and make the change.

We likely won't have any new content on this site or the new site until the weekend - we sincerely apologize for that but we'll be sure to make it up.

If you'd be interested in joining JC De La Torre's Tampa Bay Sports Blog as a writer, feel free to drop me a line - you can reach me via the contact me feature on my website at jcdelatorre.com

There is no pay (sorry, we're not getting paid for this either) but if you want to blog about Tampa Bay sports and have your stuff read on a site that gets up to 800,000 page views it may be worth it. We're looking obviously for bloggers with a good writing style, humorous, with a love for Tampa Bay and Florida College sports.

Let us know if you're interested in teaming up.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Former Rams Coach Linehan to Interview for Bucs OC

By JC De La Torre

Bucs Head Coach Raheem Morris is off to the Senior Bowl. While looking at prospective draft picks perform, Morris will also be busy filling out his coaching staff. Among candiates for the vacant offensive coordinator position is former Rams Head Coach Scott Linehan.

Morris fired six assistants on Monday, including offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir, ssistant offensive line coach George Yarno, offensive assistant Jay Gruden (brother of Jon), defensive quality control coaches Johnny Cox and Ejiro Evero and strength and conditioning coach Mike Morris.

The St. Pete Times is reporting that Chiefs offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, former Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and Bucs quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, the Rams' offensive coordinator in 2006-07 are also in the running for the gig.

Morris hopes to have the majority of the staff hired before leaving the Senior Bowl but will not rush the decisions.

Rays Avoid Arbitration with Some, but Not All

by JC De La Torre

The Rays were able to settle with Jason Bartlett and Grant Balfour to avoid arbitration but failed to secure deals for Willie Aybar and All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro. Both will head to arbitration.

Balfour signed a 1-yr deal worth $1.4-million, while Bartlett also signed a 1-yr deal but he went for $1.98 million.

Arbitration for Aybar and Navarro will take place some time next month.

Bolts Rally, Spoil Richards Return

By JC De La Torre

Vincent Lecavalier wasn't about to allow his bud Brad Richards get the last laugh. Lecavalier scored twice (including the eventual game winner) and added an assist to rally the Lightning past the Dallas Stars 4-2. It was also the first time Tampa Bay has beaten Dallas in Tampa Bay since 1996.

The game marked Brad Richards return to the place he started his NHL career and won the Stanley Cup. Lecavalier opened the scoring just 1:33 into the game with a short handed goal. 20 seconds later, Richards answered on the power play to tie the game at 1. It would stay 1-1 until the 4:19 when Richards assisted on a goal by Loui Eriksson to give the Stars the lead.

Tampa Bay tied the game midway through the third by converting a Dallas turnover in their own zone into Steven Stamkos' blast from the low slot. At 14:54 of the third, Lecavalier rocketed a blast past Stars goalie Marty Turco that seemed to sizzle the net, put the Lightning in the lead and left his teammates and coach talking.

"That was a goal in any league," Lightning and former Stars Goaltender Mike Smith told the St. Petersburg Times.

"Not many guys in the league can score goals like that," coach Rick Tocchet added, "That was a special goal."

Lecavalier would assist on Vaclav Prospal's empty net goal to provide the final margin.

Tampa Bay improved to 15-21-10 and now are only 10 points out of a playoff spot. Tampa Bay lost the services of Evgeny Artyukhin, who was suspended for two games by the NHL for a knee-to-knee hit on Florida's Ville Peltonen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tomlin, Steelers join Cards in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII

By JC De La Torre

The Pittsburgh Steelers used their top flight defense to smother the Baltimore Ravens and earn their second AFC Championship in four years, defeating the Ravens 23-14. Meanwhile, Arizona blew a big halftime lead but rallied to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 for the NFC Title. They well meet Feb. 1 in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who was a defensive backs coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four seasons, winning the Super Bowl with the club in 2002. Tomlin is the youngest coach ever to lead his team to the Super Bowl and obviously has the opportunity to be the youngest to win it. Quarterback Ben Rothlisberger earns his second trip to the Super Bowl, while the #1 defense in the NFL prepares for the high flying Cardinals.

While the Cardinals defense has definitely upped the anty during their suprising playoff run, its the passing game of the Cards that strikes fear in opponents. Kurt Warner has put together an MVP-caliber season, cementing his eventual ascension to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when his career is done. The phenomenal Larry Fitgerald is the focus of the passing attack, while Aquan Boldin is a heck of a force as well.

Should be an interesting matchup at Raymond James Stadium in a couple weeks.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Players Like Raheem for Bucs Gig

By JC De La Torre

The players of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expressed excitement over the elevation of Raheem Morris to Head Coach of the team.

Quotes were provided to the Tampa Bay press from the Buccaneers Public Relations staff and compiled by our friends the Pewter Report -

"He's one of the more young and dynamic coaches in the league. He's a guy that everyone in the locker room has looked up to for a long time for the way he knows this game and for the way he approaches this game," Bucs Running Back Earnest Graham said, "I'm definitely excited and ecstatic about the opportunity to play for Raheem and give his head coaching career a heck of a start. I'm definitely ecstatic."

