Comments on Keyshawn Johnson's deactivation

Updated: November 18, 2003, 8:20 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Transcript of the Nov. 18, 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers' news conference on Keyshawn Johnson being deactivated for the remainder of the season. Comments from general manager Rich McKay and coach Jon Gruden, courtesy of Buccaneers media relations.

General Manager Rich McKay

Opening remarks: "Good afternoon. I'd like to start by saying that we gave the statement out and I won't go much beyond that. I'll answer a couple of questions if you want, then coach Gruden will be available for questions also. As the statement says, today, I talked to Jerome Stanley and Keyshawn (Johnson) this morning. I told them of our decision to deactivate him in the remaining games.

"We then talked about it and then came to the same conclusion, that given our decision it didn't make much sense for Keyshawn to be here, or practice, or so on, and so forth. So he will not be here based on our understanding.

"This is a guy we traded for four years ago, that I traded for, if you want. (I) love the football player. The kid came in and was very productive for us. He had a rocky relationship with the prior coaching staff, and somewhat with this coaching staff, and Keyshawn is a guy that will vent his frustration, at times, as we all know. But I don't think it is what our decision is based on. I think that it was very clear, by Key, that he viewed this as his last season here. He felt he had to move on. He made that clear to us.

"Following that, I really believe that Keyshawn's actions changed, and his approach to us, the organization and the team changed. A lot of mandatory workouts missed, a lot of team functions that are football related and not attended. And it became, in our minds, a problem, and needed to be addressed. We are trying to win football games and at some point you have to say that this is not in the best interest of winning. We had another path, which we could've taken, which is to go down the discipline path, which other teams have taken. But this isn't about money.

"We are not trying to get any money back from Keyshawn. We're not trying to make an example of, if you will, of Keyshawn. That was not the intent. We are working on trying to win football games. So we felt like, at this time, it was in our best interest to make this move."

On when Johnson made it clear he would not return: "Probably about four or five weeks ago."

On how emphatic Johnson was about leaving: "Very emphatic. He talked to the coach and talked to me and he was very emphatic about it, which is fine. Realize this, he's not the first player to say that. That's not the first player to ever say 'Hey, let's end it.'

"It's the actions that follow it and the disruption created that precipitate where we are today. No team goes into this, wanting to do this. This isn't a win for a team. This isn't what you want. But this is what we felt like we needed to do and it's a decision that we made as an organization.

"We talked about it with ownership, coaching, we talked about it with management. We talked about it with everyone. We went through this many times, and we felt that this was something we needed to do. We need to get going and win games."

On if Johnson's actions were during the season: "They were during the season."

On if there will be a salary cap hit: "There will not be a salary cap hit at this point in time. Next year is another year. Yes, there will be a hit at that point. There always is."

On if the salary cap was the reason the team did not release him: "That was certainly a consideration. Is that a nice way to say it? It was a consideration."

On how much of a salary cap hit it will be next year: "I couldn't even give you the number. It's a big number. We have had these hits before, though. You have them in contracts such as this, because you are down-trading money that you know is eventually going to come forward."

On why the team is saying Johnson will 'likely' be inactive: "Likely is the word that is in the release and that's about it."

On what will be done with the rights to Johnson: "I think that is one of the reasons you stay where you are and you wait and see. You don't foreclose any avenue."

On if the team will trade Johnson, if he will come back, or if he is done: "I think any of the above. More likely you try to see what may be the trade implications and so forth. You leave the door open."

On if this hurts his trade value: "I would say this to you: In all of the years, whenever I call on a trade, when I called somebody, I think they know I was going to move the player. In our league it's not a secret. Does it help us? No, it doesn't help us. I don't know if it hurts us. When you make that call, everyone kind of says, 'Well, that's it for that player.' We'll wait and see how that plays out. That's a long way down the path. That's months away."

On balancing the distraction and trying to win the next game: "It depends on what you mean (by) better chance to win the next football game. There are other things beyond inside the lines. There's more to winning than inside the lines. And there comes a point in time when you say, in the big scheme of things which is a team, this is a problem, and this is not going to help us win.

