From The Sidelines To The Fire

June 25th, 2020

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Unless you go way back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you’re probably not familiar with the name Phil Krueger.

You should be.

Krueger, who passed away this week at the age of 90, did his job and did it well as a Bucs executive under Tampa Bay’s original owner. Serving as Hugh Culverhouse’s trusty negotiator, Krueger never forgot the Culverhouse mantra — don’t make friends with my money.

Armed with a master’s degree in English and a Bronze Star, Krueger rarely blinked when dealing with agents. And when Doug Williams was seeking a new contract in 1983, it was Krueger who played point man for the organization during the contentious negotiation process.

Tension lingered

More than three decades later, when the Bucs announced Williams was entering their Ring of Honor, I almost caused Williams to veer off the road.

“You wouldn’t believe how hard my hands are gripping this steering wheel right now,” Williams said in 2015 after I told him I had just spoken to Krueger.

Williams was the lowest-paid starting quarterback in the league when he requested a bump from $120,000 to $600,000. The Bucs countered with a $400,000 offer and the two sides couldn’t reach a compromise, so Williams bolted to Oklahoma of the United States Football League.

Legend grew that Williams was so bitter, he placed a curse on the franchise. What can’t be denied is that the Bucs then reeled off 14 consecutive losing seasons, a streak of ineptitude still unmatched in the NFL’s 100-year history.

From Coach To GM

Krueger had an accomplished career before being tasked with protecting Culverhouse’s money. He compiled a 31-22 record as head coach at Fresno State (1964-65) and Utah State (1973-75) before joining John McKay’s staff as an assistant coach with the 1976 expansion Buccaneers.

Krueger coached running backs, linebackers and special teams at different points while Culverhouse urged him to assume increased administrative duties. To prepare for his eventual general manager position, Krueger attended Harvard seminars to train for his job as chief negotiator.

‘Phil was a good football coach who also understood money,” Culverhouse told me in 1990. ‘It takes a well-disciplined person for his job, one with utmost integrity. In football, a nine is a top rating … a blue-chip player. In my book, Phil Krueger is a nine.”

Once Culverhouse outlined the financial parameters, Krueger began the process of fine-tuning contract offers.

Former Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse (pictured) relied heavily on Phil Kreuger until the former GM resigned in 1991.

“In the last four or five years, agents have tried to affect the draft by sending telegrams to certain teams saying their clients would not sign with them,” Krueger told me. “Over the years, I’ve been able to strike a deal with just about everybody.

“I’ve had little animosity, although I’ve had people say I’m stubborn. If you treat it like a business, you don’t get into personality. Sure, there’s some agents I might not want to go to dinner with, but what’s important in this job is to establish certain principles.”

When Richard Williamson replaced Ray Perkins as interim head coach late in the 1990 season, Krueger was formally given the GM title. By the end of 1991, Krueger had seen enough. He read the contract writing on the wall and resigned, convinced that Culverhouse was about to hire Bill Parcells as head coach.

It never happened, but Krueger’s days with the Bucs were over. He moved to Florida’s east coast, content that he had dutifully followed the directives decreed by his boss in Tampa.

When asked about the team’s acrimonious split with Doug Williams, Krueger always insisted there were two sides to the story.

“In retrospect, a little of the blame has to go to Doug Williams,’ Krueger said. ‘His agent, Jimmy Walsh, wanted to make him the first million-dollar quarterback. We arranged for Doug and Mr. Culverhouse to meet in a room, face-to-face. Doug came in the day before the meeting and pulled out. That to me was the tragedy point of the whole situation.

“I don’t think he would have walked out of that office without being signed. From that point on, it was all downhill. Sometimes, you can give a guy everything he wants and he still thinks he got screwed.”

Enjoy Mike Alstott’s interview earlier this month on the Ira Kaufman Podcast.

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9 Responses to “From The Sidelines To The Fire”

  1. SufferingSince76 Says:

    I call BS on this. If Phil Krueger was as good as claimed, he would have convinced Culverhouse to get up off his wallet and pay Doug the $600K. It is mostly because of the miserly Culverhouse that this franchise has the reputation and record it has had. Doing the bidding of one of the biggest cheapskate owners in NFL history is not very impressive.

  2. WyldKat Says:

    It’s always fun to look back on history, and there’s never only two sides to any story.

    That and the Bucs disprove that history is written by people who won.

  3. Rob In Land O Lakes Says:

    Amen, suffering. Ira, I love you but if Krueger was a good negotiator, he did it to the detriment of the business he was protecting. Who in their right mind would let this guy walk away over about $100,000? When your boss asks you to do something suicidal for your business, if you are any good at your job at all you sit down with your boss and tell them “you are paying me to do what’s best for your business and this is one situation where we cannot let this guy walk.”

    Of course, that is presuming you give a crap about your product on the field and not just making money. Hugh Culverhouse may have been the worst owner in the history of sports and he screwed the franchise, the fans, and the Tampa Bay area while lining his pockets. Neither he nor his personal Goebbels should be celebrated.

  4. Alanbucsfan Says:

    So Williams got $1 million/ year from Redskins 4-5 years later…
    Bucs could’ve signed him to a long term deal with substantial signing bonus to make him happy. They had given Hugh Green a big bonus when they signed him.
    They didn’t, and Williams wound up with a SB ring.

  5. bojim Says:

    Love how things turned out for Doug.

  6. Buczilla Says:

    I’m picking Doug 100 out of 100 times over Hugh Culverhouse, who was a disgrace to humanity.

  7. stpetebucsfan Says:

    “That and the Bucs disprove that history is written by people who won.”

    Indeed. Most cliches exist for a reason but there are always exceptions. Sometimes the losers do get to write the history as in our own Civil War.

  8. grammarian Says:

    Nice whitewash of the VERY racist Culverhouse and his minion Krueger. You seem to forget or ignore that they balked at the idea of paying a “black” quarterback… This has been common knowledge, was uncovered and reported a loooong time ago. Don’t think Ira forget or ignored anything. This was about who Kreuger was (most fans didn’t know) and his death, and the high-profile dispute he was in the middle of. Ira is a good friend of Doug Williams and is well-versed in what was reality and what was the business-side of things. Williams was a discussion on the Ira Kaufman Podcast last week.–Joe

    “Bucs players were field hands. They paid for their own drinks out of vending machines at the team practice facility. Once, in 1985, a Bucs safety named David Greenwood grabbed his first NFL interception. He was awarded the ball. A few days later, he received a bill for it from the Bucs. Greenwood returned the ball.

    That was life under Mr. C.” Tampa Times

  9. grammarian Says:

    “Twenty-eight NFL teams went to training camp in 1986. Not one offered to give me a tryout, much less a contract,” Williams says. “Was Doug Williams blackballed by the NFL?”

    He says that when Washington finally called, Bucs general manager Phil Krueger tried to persuade Coach Joe Gibbs not to sign him.”

    Krueger was a real jerk!