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saint5221 12-13-2003 10:39 AM

Bucs McKay is free to go

TAMPA, Fla. -- First Keyshawn Johnson, now Rich McKay.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figure to have a different look on and off the field next year with one of their star players and the club's popular general manager likely headed elsewhere after this season.

Johnson was let go three weeks ago because of differences with Jon Gruden.

McKay has clashed with the coach of the Super Bowl champions, too, and could wind up with the Atlanta Falcons after receiving permission to speak with other teams about becoming their GM.

"People's visions and people's goals don't always stay the same," Gruden said. "My focus is on winning football games. If his goals are elsewhere, I certainly wish him well. He's outstanding at what he does, and I'm sure he'll continue to be."

Gruden, however, denied a rift between him and McKay is forcing a split.

McKay helped assemble the talent that transformed Tampa Bay from a doormat to NFL champions, but his relationship with the league's youngest head coach has been shaky since Gruden took over the Bucs in 2002.

Rumors of disharmony over personnel matters persisted even while the Bucs were making their Super Bowl run, and speculation about McKay's future intensified after Johnson was deactivated for the remainder of the season last month.
GM Rich McKay helped transform the Bucs from a patsy to an NFL champion.(AP) ÂÂÂ*"This ain't no power play. I don't care what anybody says," Gruden said. "No two people agree on every issue. If you can find a couple, or two grown human beings that have been able to do that for their entire lives, I'd like to meet them. ... I feel we've worked well."

The Bucs said they wouldn't seek compensation if McKay walked out on the final four seasons of his $2.4 million-a-year contract. The GM's relationship with Tampa Bay dates to 1976, when his father, John, became the franchise's first coach.

"We have had an outstanding relationship with Rich for many years and we certainly did not want to impede his desire to pursue other options," Bucs vice president Joel Glazer said in a statement.

The Falcons have not had a GM during Arthur Blank's two seasons as owner, though McKay was his first choice. They had an interview on Feb. 14, 2002, the day after Blank closed on his $545 million purchase of the Falcons.

Gruden said he and McKay agreed on far more than outsiders would suspect. And, he flatly denied going over McKay's head to the Glazers for support to shelve Johnson because the receiver didn't want to remain in Tampa Bay beyond 2003.

"I went about that with Rich McKay," Gruden said. "Certainly we talked to ownership, but we were together on the decision."

McKay issued a brief statement.

"I am grateful that the Glazer family has given me this opportunity to look at some other options within the league," he said.

Blank declined comment Friday on questions regarding McKay.

The Falcons fired coach Dan Reeves on Wednesday, and Blank would prefer to have a general manager in place before he hires a coach.

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