"From that perspective, we looked at it. We didn't just look at, Monday night, nine o'clock, in here. We looked at the big picture, the practices, the team, the chemistry, all of the issues that go into winning a football game. It doesn't just happen at 9:05 p.m. Monday night."

On his evaluation of Johnson between the lines: "Keyshawn Johnson is a very good football player. He has been very productive for us, and I think everybody knows that. And that's where I will leave that."

On if this was to send a message to the team: "You're not doing that for the message, Chris. I would hope we are not in a league that is trying to send messages. We are trying to win football games. Yes, you are trying to be clear to the team that we have a protocol, we have ways to do things, we have discipline, we have a team, and the team comes first, but don't send a message, or show you guys or anybody else that we're boss. We're doing it to try to win games."

On if players complained to him about Johnson's actions: "I never talk about what players talk about. That wasn't the basis of what is going on."

On the reasons Keyshawn didn't want to play in Tampa: "Keyshawn is a guy that is, you know this from talking to him, is always going to vent in one way, shape or form. This was different because I think he was tired of Tampa. I think he tired of the travel between the West Coast and the East coast. I think he became more frustrated again, this year, in the offense.

"I think there are a lot of things, but you would have to ask him. But that is kind of what he gave to us. Now, I like Keyshawn. I consider him a friend. I invested a lot in him and I like the person, like the player. As an organization, this is something we needed to do."

On if there was a personality clash between Johnson and coach Gruden: "On if there was, it was no more so than Les Steckel, or Clyde Christensen, or Tony Dungy, or anyone else."

On if Johnson walking on the field by himself Sunday was the final straw: "I didn't even see that. I didn't even know about that until today when I was running on Bayshore and somebody called in and said that. So I appreciate the radio call-in person telling me. But, no I don't think so."

On Johnson's reaction when McKay called: "I called Jerome (Stanley) first, and I always do this to an agent in a situation like this -- although I've not necessarily been in this situation before -- and say, 'Hey, listen, here's what we're doing. What is your thought process on informing the player? Do you want to inform him or do you want me to?' And Jerome said he wanted to, then within three minutes Keyshawn called me back and I talked to Keyshawn for a little bit.

"You know, he was okay. He understands some of the issues. I'm sure he's surprised. I'm sure he'll be & this will not be a situation that will get better in 24 hours for him. By the same token, I think Keyshawn looks at it as, he's going to get a fresh start coming down the road, and hopefully he makes the best of it."

On why this move was made now and not three or four weeks ago: "I think that's one of those things that you could ask about any decision, and I couldn't even tell you why, other than you finally come to a point where you say, 'Okay, that's enough. Now it's time for us to act.'

"I don't want to say that there was one incident. There's no one incident. Don't go out there looking, thinking Keyshawn did something bad last night. That's not the case."

On if Johnson expressed his desire to leave once or several times: "I would say several times. But, again, that's not&I've had that from other players. We've faced that issue before. It's not that. It's what followed that and what has followed that."

On how much the Bucs are responsible for: "We're not in any way, shape or form&we haven't fined Keyshawn, we haven't done any of that. He will be paid the remainder of his salary this year. Then the salary-cap hit would be in next year's cap, which would be an acceleration of the prorated signing bonus. And I'm not going to spend time defining it for you, but that's what it is and I'll let the people at ESPNews draw it up on a board."

On if he would consider pushing the eventual move to June: "I'll leave that down the line."

On if he is worried about the reaction of the rest of the team: "You're always worried about it. That's for Jon to deal with the team and talk to the team about. We made sure that, from a standpoint of the players not being surprised, we went down a list and called a bunch of players and made sure they knew so that the first person they didn't hear it from was one of you. Then, tomorrow, I'm sure Jon will address that in his team meeting."

On if he and Gruden had a discussion about the decision: "We had a long discussion about it yesterday morning. We discussed it again in the afternoon. We talked to the ownership in the afternoon, late afternoon, then said let's sleep on it and come back. Came back, talked about it and felt like this was the best path."

On if Johnson missed a meeting on Monday: "I'm not going to get into specifics of it. I'll just say he missed some meetings."