"I'm extremely proud for Raheem's opportunity today. He is a great example for all of us about how to really tap into your talents and run with them! He's energetic, diligent at his job and I know, well respected by everyone that works with him. He's a star in the making and we've known that for a long time," CB Ronde Barber said, "But this chance to be in what I think is an ideal situation for him, coaching where he mostly grew into his own, is very rewarding for a lot of us! I know I speak for my current and future teammates when I express how exciting it will be to work with him. I truly believe he'll build on the great traditions of Buccaneer football and lead his team to great things."

"I couldn't be more happy for Raheem," said former Buc Fan favorite Mike Alstott, "He is a great guy with a lot of passion for this game. I think he is a great fit for this team and was a great decision by the Glazer family. I think he will do a great job and the fans of Tampa Bay will be extremely pleased."

"He's a guy who's going to let the players just play and take control of the game," Running back Warrick Dunn said, "You have to respect that and I think he's going to bring - when you have a new coach he's going to bring a little bit of new fire, a little tenacity and I think for some of the young guys, and definitely for some of us older guys, it's good to have that spice a little bit. He's a guy that's going to bring a lot of energy to work and we know he's going to have a certain type of tenacity that guys are going to enjoy and love to play for. I just think he's going to do a great job and bring great leadership."

"Basically, I'm ecstatic over the decision. Obviously I'm a good friend of Raheem's, I'm a huge fan of his as a coach and I think he was on that fast track to being a head coach and he's one of the young, rising superstars in the profession." Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said, "So I'm thrilled he's going to be coaching me while I'm there and I think he brings not only great X's and O's strategy and fundamental football, but he really knows situational football too. You combine that with knowing how to motivate people and knowing how to push people, I think he's going to be a great coach."

"I'm looking forward to going in and leading the football team under his leadership and his vision of where we need to go to win another championship," Future Hall of Fame Bucs Linebacker Derrick Brooks added, "At the same time, in anything with change, you have questions, but I think the one thing that Coach Morris will bring to the table is energy, everybody being on the same page at the same time, from top to bottom. I think that's going to be key, because we have to deal with change. The more comfortable people are in their roles and knowing their roles, the better we can deal with this change and make the best of it."

"Coach Raheem is a great energy guy and a great guy mentally. I know he knows the game. The things that he does out there on the field, especially with the defensive backs, I think it will work out great for us. He has the tools. He's been around great coaches, like Monte Kiffin, that have been around football," Prospective Free Agent Wide Receiver Antonio Bryant said, "Coach Raheem also showed his energy and his passion for the game. He's a fun person. He's a fun person to work with and winning is definitely his number one characteristic trait. I'm definitely looking forward to working with Raheem Morris as the Buccaneers head coach."

"He's, I think, very, very qualified for the position and definitely was one of the hot prospects around the NFL as a guy that's going to bring fresh life into the team and the organization," Center Jeff Faine said, "That will be a big change. I think that Coach is going to step in and do a great job."

"I remember vividly in 2002 Herm Edwards calling me and saying we have a guy coming down here who worked with us. Herm said you are going to really like this guy, I think he's really got a bright future ahead of him and just look out for him. Sure enough when Raheem arrived you could see," Former Bucs Safety John Lynch said, "We struck gold in those couple of years with some great assistants in Mike Tomlin and Raheem. I think Raheem is a young guy full of passion for the game and has been trained by the best in my mind in Monte Kiffin. I think he's got all the makings of being a tremendous head coach. I'm excited for him to have this opportunity and I think he'll thrive with it."

"The thing I believe is that Raheem was brought up in this profession correctly. He understands the backbone of this defense, and is a rising star in this business." Former Bucs assistant and Lions Head Coach Rod Marinelli said, "It all starts with his work ethic, the fundamentals and the fact that he is an excellent teacher. He has done every job there is in this business and has earned the right to be a head coach. Raheem has earned the respect of his players because he understands them. He will make a great head coach."

"Raheem is an exceptional coach and more importantly, he is a better person," Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said, "Leadership is something he does not have to work at, it oozes out of him. He is a great example for all of us about how to really tap into your talents and run with them. He's energetic, diligent at his job and I know well respected by everyone that works with him. He's a star in the making and we've known that for a long time. The Tampa Bay organization and its fans are in great hands. "

"I see the way our DBs respond to him and they really rally around him," Bucs Offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood said, "He looks like the type of guy who commands respect and gives respect at the same time. I think I'm going to really enjoy playing for him. I could see that attitude spreading through the whole team."

Gators Pull Away From Razorbacks

By JC De La Torre

The Florida Gators remained undefeated in Southeastern Conference play, rallying from an early 1st half deficit and pulling away in the 2nd half for an 80-65 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Florida phenom Nick Calathes led all scorers with 28 points.

Midway through the first half, Florida trailed by 7 points, 20-13 to a tough and determined Razorbacks squad before Calathes led a 9-3 Gator run to shave the lead to 1 and Kenny Kadji's jumper gave Florida the lead. The Gators would hold a 3 point advantage at halftime, 37-34.

