Jon Gruden Still Has It
Captain Jack Rack Levy – Aug 7, 2017
Jon Gruden was in his element… in front of a crowd who all leaned forward, eager to hear his every word and paint a mental picture of memories past with the Raiders and Buccaneers whom he coached from 1998-2008. For eleven successful, tumultuous and sometimes disappointing years in the National Football League, Gruden roamed the sidelines with a harrowing scowl of consternation, mostly for the officials.
… And the crowd of military personnel to include active duty, civilians and contractors with United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) were eating those memories up.
Gruden was on another visit to the Tampa Bay area, having been announced as the latest honoree for the Buccaneers “Ring of Honor” ceremony to be held later this year. Gruden continued his recollections of some of the highlights (and lowlights) of his Head Coaching career.
“One week I was given a game ball for having broken the Bucs’ record for most wins by a Head Coach as the team went to 8-3; the next week I was given a game ball for having won my 100th victory as the team climbed to 9-3. Four weeks later I was FIRED!!”
The wry smile certainly was easier now than it had been over a decade earlier when it was fresher in memory… and certainly more acidic in taste as the Tampa semi-native as son of a coach for John McKay’s earliest Buccaneer teams would endure.
In a somewhat ironic twist, it was Gruden’s former team – the Raiders – who topped his Bucs in Tampa in December 2008, keeping the Bucs from a playoff berth and hastening Gruden’s departure from the pewter and red.
“I went to several colleges… stopped by Alabama under Lou Saban and went to learn points of Chip Kelly’s offense in Oregon, on my way to my next coaching job. But ESPN came calling for Monday Night Football, and I haven’t lost a game since!”
Since his parting from the Bucs, Gruden has been a staple on the MNF crew, as his presence, knowledge and humor have been appreciated by the audience. Gruden in fact joked that some think he’s a bit too ‘soft’ on his analysis of those playing – “Oh, Gruden loves EVERYONE!!” mimicking his critics, but he insists otherwise.
In fact, during last year’s Raiders / Texans game in Mexico City, Gruden appeared to be going out of his way deflecting any assumed ‘pro-Raiders’ stance’ to the point of appearing slightly biased in favor of the Texans. This was evident when both Gruden and his booth co-host kept stating a DeAndre Hopkins’ catch and apparent touchdown run, with officials ruling the Texans’ receiver had stepped out of bounds, was a horrendously blown call costing the Texans points in a tight game eventually won by the Raiders.
Whether it is from his days with the Niners and Packers under Mike Holmgren as an Offensive Assistant, the Eagles under Ray Rhodes as Offensive Coordinator, and especially as the ‘young Head Coach’ for the Raiders and Bucs, Gruden regaled the crowd with many a humorous story.
“I remember we had an important Monday Night game against the Colts and Peyton Manning, and I was determined we were going to blitz him. I devised several blitz packages – zone blitzes, corner blitzes, delayed blitzes, safety blitzes, up front pressure blitzes – all my decision… we were going to beat’em (Manning and the Colts) with blitzes…
I found out it’s NOT the smartest thing to do… blitzing Manning,” chuckling as he remembers the outcome, undoubtedly the 06 October 2003 game which saw Indianapolis erase a 21point deficit with five minutes left in the game, eventually winning 38-35 in overtime.
Gruden was asked who he’d consider the Top Five Quarterbacks of All-Time, bristling at providing a direct response since there were too many for consideration. However, he did immediately state Joe Montana would be amongst the five… while further naming Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Joe Namath before completing his listing in full.
Gruden also elaborated on an important game the Raiders had with the rival Chiefs, gathering the Silver and Black in the locker room and imploring them a victory over hated Kansas City was needed as Oakland hadn’t won at Arrowhead in over a decade. Gruden built up in dramatic fashion how he needed his team to show the “Four E’s” which would guarantee victory that day -
And Entensity (SIC).
One of Oakland’s starting defensive linemen (name withheld) wasn’t buying it at all. “Everyone knows ‘Enthusiasm’ doesn’t start with ‘E,’ it starts with ‘I’!” the giant run-stuffer bellowed. “Yep, I’ve coached some pretty stupid players!” Gruden guffawed as the crowd laughed and clapped at story’s end.
Whether the remaining Raiders’ players could spell or not, Gruden and the Silver and Black won that game in K.C., ending the season at 8-8. It kept the Chiefs from a playoff berth while being the impetus for an Oakland playoff run the next three years which followed (2000-2002).
Another memory which was shared was during Gruden’s stint with Tampa against former mentor Holmgren, who was then coaching the Seahawks.
“I wanted to beat Holmgren SOOOO BAAAAD, and I knew we had ‘em on a play we could use on special teams. We had a ‘Fake Punt’ call we could run when Seattle had a three-man overload to one side, and it was up to the Up-Back to call the audible when he saw them in the proper formation.
Silver was a fake punt run to the Up-back to the left side, and Gold was a run to the right side.”
Gruden remembered the Seahawks later gave the Bucs’ punt team the look they wanted, so when the Up-Back called “SILVER!! SILVER!!” it caused some confusion as the Bucs’ players forgot which sides the “Silver” and “Gold” calls were to be executed towards. After a timeout, the Bucs punted, but Gruden was determined they would be able to use the play later in the game.
“At halftime, we went over the play call again, as we’ve run the fake in practice all week and I KNEW we could get a big play on the ‘hawks when needed… so I reiterated to the punt team and the Up-back…
Listen! Remember… SILVER has an ‘L’ in it… SILLLLLLLLLLVER… LLLLLL… L is a run to the Left…. Whereas GOLD… well…. that’s a run to the OTHER SIDE!!” More laughs and claps from the crowd ensued.
Finally, after more questions from the audience towards Coach Gruden were entertained and answered, including how his former teams the Bucs and Raiders would fare in the upcoming season (the latter being asked by yours truly), the inevitable question which the coach is perpetually asked came up –
“Are you going to be a Head Coach again?”
After a bit of a long pause, Gruden remarked as we’ve all been accustomed to hearing as he explains how he immerses himself in film-study, preparation, and execution while picking the brains of the young NFL-ready gunslingers we’ve seen on his ESPN “Gruden’s Quarterback Camp” shows.
Looking into his eyes and seeing through the ‘Chucky’ facial expressions, it was obvious to me that IF and/or WHEN ESPN and the Super Bowl winning Head Coach come to an agreement when it’s time a departure is necessary, you’ll find the hard-working and entertaining Master of X’s and O’s on a sideline, possibly coaching for YOUR team (obviously stated for folks who aren't Raiders' fans...)
Until next time, this is Captain Jack, starting the season with a harrrrdy YAAARRRRGGGGHHH for ALL of Raider Nation!! See you (possibly) in the Nation's capital... definitely in Denver and Oakland in mid-October... and hopefully in Miami as well!!
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