Only after striking a deal with Oakland owner Al Davis were the Bucs able to pry Gruden loose from the Raiders.
The price of getting the offensive-minded coach of their choice was extravagant: The Bucs will surrender four draft picks, including two first-rounders, to the Raiders over the next three years.
Owner Malcolm Glazer will pay Gruden $17.5 million over the next five years to take them deeper into the postseason than Dungy did.
The Bucs' search was flawed in the beginning with a snub by Bill Parcells, in the middle by their awkward rejection of the Ravens' Marvin Lewis, and at the end, when San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci pulled out. It also likely cost the Bucs their highly respected general manager, Rich McKay, who is expected to join the Atlanta Falcons' front office soon.
When Mariucci notified the Bucs yesterday morning that he was staying in San Francisco, the team went back to Davis to barter for Gruden.
The Bucs will introduce Gruden, 38, in a news conference tomorrow. Terms of the deal weren't released, but they reportedly will give first- and second-round picks to Oakland in this year's draft, a first-round pick next year and a second in 2004.
"We were determined not to let outside pressures derail us from our goal, which was to find the best person to coach the Buccaneers," executive vice president Bryan Glazer said in a statement. "Our fans deserve nothing less.
"That person is Jon Gruden, the finest young mind in the game. We took our time and got the man we really wanted, and we couldn't be more thrilled. This was one of the most important decisions in the history of the franchise."
And, since the Jan. 14 firing of Dungy, one of the worst handled.
"It's about time we got a coach," said the Bucs' outspoken wide receiver, Keyshawn Johnson. "He is the best man for the job, so let's get this thing going."
Said cornerback Ronde Barber: "He is a coach that will make this unique situation all seem worth it. He's the type of coach this organization and the players wanted."
Gruden leaves the Raiders with one year left on a contract that paid him $1.2 million annually. His agent, Bob LaMonte, had recently told the Raiders that Gruden would not coach the team beyond 2002.
But Davis stubbornly resisted the Bucs' early attempts to acquire Gruden's rights.
Gruden went 40-28 in four years with the Raiders, taking them to the 2000 AFC championship game. Oakland lost that game, at home, to the Ravens. This season, they were knocked out of the playoffs with a controversial overtime loss to another eventual Super Bowl champion, the New England Patriots.
The price of two first-rounders is more than the Patriots gave for Bill Belichick in 2000, and more than the New York Jets gave for Bill Parcells in 1997. Both teams surrendered one first-rounder and other assorted picks.
With a 56-46 six-year record, Dungy had taken the Bucs to the playoffs in four of the past five years. But his failure to get out of the wild-card round this season ultimately doomed his reign. Nine days after his firing, Dungy agreed to a five-year, $13 million deal with Indianapolis.