After shooting a miserable 3 of 17 from three point range in the first half, Florida heated up from downtown in the second, drilling 8 of 13 in the second half that essentially buried the Razorbacks. The Gators opened up the second half with a 9-0 run and Arkansas fell behind by as many as 17, never getting closer than 9 the rest of the way.

"Our 3-point shooting is definitely our main offense," Calathes told the St. Petersburg Times, "We can hit 14 threes in a game, we can hit two 3s in a game. When they fall, it's tough to beat us."

Florida improved to 3-0 in SEC play and 16-2 overall.

Bulls Fall Short in Upset Bid of West Virginia

By JC De La Torre

It was a hard fought battle, but South Florida just did not have enough to stay with the West Virginia Mountaineers in Men's Big East Basketball play, falling 62-59. USF's Dominque Jones scored 35 points to lead all scorers.

After trailing by 14 at halftime, South Florida put together a furious comeback rallying from down 10 with 9:27 left in the game thanks to a 12-3 run that cut the West Virgina lead to 1 point with 4:40 left. The Mountaineers lead would fluctuate from 1-4 points down the stretch but USF could not get the tying or leading basket and West Virginia was good at the line.

"I seriously thought about going home at halftime and taking my team, because we were pretty bad," coach Stan Heath told the St. Pete Times, "It didn't look like we had the energy level, and we weren't competing the way we needed to. But I thought we were a better team in the second half."

"I don't know what it is," Guard Jesus Verdejo said, "We just don't play hard for 40 minutes. We had guys who just didn't play hard for the first 15 or 20 minutes."

The Bulls fell to 6-11 overall, 1-4 in Big East play.

Bolts Blow Two Goal Lead to Panthers, Fall 4-3

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the first period of their cross-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, outshooting Florida 11-4 and outscoring them 3-1 going into the first intermission. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, twenty minutes isn't an entire game and the Panthers came roaring back with three unanswered goals in the second period to pull off a 4-3 victory.

Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos was a healthy scratch for the second time in five games as the Lightning continue on their strength and conditioning program for the 2008 #1 overall pick.

Vincent Lecavalier opened up the scoring at the 4:37 mark of the 1st and Vaclav Prospal added a power play goal at 13:36 to give the Lightning a 2-0 advantage. Florida got on the board late in the first with Greg Campbell's 9th of the season. A minute later, the Lightning answered with Ryan Malone's 13th goal of the season. That would be the extent of the Tampa Bay scoring.

The second period was all Panthers, as they received goals from Cory Stillman and Richard Zednik, outshooting Tampa Bay 13-9. With only one second left in the period and the game tied at 3, Jay Bouwmeester fired the puck toward the net on the power play and it got across the goal line before time expired, giving the Panthers a 4-3 lead they wouldn't relenquish.

In the third, the Lightning peppered Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun, who relieved Craig Anderson after Tampa Bay's third goal, outshooting the Panthers 13-4 but Vokoun make all thirteen saves and Florida held on for the victory.

"We had started the game great," Prospal told the St. Pete Times, "We didn't give them anything in the first period. In the second period, we gave them all the momentum."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Anatomy of Jon Gruden's Dismissal

By JC De La Torre

Many pundits and fans around the league were shocked when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers terminated Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen in favor of a 32 year old coach who has never been a head coach at any level and a 37 year old General Manager who has never held that position before. While news of Gruden's dismissal sent shockwaves throughout the community, it wasn't an "Oh my God, how could they do this?" type reaction. It was more of a "Why the heck did they take so long to do it?"

True enough, the seeds of this outcome were planted long ago and it had to be done if the Buccaneers were going to sniff another Super Bowl. Only time will tell if Morris and Dominik were the right choices to succeed but both are highly regarded in NFL circles and among players on the team. The latter may have doomed Gruden and as with guilt by association, Bruce Allen.

To understand the firing of Jon Gruden, you have to go back to the very beginning. It was January 2002 and the Buccaneers had just fired Tony Dungy after the team posted their second consecutive 9-7 season and for the second straight year getting blasted out of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles. Dungy was let go because the Glazers had a deal with Bill Parcells, who was already putting together a staff. Bill Muir was hired as his offensive line coach, while Mike Tannanbaum (current Jets GM) was scheduled to take over as General Manager. Somewhere along the line, Tannanbaum and Parcells got a look at the Buccaneers salary cap situation and quickly came to the realization that Tampa Bay's window of opportunity for a championship was rapidly closing. Parcells reneged on the deal, sending Joel and Bryan Glazer on a wild odyssey that spanned the country. At first, they trusted sitting General Manager Rich McKay to lead the coaching search but when McKay brought the name Marvin Lewis as his choice for the job, the Glazers all but neutered McKay - eliminating him from the coaching search process. It was nothing against Lewis, but the Glazers wanted an offensive minded head coach and viewed Lewis as a Dungy clone. They inquired about Spurrier at Florida, but Spurrier had already secured a lucrative deal in place with Washington Redskins. They talked to Maryland Head Coach Ralph Friedgen and new USC coach Pete Carroll. They inquired with the Raiders about Gruden but were told he wasn't available. On Feb. 18, 2002, while on a trip to speak with 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, Joel Glazer received a late night call from Raiders owner Al Davis. Davis told him that they could have Gruden, but the price would be steep - two first round picks, two second round picks, and eight million dollars. Joel swallowed hard, accepted the terms and Jon Gruden was introduced as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next day. During the press conference, Gruden irked some fans by mispronouncing fan favorite Mike Alstott's name, calling him "Mark Alstott".

