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Peter King
December 29, 2003
Job ActionG.M. Rick McKay's jump to the rival Falcons turns him against his old club
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December 29, 2003

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Job Action
G.M. Rick McKay's jump to the rival Falcons turns him against his old club

Talk about your strange scenes. Last Saturday, two hours before the Bucs took the field against the Falcons and tried to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, Rich McKay was in the visiting owner's box at Raymond James Stadium. On the TV above him McKay appeared in a promotional ad as Tampa Bay's general manager, hawking Bucs Super Bowl XXXVII commemorative items. On the table in front of him was a game program in which there was a story on McKay that said he "has done a remarkable job rebuilding a [ Bucs] franchise that previously had posted 10 consecutive losing seasons."

What made it all so weird was that five days earlier, on Dec. 15, McKay had been introduced as Atlanta's new president and G.M., having been hired away from Tampa Bay a year after helping orchestrate the greatest season in the 27-year history of the team. And here he was, in his first game as a Falcons employee, sitting eight boxes down from his old seat at Raymond James. "I'm pretty sure this has never happened before," said McKay, 44. "Ever."

His family's association with the Bucs dated to the club's first season, in 1976, when his father, John, was the coach. Rich joined the club as a vice president in '92 and spent the last nine seasons as G.M. But he had lost a power struggle with second-year coach Jon Gruden, who didn't like a guy he saw as a bean counter deciding who belonged on the roster. So earlier this month McKay was granted permission to look for another job. The Falcons quickly hired him.

"It was time," said McKay of leaving Tampa Bay. "I was becoming the 'No' guy. Jon gave this franchise something it never had, a Super Bowl championship, and his vision of the future and mine didn't intersect."

Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, who took over the team in February 2002, has promised to give his new general manager the resources he needs to succeed, and McKay's first task will be to hire a coach to replace the fired Dan Reeves. "It's a mistake to hire cheaply," Blank said. "I don't look at what we have to pay a coach as an expense. It's an investment."

The hottest name in coaching is LSU's Nick Saban, but any interested NFL team will have to make a sizable investment in money and authority to lure a man who made $15 million this year directing a team that is playing for the national title on Jan. 4 and is expected to contend again next year. Falcons defensive coordinator and interim head coach Wade Phillips is not expected to be a candidate, but Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, a former Tampa Bay assistant, will be among those interviewed.

McKay already has his franchise player in place, quarterback Michael Vick, who guided the Falcons (4-11) to a 30-28 upset of the Bucs. Few G.M.'s walk into a new situation and find the two most important elements needed to succeed in the NFL: an owner who's not afraid to spend money and, in Vick, a quarterback who can take over a game. Said McKay of his decision to go to Atlanta: "It's the kind of situation where you say, 'What time's the plane leave?' "

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Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has had trouble getting a shot at a head-coaching job for the same reason his boss, coach Bill Belichick, did when he was an assistant. When Belichick was the defensive coordinator for the Giants' two title teams, in 1986 and '90, the perception was that coach Bill Parcells was designing the schemes, hi fact, Belichick drew up the game plan, added wrinkles and was only occasionally overruled by Parcells.

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