WR would return despite Gruden issues

Updated: November 23, 2003, 8:45 PM ET
Associated Press

Keyshawn Johnson is still willing to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- despite differences with coach Jon Gruden.

The star wide receiver spent his first Sunday since being deactivated in a television studio instead of on the practice field, where the Bucs prepared for Monday night's game against the Giants.

"I didn't ask to be sitting here with you guys," Johnson said during Fox's weekly NFL pregame show.

The Bucs deactivated Johnson for the remainder of the year last week, saying his desire to leave Tampa was a distraction the team could no longer ignore.

Tampa Bay (4-6) has lost three straight games, and Johnson was frustrated with his role in Gruden's offense.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection said it was Gruden's decision to deactivate him, but that he shared responsibility for being shut down at a time when the Bucs seemingly need him most.

To remain in playoff contention, Tampa Bay probably will have to win at least five of its remaining six games.

"It's not all Keyshawn Johnson's fault and believe me, it's not all Jon Gruden's fault either," Johnson said.

The receiver approached Gruden and general manager Rich McKay last month after he had one reception in a 24--7 loss at San Francisco to tell them he did not wish to remain in Tampa beyond 2003.

He doesn't regret expressing his feelings, but said he should have let Gruden know he planned to spend time with his family in California rather than fly back to Florida with the team.

"I could have made a lot of things easier," Johnson said. "I should have went to Jon. I should have said, "You know what coach, I'm going to stay with my family."'

The receiver said his differences with the coach did not center on his desire to catch more passes.

"It wasn't a matter of, 'Hey you're not throwing me the football.' It was a matter of dealing with me as a human being and as a man," Johnson said.

He believes Gruden made the decision to deactivate him, not McKay, who traded two No. 1 draft picks to acquire Johnson from the Jets in 2000.

"He had to be in support of it, but Rich McKay did not want to do it. Nor did the owners, the Glazers," Johnson said, adding that he doesn't think McKay will be back with the Bucs next season.

Asked if he was embarrassed by being deactivated, Johnson said:

"I'm upset, but I don't know if I'm embarrassed because I know both sides of the party. It's deeper than Keyshawn Johnson and Jon Gruden in that organization, too."

The receiver was not fined and will be paid for the rest of the year. He's confident other teams will be interested when he's likely released or traded before next season.

"I'm not a player off the field that's a problem. Nor am I a player on the field that's a problem," he said. "I had a simple problem with a coach within those walls."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press