Gruden's fiery demeanor and offensive prowess were a stark contrast to Tony Dungy's style. It was a cultural shock to the defense that had pretty much been the whole show in Tampa Bay. Monte Kiffin was retained and Raheem Morris joined the team as Defensive Quality Control Coach. Morris learned under the wing of defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin and the mad genius himself, Kiffin. Gruden meanwhile brought something that had never been seen in Tampa Bay under Dungy, accountability for the offense. Gruden added some pieces to the puzzle, like wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, running back Michael Pittman, tight end Ken Dilger - in all several new offensive starters joined the club. Holdover Quarterback Brad Johnson wasn't Gruden's style of quarterback but he adjusted his massive playbook to accommodate Johnson's limitations. Loudmouth Wide Receiver Keyshawn Johnson was given a prime role in the offense. Gruden's 2002 Bucs rolled to the NFC South title in the division's inaugural season, boasting a franchise best 12-4 record and earning a first round bye. The Buccaneers blasted San Francisco in the divisional round and went back to Philadelphia to face their old foes, the Eagles, in the final game ever to be played in Veterans Stadium. A tremendous defensive effort in addition to just enough offense from the Johnsons, Jurevicius and fullback Mike Alstott got the Bucs over the hump and they claimed their first NFC Championship. Amazingly, Gruden's former team, the Raiders, won the AFC. The team had promoted from within, giving the reigns to Bill Callahan who essentially kept Gruden's playbook intact. Gruden was a master at preparing the Bucs defense to face the powerful Oakland offense and when the Bucs thrashed the Raiders in Super Bowl 37, he was on top of the world.

The bloom would fall off the rose quickly. During the March 2003 owners meetings, a drunken Gruden trashed General Manager Rich McKay with reporters in earshot, complaining about his draft choices and work ethic. Gruden never acknowledged the incident but there was underlying friction that began to develop. The Bucs opened up 2003 in similar fashion to the way the ended 2002, blasting the Eagles on Monday Night football during the opening of Philly's new stadium Lincoln Financial Field. The Bucs had slayed the Eagle dragon, ruining both their closing and opening of their stadiums and taking a Super Bowl Championship that many believed would belong to Philadelphia but things would not stay hunky dory for the Bucs. In their home opener Week 2, Martin Gramatica missed the game winning extra point against the Carolina Panthers, forcing the game to go to overtime where the Bucs eventually lost. During the game, Tampa Bay lost both Jurevicius (knee) and Alstott (neck) for the season. Tampa Bay would bounce back the next week, crushing Atlanta on the road and came home to face their former coach, Tony Dungy and his Colts on Monday Night football. The Bucs built a 35-14 lead late into the fourth quarter when the Bucs defense suddenly collapsed. Peyton Manning led one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history as the Colts scored 28 points in the final 5 minutes of the game to tie the Bucs at 35 and eventually won the game in overtime. Instead of a strong 3-1, the Bucs had crashing to 2-2. The Bucs would lose four of the next six games, during the slump Gruden had a falling out with Wide Receiver Keyshawn Johnson that ended in his suspension from the team. After Johnson was exorcised, the Bucs rallied with two straight wins to get to 7-7. On December 15, 2003, General Manager Rich McKay resigned due to irreconcilable differences with Gruden and promptly became the Atlanta Falcons President and General Manager. McKay was in the opposing Owner's box at Raymond James Stadium as the Falcons ended the Bucs slim playoff hopes with a 30-28 upset, causing many Buc fans to give him the moniker "Benedict McKay". The Bucs would finish 2003 at 7-9.

The 2004 off-season brought in Bruce Allen, who quickly signed Charlie Garner from the Raiders to a lucrative deal. Garner would play three plays for the Bucs before blowing out his knee and retiring. Wide Receiver Keenan McCardell held out in a contract dispute and was eventually traded to the Chargers. As the Bucs descended into cap hell, Warren Sapp and John Lynch were let go from the defense, much to the dismay of the fanbase. McCardell joined Keyshawn Johnson in claims that "Gruden would tell you one thing but do the opposite, he's fake." Keyshawn was traded to Dallas for oft-injured wide receiver Joey Galloway. Fans grew angry with Gruden for not playing Mike Alstott. Alstott had only 67 carries for 267 yds and 2 touchdowns in 14 games. The Bucs started the season poorly, 0-4, before the benching of Super Bowl winning quarterback Brad Johnson. Johnson would eventually be released. Chris Simms would take over but be injured in his first game, forcing the Bucs to go with Brian Griese at quarterback. Griese went 4-6 as a starter and the Bucs fell to 5-11, their worst record since 1993. Gruden continuously lamented about injuries during the season and it became a broken record throughout the remainder of his tenure. Gruden constantly used injuries as an excuse when his teams lost.

