The players have reported and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 Training Camp officially begins at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, July 28 when the team hits the field at One Buccaneer Place. With PewterReport.com previewing training camp in great detail with last week’s SR’s Fab 5 column and this week’s Cover 3 column, Trevor Sikkema and I had the privilege to sit down with legendary Bucs head coach Jon Gruden in his office to discuss his thoughts on his days coaching in Tampa Bay and some of his former players, what his induction into the Bucs Ring of Honor means to him, and what he thinks about Dirk Koetter, Jameis Winston and the 2017 Buccaneers.
Enjoy this unique Chucky-laden SR’s Fab 5. I hope you find it as interesting as I did when I interviewed Gruden.
FAB 1. Gruden Wants To Coach Again
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wants to coach in the NFL again.
After a 40-minute interview in his office that covered a lot of ground from his days in Tampa Bay, where he won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002, that was the big takeaway.
I met Gruden early on Wednesday morning at his Tampa office – the official headquarters of the FFCA – that’s Fired Football Coaches Association just in case you didn’t know. There are very few lights on in any room and the blinds are closed, which is just the way Gruden likes it, as he leads me to a dimly light film room where he sits down next to a jumbo sized cup of coffee.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden – Photo by: Getty Images
Gruden’s name will be illuminated and affixed to the upper deck at Raymond James Stadium at halftime of the Atlanta game on December 18. That Bucs vs. Falcons game will be Tampa Bay’s lone appearance on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, where he’s been employed since 2009, a year after being fired by the Buccaneers following back-to-back 9-7 seasons. He’s humbled by the honor. But, more on that later in this week’s edition of SR’s Fab 5.
He will tell you over and over again how much he loves what he does at ESPN from co-hosting Monday Night Football, to his pre-draft Gruden’s QB Camp series to covering the NFL Draft, but you can see the desire that burns to coach again. His eyes lie and give it away.
You can hear it in Gruden’s voice. He’s always been emphatic when he talks, but he wants to coach me – or anyone that walks through the doors at the FFCA building for that matter – rather than just do an interview for PewterReport.com.
I asked Gruden, who turns 54 on August 17, but looks 45, if he was annoyed or flattered that his name gets attached to vacant, high profile NFL and college coaching jobs each year. Fresh off of watching some game tape for the millionth time this year, he took that question and ran with it.
“I’ve met with several people – I won’t deny that,” Gruden said. “People – just about every year I talk about coming back to coach. I’m not in here every day at 4:30 or 4:00 in the morning watching pinball. You know? I’m preparing myself to come back. I am. Every day. I’m preparing to come back.
“It helps me in my broadcasting and I think if you lose that edge … you can’t come back unless you are totally wired with college football, personnel, schemes, the CBA, how people are practicing, trends, you know. You’ve got stay on top of this stuff.”
ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden – Photo courtesy of ESPN
Gruden enjoys working for ESPN, and why wouldn’t he? He’s paid millions – $6.5 million per year according to a report in USA Today – to watch football, talk about football on-air and travel all over the country to talk to head coaches and players about football. Then in the offseason he gets to study and watch NFL Draft prospects for The Worldwide Leader In Sports. But, in some ways, you get the sense that Gruden is using his resources and his time wisely by making even more connections all around the league with players, coaches and general managers, and studying the latest wrinkles and trends offensively and defensively.
Gruden is all about preparation. Ask any of his former quarterbacks and they’ll tell you he had them over-prepared at times. At ESPN, Gruden is preparing for his comeback, biding his time and plotting his return by studying the league and finding the best possible situation at the right time.
“I love ESPN,” Gruden said. “I mean I love what I’m doing. I’m with a great team – a great group of guys. I’m still real close to the game. I still stay in contact with a lot of players and coaches at the league at every level. I don’t know if [all the talk] is flattering or irritating. I don’t really pay attention to a lot of it. But I am – every year – preparing myself to coach. Sometimes I show up at camp and I show up in the offseason and people let me coach. I jump in drills and they still let me install plays and call plays at some places. I still have a lot of fun.”
Gruden knows that wherever he goes expectations will be as high as the salary he’ll command, which could be around $10 million per season. The situation has to be right, and with his youngest son almost out of high school, the time could be drawing near.
“He’ll be a junior this year,” Gruden said. “I don’t know. I don’t know, Scott. Like I said, I’m very happy with what I’m doing. I haven’t lost the itch, though. I miss the players. I miss … I won’t deny that. I don’t want to start anything, but I say the same thing to everybody. There are very few passions in my life. The man upstairs, family and football.”
While Gruden didn’t reveal what the right situation would be to prompt him to leave ESPN and dive back into battling the media and fan expectations in the coaching world, it won’t be in college football. In the past, Gruden’s name had been linked to previous openings at Notre Dame, Tennessee, Miami and Ohio State, but Gruden admits that after doing his research he wouldn’t be able to handle the limited amount of time that players can practice and be at the football headquarters watching film.
Scott Reynolds and Jon Gruden – Photo by: Trevor Sikkema/PR
“Yeah, when I first got fired I went to Alabama and spent a couple of days with Nick Saban,” Gruden said. “Then I went to Oregon and spent four or five days out there with Chip Kelly – just to see two polar opposite programs that were very successful. I was very determined to be a college coach. Then I realized that if I became a college coach I would probably have you on probation within four or five weeks.
“Too many rules, man. I mean I like to work. I don’t like to be working 15 hours a week with players. The recruiting, Facebook, texting, e-mails – all that stuff. Yeah, I’d probably have you in real deep, deep trouble if I was your college coach.”
As our conversation progressed, I began to get a sense of why I think Gruden has the burning desire to get back into coaching again. Each year he sees some of the best college quarterbacks strut into his offense and he missed the chance to develop a young gun.
