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Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Updated: January 29, 7:16 PM ET
Gruden admits surprise at firing

By Chris Mortensen
ESPN.com

In his first public comments since being fired as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 16, Jon Gruden said Wednesday he was rebounding from his shocking dismissal and was in good enough spirits to say "that Chucky will be back and hopefully my teeth will be as sharp as ever."

Gruden said he had no doubt he would coach again whether "it's the NFL, college, high school or, maybe, I'll just be the best damn flag football coach in the history of Florida. I'm now head of the FFCA -- Fired Florida Coaches Association."

Gruden had not spoken publicly since he was fired and replaced by defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. Former players have had mixed reactions, including recent biting criticism by Michael Clayton, Jeff Garcia and Simeon Rice.

"I'm not the first coach to take potshots. Hey, some people were taking potshots at Tony Dungy when I got here," said Gruden. "Jeff Garcia, Michael Clayton, I wish those guys the best. I hope Raheem gets this thing going again."

Gruden conceded he was surprised when he was fired, almost three weeks after a season-ending loss to the Oakland Raiders that cost the Bucs a possible playoff spot.

"It was rough the way it ended, losing three or four games," Gruden said. "This was the first time in my life being on the front line of the firing squad after 11 years. I've just taken a couple days to unwind with my family. A lot of people have called, being very supportive. Some people have taken shots and I understand that not everyone likes or agrees with what I do as a coach."
Gruden out in Tampa

NFL.com Video

Breaking down the Buccaneers' decision to fire Jon Gruden as head coach.

In a Tuesday interview with Sirius NFL Radio, Rice referred to Gruden as "a scumbag" and took issue with how Gruden treated him after Rice suffered a shoulder injury midway through the 2006 season.

"You know what he told me? 'Simeon, you'll be here in the next five years,'" said Rice, who was released after the '06 season. "I got injured [and] this man's never said one word to me. I won a Super Bowl for you. I got 13 sacks, 12, 15 every year for you. I balled. I got injured [and] you let me go like it was nothing."

Gruden said he was "basically proud" of what he accomplished in Tampa.

"We won a Super Bowl," he said. "I got a game ball for winning more games than any Bucs coach in history. I got a game ball for my 100th win [including playoff wins]. There are only six teams [actually seven] in the NFL that had back-to-back winning seasons the past two years and the Bucs were one of them. Again, it was tough the way it ended but we did some good things and I know some people who think we overachieved."

He added: "The reality is we came in with a bad salary-cap situation and we left with some $50 million under the cap, so it's not like we went out and spent a lot of money on players."

Gruden said despite the perception he could not work with young NFL quarterbacks, he has not ruled out any potential opportunities at the collegiate level.

"I really only had one young guy to work with in Chris Simms," said Gruden. "I'd love a shot to coach some young college guys. Look, you know me. I'm an addict. I love to coach."

Gruden also suggested he was looking at some immediate job opportunities but not necessarily with pro or college football. He did not rule out some broadcasting jobs, "especially if I actually get to talk about football. Whatever I do, I'm going to show respect for the game. I'm going to use proper etiquette. Whatever I choose to do, I expect people to be demanding. Anything less would be unacceptable."

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.