The 2005 season was a renaissance of sorts for Tampa Bay. The Bucs 1st round draft pick, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams burst onto the scene, rushing for more yards in his first three games than any rookie running back in NFL history. Joey Galloway was a force in the offense, terrorizing secondaries with his speed and big play ability. Tampa Bay ripped off four straight wins to begin the year and started off the season 5-1 before starter Brian Griese went down with an injury. Chris Simms stepped in, went 6-5 as the starter, leading the Bucs to the NFC South Division championship. The Bucs lost at home to the Washington Redskins in the first round of the playoffs. Alstott was relegated to 3rd down back status but continued to earn the fans love, converting a game winning two point conversion earlier in the year against Washington. Fans continued to complain that Gruden was ruining Alstott's career.

In 2006, Raheem Morris left the Buccaneers to become Defensive Coordinator at Kansas State. Days later, defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin left to join the Vikings as defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli took over as head coach of the Detroit Lions. Chris Simms began the season as the starter but started poorly, throwing 7 interceptions and only 1 touchdown in his first three games. In the third game, Simms severely damaged his spleen in a loss to Carolina and had to have an emergency spleenectomy. The Bucs fell apart under rookie 6th round draft pick Bruce Gradkowski who was abysmal, going 3-8 as a starter before finally being relieved by third string QB Tim Rattay and the Bucs fell to 4-12, the franchise's worst record since going 3-13 in 1991. More inner turmoil developed as defensive end Simeon Rice called out Gruden to the press and wide receiver Michael Clayton complained about being told one thing by the coach and something else happens. With the defections of Morris, Marinelli and Tomlin, the Bucs defense fell out of the top 10 for the first time in ten years, finishing 17th in total defense and 21st in points allowed.

During the 2007 off-season, Rice would be dumped just before training camp and the team signed Jeff Garcia as a free agent, and then traded for Denver's Jake Plummer, despite Plummer's assertions that he was going to retire. Gruden and Allen failed to talk Plummer out of retirement. Raheem Morris returned to Tampa Bay as defensive backs coach. Mike Alstott reinjured his neck in the pre-season and was lost for the year. Garcia took over and was 8-5 as a starter. Cadillac Williams suffered a catastrophic knee injury and was lost for the year. Thanks to its #1 ranked defense, Tampa Bay had the division wrapped up on December 2nd, giving Gruden the opportunity to rest his players down the stretch. The Bucs lost three of their last four games and headed into the playoffs with no momentum. The Bucs would be beaten soundly at home in the first round of the playoffs by eventual Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants.

In the 2008 off-season, Jeff Garcia claimed he was lied to by Gruden and Bruce Allen and was expecting a new lucrative contract. The team flirted with bringing in Brett Favre, further ticking off their quarterback. Mike Alstott retired from football, many fans still blaming Gruden for ruining his career. After failing to secure Favre, Gruden brought back Garcia, who nursed injuries during training camp. Joey Galloway also missed most of camp, creating a huge hole for the Bucs to fill. Galloway had posted three consecutive 1,000 yd receiving years under Gruden, who nicknamed Galloway "The White Tiger" because he was rarely seen during training camp, like the white tigers at Tampa's Busch Gardens. Garcia was benched in favor of Brian Griese after week 1 but Griese's shoulder injury brought the starting job back to Garcia. Tampa Bay rolled to a 9-3 record with a division title and first round bye in sight. Galloway would rarely see the field as tormented reclamation

project Antonio Bryant burst onto the scene and essentially took Galloway's job. Fans complained at Gruden's inability to get Galloway and Bryant on the field at the same time as Gruden said they both play the same position in his offense and he wasn't going to take Bryant off the field. Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, the heart and soul of the Bucs defense, announced that he would be leaving the Buccaneers after 13 seasons to join his son Lane at the University of Tennessee. As soon as the announcement was made, the defense collapsed and the Buccaneers lost their last four games, including two at home to sub .500 west coast teams and missed the playoffs.

The scuttlebutt is that by 2008, the players - at least on the defensive side of the ball - were not playing for Gruden, but Monte. Once Monte made his intentions known, it was over as far as the Buccaneers defense was concerned. Gruden tried to save the season by naming Raheem Morris as the eventual successor to Kiffin, but it wasn't enough.

The Glazers were disgusted with the way the season ended. After an unsatisfactory exit meeting with Gruden and Allen they decided that rather than make an emotionally rash decision, they would take some time away and let the emotions of the situation subside. During the past three weeks, they talked to players about Gruden and the feedback was not positive. They didn't trust Gruden and didn't believe in him. He was billed as a two-faced ego maniac who held grudges. They again met with Gruden and Bruce Allen - a meeting that led Gruden to believe he'd have one more year to turn things around, but still left unsatisfied with the direction the franchise was headed. Meanwhile, two internal figures they liked very much, Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik, were getting consideration around the league for promotions.