Gruden had Brad Johnson with the Bucs at age 34-36 in 2002-04. Brian Griese was 29-30 in 2004 and ’05, and was 33 when he returned to Tampa Bay in 2008. Jeff Garcia was 37-38 in Tampa Bay in 2007 and ’08. The Bucs selected Chris Simms in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft, but Gruden never wanted him, and that was solely the decision by former general manager Rich McKay. That irked Gruden.
“I try not to rehash my drafting stays here,” Gruden said. “I wanted to take [running back Brian] Westbrook out of Villanova my first year. We took some other guy – Marquise Walker I think. If I ever come back and coach I’m going to be involved a little bit differently in personnel.”
Back in April, Gruden revealed that not drafting quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the Bucs’ fifth overall pick in 2005 was “one of the greatest regrets” of his life in an interview for ESPN.com.
“I went and watched tape with Aaron,” Gruden told ESPN.com. “I can still remember it like yesterday. I watched tape with Coach [Jeff] Tedford and Aaron. Was really impressed in the film room and then we went out right there in the stadium. We walked right outside and started playing catch to loosen him up and then you look up in the stands and here comes this strange figure walking down the aisle and Aaron says, ‘Who is that?’ I said that’s our receiver. He says, ‘Well who is it?’ I said, ‘You’ll see.’ So it’s Jerry Rice. That was pretty good. That was a great day. I’ve still got the picture hanging right here at the FFCA [Fired Football Coaches Association]. It’s a memento of why I was fired. You can see one of the greatest regrets in my lifetime.”
Jon Gruden and former Bucs QB Chris Simms – Photo by: Getty Images
Rodgers, who was projected to be a top-10 pick that year, fell to Green Bay at No. 24 in the first round and has become a Super Bowl champion, a Super Bowl MVP and a six-time Pro Bowler. It was a great time for betting.com fans that enjoy NFL odds.
“We never took a quarterback in the first round,” Gruden said. “I don’t even know if we took one in the second round. [We drafted Chris Simms in the third round] but I never thought about taking a left hand [quarterback]. I give McKay credit for that. I would have never taken him there probably because I had never coached a lefty. I wanted to take a quarterback in the first round every year, but a lot of people regret not taking Rodgers.”
Gruden had Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston in his office for Gruden’s QB Camp back in 2015 before Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht made Winston the number one overall pick. Seeing Winston quickly rise to prominence for the Buccaneers in his own backyard with an offensive-minded head coach guiding him through his development has to make Gruden a bit envious and perhaps thrown some fuel on his fire to return to the sidelines sooner rather than later.
“I would like to develop Jameis,” Gruden said. “Who wouldn’t want to develop Matt Ryan or Jameis Winston, you know? What are we saying here? If we had taken one it would have been a lot of fun. Unfortunately, you’re drafting one in the sixth round, and you’re developing Bruce Gradkowski. You know? You’re developing Chris Simms at the end of the third round. You’re developing who you have.
“Yeah, I wanted Troy Aikman. We took pride in helping to develop Brett Favre – all of us. We led the division in yardage one year in Philadelphia with Ty Detmer. Bobby Hoying was doing some good things. You don’t get caught up in all this stuff you read. We developed Brian Griese and we developed Jeff Garcia – in our offense. We changed some of the things they did in the past and we emphasized some of the things we wanted to do. You don’t get into all that crap. You develop who you have. Who you have and who you can get is the big story here.”
ESPN’s Jon Gruden – Photo courtesy of ESPN
Gruden is tantalized by seeing talented young quarterback after talented young quarterback enter the league year after year, and wishes that he could work with one of them for more than a day at Gruden’s QB Camp headquarters. This year it was Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, who was drafted in the first round by Gruden’s good friend, Andy Reid, who is the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I’m on record … on (one of) those (ESPN) shows, they put me on the stage and said ‘Who ya takin,’ and I said ‘Mahomes,’” Gruden told the Kansas City Star. “I can’t find guys that can do what he does in terms of his overall arm talent.
“I said if I could have one guy, I’d pick Mahomes.”
With Reid signing a contract extension on June 22 and the Chiefs hiring a new general manager after firing John Dorsey, Gruden’s next destination won’t be in Kansas City.
Gruden’s name was linked to the Los Angeles Rams last December when Jeff Fisher was fired, but he turned down interest from Rams COO Kevin Demoff, who worked with Gruden as Bruce Allen’s assistant in Tampa Bay from 2005-08. Perhaps Gruden didn’t care for quarterback Jared Goff, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, after having him as a guest on Gruden’s QB Camp.
Instead, the Rams hired 30-year old Sean McVay, the Redskins offensive coordinator, who coached for Gruden in 2008 with the Bucs and then with Jay Gruden in Washington from 2010-16.
But, as Tampa Bay revels in Winston’s early success and the buzz around his former team continues to grow, it will reach the point where Gruden will eventually seek to escape and find a team with a young quarterback or a team with a high draft pick in a year that has franchise quarterbacks coming out like 2015 with Winston and Marcus Mariota, 2016 with Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, and Mahomes from this year’s QB class.
ESPN’s Jon Gruden and QB Jameis Winston – Photo courtesy of ESPN
I know Gruden misses the game-planning for opponents and the thrill of competing on Sundays against some of the world’s best athletes and the NFL’s most talented coaches. But he also longs for this time of year – training camp. It’s the time where Gruden teaches football and player development occurs heading into the regular season. I told Gruden that despite the sweltering heat in Orlando, he really liked training camp and misses it. He eagerly nodded his head in agreement.
“Yeah, I wish I had this new indoor facility and I wish I had Jameis Winston,” Gruden laughed. “Then I might like it a little bit more.”