Head Coach Jon Gruden

Opening statement: "Again, this is very disappointing but I'd be happy to answer any questions that I can."

On what Johnson was doing to be a disruption: "I'm not going to publicly get into every detail. I'll just say that, for whatever reason, he did not want to be here. He let me know that some time after one of our early games. We've worked hard to try and get him the football, obviously, and win games. We want our players to be happy, but unfortunately it has festered for a while. I believe it has affected him. Certainly, we hate to see him go, but again that's just part of football sometimes."

On what the effects of Johnson's actions have been on the team: "I'm not going to use this as an excuse, a reason behind our won-lost record. I will just say that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are eager to hit the practice field tomorrow. We're going to field 53 men that are eager to be here and eager to find a way to win Monday night. I don't know how this issue has affected other players; I know it has affected some."

On if the issue has affected Gruden: "Yeah, you know, you have feelings, no different than you or anybody else. You work hard. You want your players to be happy, to max out and enjoy as much as success as they can have, personal success and team success. I'm disappointed, yes. But at the same time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will move forward, and I'm sure Keyshawn will do the same."

On how the lineup will be affected: "Joe Jurevicius, provided he's healthy, will start at split end. Keenan (McCardell) will be the flanker. Again, we'll take a good look at Joe's condition, whether he can go coast-to-coast from first quarter to fourth. Charles Lee is a guy who will get an opportunity to play. And obviously, (there is) Reggie Barlow and Karl Williams, and Rich McKay and I have been talking about other possibilities that could emerge."

On if Gruden saw a decline in Johnson's effort in practice or in a game: "Again, I'm not going to hold court here. I just believe that when you have a person who isn't happy where he is while he's there, your performance isn't going to be all it can be. Let's be honest -- I believe, for whatever reason, I've been told he wasn't thrilled with the offense when he got here, he wasn't thrilled with the offense the year before I got here, and I know he wasn't thrilled with the offense with me calling the plays. It's nothing personal. Hopefully, he finds what he's looking for. We're in the same search for excellence and answers to how to get out of the funk we're in."

On Johnson's statement that he'd rather retire than play for Gruden in 2004: "I don't remember hearing it like that, but if he said that and he says he said that, I'm sure he did. I remember him telling me that he didn't feel that our relationship worked, or our styles or our philosophies meshed. You have to get the answers from him.

"All I know is that we did everything we could. Certainly, we've got other players here that we're going to try to get the ball to as well. We're trying to create some kind of balance, and whether or not that works for him or not, he'll have to answer those questions for you."

On if he has any regrets that he couldn't get Johnson to buy into his program: Well, we did some good things. We did do some good things. I think he caught 80 balls and we won a Super Bowl championship, and I think he had a career year for yards per catch. I thought he did some good things and was off to a very good start this year. It's not like he has three catches right now as we're speaking. But we've got another good receiver in (Keenan) McCardell, we've got another good receiver in (Joe) Jurevicius. We've got a long way to go to get to where we want to be. But I always feel remorse and regret and disappointment when things don't work out. Certainly, that's the case today."

On other players conveying to him that Johnson was a distraction: "I've talked to players and I've witnessed our players carefully for awhile. I'm not going to get into who said what or why they said what they said, but this is a move that we had to make today. I think it benefits our football team, the future of our team, future Buccaneers and hopefully it benefits Keyshawn also."

On if he has talked to some players: "I've talked to a few players, yes."

On Keyshawn saying that he was de-emphasized in the offense because he wasn't 'Gruden's guy': "I had never met anybody when I got here. I had never met anybody. I didn't know anybody in this building. I love guys that play the game and I'm sorry he feels like that. I really am. But that's not how I look at the world, ever. I disagree with that assessment totally, but I can respect his opinion."

On who initiated the move: "It's never a personal issue with me. I've been calling plays long enough, I've had players not like their usage, I've had players not like certain aspects of how we practice -- maybe it's too long or whatever it might be. But when it affects the team and it involves team policy a countless number of times, there's only one way to do business, and that's what needs to be done today. But we wish him well and certainly we've got work to do."

ALSO SEE