Ultimately, they weren't satisfied with the direction of the franchise. Gruden and Bruce Allen weren't builders - they were patchers. They would find some mid-tier veteran to patch holes to allow the team to remain competitive - but that wasn't going to get you another Super Bowl title. Allen told a reporter that, "December did us in." There are strong indications that the decision was just to fire Jon Gruden but Bruce Allen was so entrenched with Gruden that it made for a very uncomfortable situation and spurred on his dismissal as well.

Time will tell if the Glazer family made the right decision. At the very least, the Glazers reportedly will be paying $25 million dollars over the next 3 years for two front office people not to run their front office. Morris and Dominik will at least have that long to begin the process of building a dominant championship caliber team in Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder about Gruden's thought process today. He was a Super Bowl Champion coach and that may have inflated his ego a bit. His player relations ultimately brought about his termination and his philosophy of patching instead of building hurt his ability to get the team at championship level. Their inability to draft impact players also hurt the franchise as it continued to tread the water of mediocrity. Will Gruden self-evaluate? Understand what went wrong and learn from it or will he continue to blame others and circumstances?

It will be interesting to see.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rumors say Raheem Morris Next Bucs Coach, Dominik GM

By JC De La Torre

There are strong rumors in the bay area that former defensive backs coach and new Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris is going to be named the Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Meanwhile, Director of Pro Personnel Mark Dominik will take over as General Manager.

ESPN's John Clayton is reporting that the Bucs have hired former Saints Defensive Coordinator Gary Gibbs, but the position Gibbs will be given within the organization is currently unknown.

Morris was a finalist for the Broncos head coaching job, meanwhile Dominik was a finalist for the Kansas City General Manager job that went to Scott Pioli.

ESPN and 620 WDAE are both reporting on air that Dominik and Morris are taking over in Tampa Bay.

Bucs Players Dissed Gruden

By JC De La Torre

Adam Schefter of the NFL Network just stated on NFL Total Access that over the past couple weeks the Glazers have interviewed several players on their opinions of Jon Gruden and apparently the opinion was NOT favorable.

Word is, both Gruden and Allen were blindsided by this news.

As the Bucs turn continues...


By JC De La Torre

Shocking development late on Friday...The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have fired General Manager Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden. From the Buccaneers.com website, an official statement from Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer, “We will be forever grateful to Jon for bringing us the Super Bowl title, and we thank Bruce for his contributions to our franchise, however after careful consideration, we feel that this decision is in the best interest of our organization moving forward.”

Adam Schefter of the NFL Network said former General Manager Bruce Allen stated, "December did us in," referring to the four game collapse where the Buccaneers fell from 9-3 and the 2nd seed to 9-7 and out of the playoffs.

The story will continue to develop, some speculate that the Bucs may have someone (Mike Shanahan anyone?) in waiting.

JC De La Torre's Tampa Bay Sports Blog would like to take this opportunity to thank Jon Gruden for the Super Bowl championship and three division titles. We'd also like to thank Bruce Allen for tackling the tough task of getting Tampa Bay out of cap hell and setting up the Buccaneers for this season and the future with an impressive $45 million dollar cap surplus.

Folks, I'm stunned. While I made no bones about my feeling that Jon should be dismissed for the late season collapse and overall body of work since 2003 I am suprised because Gruden and Allen got through Black Monday in the NFL unscathed.

As a Buccaneer fan, we can only hope that the Buccaneers coaching search ends better than the last time they fired a coach. Buccaneer co-chairman Joel and Bryan Glazer scoured the country for a coach and ended up surrendering two first round picks, a second, a third and $8 million bucks to the Raiders for Gruden. Of course, Jon's hiring paid off as the Buccaneers won Super Bowl 37. After the Super Bowl, the team began its inevitable decline as the team descended into salary cap hell, Rich McKay left the sinking ship and Bruce Allen came in. Allen was forced to dismantle the championship team, ushering the exit of John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Joe Jurivecius, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, and others. Gruden drew criticsm for his treatment of players (fan favorite Mike Alstott in particular) and earned the reputation of being "two-faced".

Again, we'll keep on this through the night and let you know as soon as we hear anything on this story.


Joe Barry Back with Bucs

By JC De La Torre

Our friends at the Pewter Report are confirming an early report on ESPN that Joe Barry has returned to his roll as Linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Barry was linebacker coach for Tampa Bay from 2001 to 2006 before leaving to join his father-in-law Rod Marinelli as Defensive Coordinator of the Detroit Lions. The Lions struggled under Barry's tutelage, ranking dead last in points in each of Barry's two seasons, ending with this season's horrid 0-16 year. Barry had left with some bad blood after the Bucs blocked opportunities for Barry and his father-in-law from opportunities to take defensive coordinator positions with other teams because they were under contract with the Bucs.

Barry replaces Gus Bradley, who became defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.

