McKay hired as Falcons GM

Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2003

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. Rich McKay officially joined the Atlanta Falcons as president and general manager Monday, less than a week after leaving Tampa Bay because of a rift with coach Jon Gruden.

McKay said his relationship with Gruden had deteriorated so much that he had to ask Tampa Bay executive vice president Joel Glazer to release him from his contract.

''What it mainly came down to was Jon's vision of the football team and how to build it that was different from mine,'' McKay said. ''No question about it, and I really became uncomfortable as to how do I compromise this and how do I make it work and how do we build a consensus? Because in the cap era, to the extent that you do make mistakes, you will pay the piper.''

McKay wanted Glazer, whose father Malcolm owns the Bucs, to understand the situation was irreconcilable.

''You know, (Gruden) worked for five different teams,'' McKay said. ''He saw it done many different ways, but he was the head coach of the Raiders. He was there for four years and he saw them win with a formula that involved probably different approaches than we had taken in Tampa.''

Though McKay declined to discuss certain players and prospects in Tampa Bay, he did not dispute that problems arose with Gruden when the Bucs told star receiver Keyshawn Johnson to quit reporting to work last month.

Other issues that caused problems between McKay and Gruden were different opinions on whether the club should sign former Oakland defensive tackle Darrell Russell, who later joined the Washington Redskins.

''It's not appropriate for the GM to constantly be the 'no' guy,'' McKay said. ''It's just not appropriate. You don't win that way. And to me I felt like I was becoming a problem that way.''

McKay filled a position that was open since Arthur Blank closed on his $545 million purchase of the Falcons on Feb. 13, 2002. He interviewed McKay the next day, but Blank never made him an offer because the Glazers insisted on compensation.

Though McKay eventually signed a new six-year contract with Tampa Bay worth $2.4 million annually, the last two seasons were awkward. The Glazers fired coach Tony Dungy against McKay's wishes following the 2001 season and then chose not to consult their GM as they searched for a replacement.

Bill Parcells accepted but later declined Tampa Bay's offer, and the Glazers failed to land former San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci despite offering control over player personnel. McKay favored hiring Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, but the Glazers disagreed.

The Bucs finally got their man in Gruden, but not before agreeing to give Oakland owner Al Davis $8 million in cash and four high draft picks. Blank hired McKay with the Glazers' assurance that they would seek nothing in return.

Once McKay officially left the Bucs last Thursday, the Glazers gave the Falcons four days to strike a deal.

''The discussion I had with Joel Glazer I told him that we were shooting for noon today,'' Blank said. ''That was the understanding.''

On his first day on the job in Atlanta, McKay already was making plans for his return Saturday when the Falcons (3-11) visit the Bucs (7-7).

''Ill be laying low, but I look forward to it,'' McKay said. ''I'm not really comfortable with the timing of this, because I'd love to have seen it at the end of the season, but based on the way that the National Football League is and the way it works sometimes, this is the way it works out.''

McKay's first priority will be to hire a replacement for head coach Dan Reeves, who was fired last week. The new GM also plans to meet soon with interim head coach Wade Phillips.

McKay's history with Tampa Bay dates to 1976, when his father, John, became the franchise's first head coach. McKay, whose GM tenure began in 1995, did not attend the Bucs' 16-3 win Sunday over the Houston Texans.

Injured Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, a first-round draft pick of the Bucs in 1997, praised McKay's work in Tampa Bay.

''You don't always need superstars,'' Dunn said. ''You need guys that are going to come in and be dependable, so he does a good job with that.''

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