Jon Gruden: Some new ideas, but familiar ones as well
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Cindy Gruden believes her husband of 26 years has evolved from the days when he was a young assistant coach who had to be forced by his boss to leave work and take his wife out to dinner.
But she still knows “the look” that can signal his exasperation. That was a Jon Gruden specialty long before a player nicknamed him after the murderous movie doll “Chucky” when he was a first-year coach of the Raiders in 1998.
Whether it be coaching, broadcasting or going out on a family outing, Gruden is going places. Waiting is not part of the plan.
“If I ever want to make him upset with me, just be five minutes late,” Cindy Gruden said. “I've told him, ‘We are not your football team. We may not be on time.'
“Things like that still get in his craw. He still likes things a certain way. In that way, he will never change.”
Gruden, 54, is back for a second tour of duty as Raiders coach, given a contract reported to be worth $100 million over 10 years to do what he did the first time around. In 1998, at the age of 34, he took over a Raiders team that had gone 4-12 the previous season. After finishing 8-8 in Gruden's first two seasons, the Raiders won consecutive AFC West titles and came within a game of reaching the Super Bowl in 2000.
Gruden's in-your-face style made him one of the most telegenic coaches of all-time. He was a nonstop snarling dervish. Subtlety was not part of the Gruden repertoire.
Traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2001 season — an unusual move triggered by a contract impasse — Gruden returned Tuesday to much greater fanfare than the boy wonder hired by Al Davis 20 years earlier.
Gruden is older and presumably wiser, having found a way to stay immersed in football tactics and strategy since being fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season. Besides serving as an ESPN analyst, he met regularly with college and pro coaches to stay abreast of the game's latest trends.
“You know, the reality is I haven't changed much at all since 1998,” Gruden said. “I really haven't. I am not a deep, philosophical person. I've always loved football, always wanted to come back. I've prepared to come back. I'm at a point in my life where I need another challenge.”
As a receivers coach for the Green Bay Packers in the early 1990s, Gruden worked so much that coach Mike Holmgren once handed him some cash, ordered him from the office and insisted he take Cindy to dinner.
The hours he put in were legendary, awakening at 3:17 a.m. each day to the sound of the Notre Dame fight song (his father Jim coached there when Jon was a youth). He had issues sleeping in college at Dayton, with doctors eventually telling him he didn't need much sleep and to find a way to pass the time doing something he loved.
Steve Mariucci, the former 49ers coach who was also a member of the Green Bay staff, laughed when asked if he thought Gruden would be different this time around.
“He'll tweak his offense a bit, but he's got some old-school in him where he's going to coach hard and he's not going to be interested in being a players' coach all the time,” Mariucci said.
“He's hard on officials. He's hard on his players. His coaching style is his coaching style. And he loves it, loves being in the arena, on the grass. I think you're going to get the same Jon Gruden.”