Lightning Dominate Philly, Lawton Says Team Not Shopping Vinny

By JC De La Torre

Amid the dark clouds descending from the north, Vincent Lecavalier and the Tampa Bay Lightning put together one of their better efforts of the season, dominating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 during their return to the St. Pete Times Forum.

"He is not being traded today. He's not being traded tomorrow. He's not being traded any time soon. This should put everything to rest," Lawton told the Tampa Bay media in a hastily called presser, "Normally our club policy is to not address rumors. Obviously with Vinny Lecavalier's situation, there has been a lot of speculation floating around - completely unfounded, I might add, Vinny Lecavalier is not being shopped by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It would be erroneous of me to say that people haven't called me on Vinny Lecavalier because they certainly have, and that has started literally from the day that I took this position. Why would something like that happen? Because he's a great player." One would hope that Lawton's forked-tongue is not giving us lip service this time around.

The shame is the fiasco has taken away from a pretty solid run by the Lightning, who now have gone 7-4-1 in their last 12.

After a scoreless first, Philadelphia's Joffrey Lupul opened the scoring on the power play at the 5:21 mark of the second. Tampa Bay tied it at the 14:48 mark on a beautiful blast from Martin St. Louis. The goal would start a rare Lightning eruption of offense with three goals in two minutes and three seconds, Andrej Meszaros on the Power Play and Ryan Craig a minute later.

The victory was cemented by Lecavalier who had his stick snapped during a breakaway, setting up a penalty shot at the 12:34 mark of the third. Lecavalier slowed on his approach, deked, and put the puck between Martin Biron's legs for the goal, giving the Bolts an insurmountable 4-1 advantage. Tampa Bay outshot the Flyers 44-34.

"They're a pretty good hockey team with a lot of pride," Philadelphia coach John Stevens said to the St. Pete Times, "They're getting better all the time. They had a lot of desperation in their game tonight."

Still the focus was on the circus surrounding Lecavalier.

"The last four or five days, especially the first two or three days ... I want to say I wasn't distracted, but I was, I think anybody would because these were rumors that had a lot of legs," Lecavalier told the Tampa Tribune, "But it was nice to go out there and play, when you're on the ice, you don't think about what goes on outside the rink."

Even the Lightning's players find the talk of Lecavalier being traded hard to stomach.

"We're all teammates here," Ryan Craig told the St. Petersburg Times, "We don't want to see anyone from our group go, especially our leader and captain."

"To even think about trading a guy like that, I don't know," added Goalie Mike Smith, ""You don't like to hear rumors that go on, and obviously it's going to happen. The good teams don't worry about what's going on in the media, and try just to play hockey."

"Vinny is a professional," Martin St. Louis told the AP, "I thought he was great out there. It's just the nature of the business. We've just got to be strong mentally."

Tampa Bay is 14-20-10, good for 4th in the Southeast Division and twelfth in the Eastern Conference. Believe it or not, Tampa Bay is now only 9 points out of a playoff spot.

Harvin Leaves, Spikes Stays

By JC De La Torre

Surprising no one, Florida Wide Receiver/Running Back/Phenom Percy Harvin has taken his fleet feet to the National Football League, while the middle of the great Gator defense that shutdown one of the most prolific offenses in college football history, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, is coming back for his Senior season.

"I will have a lot of great memories from my time at Florida, but the championships we won in 2006 and 2008 will be at the top of my list," Harvin said in a prepared statement, ''When it is all said and done, I wanted to win. I wanted to be a part of championship teams. We did that at Florida and I had a great group of coaches, teammates and medical and strength staff that helped make that happen. I will always be a Gator and look forward to watching them play next year on Saturdays."

Brandon Spikes elected to return to Florida which means the Gators will return all 11 starters from the 08 Championship squad.

"It was a tough decision for me and my family," Spikes said in a statement. "I just felt like it was the right choice to come back."

Harvin leaves the Gators with 133 receptions for 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing the ball 194 times for 1,852 yards with 19 touchdowns. His 32 touchdowns is tops all-time for Gator wide receivers.

We'll miss Percy's slash and dash style of running and big plays during big games ability. While Florida will definitely miss him, Urban Meyer's recruiting ability should bring us the next Florida Phenom to fill his very fast shoes. As for Percy, we wish him the best of luck in the NFL (Buccaneers...are you listening?)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Memo to Lightning Brass - Trade Vinny and They'll Be Hell to Pay...

By JC De La Torre

Trade winds are blowing in Tampa Bay and I don't like it one bit. The Canadian press is buzzing about the possibility of Vincent Lecavalier being pried out of Tampa Bay and into the sweater of the most revered franchise in hockey, the Montreal Canadiens. Lecavalier to the Habs is nothing new. Every year there are rumors about Lecavalier and Montreal simply because the fans and media of the Canadiens have a long distance love affair with the French Canadian. Montreal hasn't had a French Canadian superstar in quite some time and has lusting over Lecavalier since former Lightning Owner Art Williams called him "The Michael Jordan of Hockey". Most of the rumors were unsubstantiated B.S....but for some reason, this time feels a bit different.

