Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson says that when he was with the New York Jets, he tried desperately to get traded to Gruden's Raiders. "A young Bill Parcells," Johnson calls his new coach. In his rush to replace Dungy's one-dimensional attack with his own aggressive and disciplined scheme, Gruden had the offense run more than 1,000 plays during its minicamp, and in training camp he would jam two dozen plays into 10 minutes. "We've always had a tremendous tempo on defense," Lynch says. "Now the offense is starting to match it."
This is no small feat. The Bucs won their first two preseason games over their intrastate rivals, the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Gruden's biggest challenge has come in the offense's battles against Tampa Bay's fearsome defense. Led by tackle Warren Sapp, who vowed to Gruden that he'd be his daily nightmare, the Bucs' D is a "high-testosterone unit, with a lot of libidos," says defensive end Simeon Rice. But early in the first week of training camp Gruden got his offense moving, and Sapp & Co. backpedaled all the way downfield. After each play Gruden would go into the huddle, his face Chuckified, and say, "Let's keep ripping their asses."
"And we'd rip them again," says receiver Keenan McCardell. "It's contagious."
Compared with all this, then, what are the words of a dying man? Of course, McKittrick was right. But Gruden knows that few people understand what they want out of life, fewer still have the gifts to match their ambition, and fewest of all get rich and famous in the bargain. McKittrick had "made me reflect on being a good husband, a good family man and all that," Gruden says, "but at the same time, I love this."
He is sitting in the Orlando hotel, shades drawn. It's 5:50 a.m. His face is lit by the glow of the computer.
"I love this," Gruden says again. "I love the strategy. I love being around the guys. I like the competition. I love flying home after a big win, the locker room celebrations. I like to see how we all act in the face of adversity. Are we going to throw our helmets, or are we going to find a way out of this? Is it going to be second-and-nine or first-and-10? Are we going to make this field goal? What's the weather going to be like tomorrow for the game? I wonder if it's going to be a loud crowd. I wonder if they're going to raise hell in that end zone like they always do. I just like the thrill of it all."
Envy the man, and pity him, too. He has everything he ever wanted.