TSN's Darren Dreger stated in his January 13th column
, "The discussions have taken place (between Lightning Ownership and the Canadiens); however what Tampa owners are wrestling with is the short term financial impact of such a bold move versus the long-term hockey benefits expected in the return."

Considering this is the same group that signed Dan Boyle to a mega-deal during the 2007 season only to trade him the next off-season and who traded Brad Richards even after they said they wouldn't, its difficult not to believe the chatter. Rumors are also rampant that the ownership group, OK Hockey, is struggling to meet the financial demands of owning a sports franchise and this may be some money making venture.

"These questions and rumors, I've been getting them my whole career," Lecavalier told the St. Pete Times, "I've been getting a lot of phone calls from friends back home, people wondering what's going on. I tell them they're rumors. That's about it."

Oren and Len...don't do it or they'll be hell to pay. Its not about Lecavalier, players come and go - its about trust. Its about loyalty. Its about having your fans believe in what you are doing because bottom line - if there's no fans, none of you make money. If there are no fans, you won't get TV or radio deals. If there's no fans, there's no franchise. The Tampa Bay fans came into your ownership with an open mind. We were tested when you traded Brad Richards, but allowed it to pass because it meant we'd keep Dan Boyle and received a decent goalie in Mike Smith. We were tested again when Stanley Cup winning head coach John Tortorella was fired for-of all people-Barry Melrose. We were tested once more when Boyle was dealt away for -of all people- Matt Carle. We were tested yet another time when management went crazy, signing every forward with a pulse. We were tested for the final time when Melrose was canned and Rick Tocchet was elevated. There are so many tests one fanbase can take.

The St. Pete Times' Columnist Gary Shelton said it best, "If the team trades away Vinny Lecavalier, it is also trading away one of the last reasons to believe in it. " Vincent Lecavalier is one of the last remaining shreds of dignity this franchise has. He is still one of the elite players in the league and at 28 is entering his prime. The fans know Vinny, they identify with Vinny, he is without question the face of the franchise - its greatest player in its history. When you think of the Lightning, you think of Lecavalier. If he is gone, what is left to believe in? I could take Richards. I didn't like it but I understood the god awful salary cap situation the hockey team was in. I could even take Boyle - I thought it was a horrible deal for Tampa Bay, San Jose fleeced them, but it was pure and simply a salary dump to make up for the spending frenzy during free agency. I hated the firing over Tortorella - it was an awful decision made worse by the hiring of the scumbag Barry Melrose. I totally agreed with the firing of Melrose and understood that Tocchet was the only one of the staff qualified to take over for the interim. But not Vinny.

I could take the team trading away Malone, Smith, Martin St. Louis, Prospal (again), pretty much anyone on the roster - but not Vinny. Trade our 1st round pick...our next five first round picks - but not Vinny.

I pledge to you one thing - if Vincent Lecavalier is traded from the Lightning - I WILL NOT PURCHASE ANOTHER TICKET FOR A LIGHTNING GAME AS LONG AS OK HOCKEY REMAINS IN OWNERSHIP. If Lecavalier is dealt, I won't watch the team on TV, I won't buy their merchandise, and I damn sure won't blog about them until OK Hockey sells. The Lightning will be dead to me. Its not about "being a fan of the jersey, not the players". Its the principle of the thing. The jersey is not treating me, the fan, right and I'd rather devote my hard earned income to a franchise that is - be it the Rays or the Buccaneers (but that's another gripe for another post). If the franchise only cares about making money, has no interest on the on-ice product or its image around the league or its integrity among the fanbase, why should I waste my time on them? At this rate, the franchise will be in Quebec City or Hollywood or Vegas or somewhere other than here. Maybe that's the end game for these guys, maybe they want to ruin this hockey club, destroy the fan base and relocate it somewhere closer to the next SAW movie.

Oren or Len...I don't know if you're reading this or if you even care but I implore you to show this fanbase that you care. Do not trade Lecavalier. If you need to cut costs, find other avenues other than trading our best player. I'm not the only one who feels this way. Listen to the sports radio shows or read the newspapers comments sections online or other bloggers like myself. You've had a series of bad mistakes, we know - it happens. You guys are new at this and you're bound to foul up a few times in the early going. But this goes well beyond a mistake. This would be the death knell for the franchise, something it may take a decade to recover from. Sure, the automatic cop-out was "Gretzky got traded, anyone can be..." but this is different than Gretzky. As much as he meant to the Oilers franchise, it was still going to be supported after he was gone. The league wanted it to happen because they wanted the NHL to succeed in the second largest market in America. He wanted to leave to be closer to his new wife, Janet Jones. The Oilers still had Messier, Fuhr, and the dynasty of four Stanley Cups. The Oilers lived on past Gretzky.

Lecavalier is the franchise in Tampa Bay, without him - we have nothing. There's nothing left to make us believe in YOU the ownership or who you've hired to run the team or the collection of players you've assembled.

We have reached a crossroads. For you as owners, we as fans, for the Lightning as a viable franchise. Not Vinny, Len and Oren. Not Vinny.