It seems like it’s been a lot longer than three years since the last time Jon Gruden was on an NFL sideline, and charged with molding football minds both young and old into something that resembled a winning football team. That’s probably because collectively as a football-watching nation we’ve been drowned in his saliva for current players every Monday night.
The naive among us hear Gruden’s near universal praise on every MNF broadcast, and see it as little more than a football-obsessed man growing giddy at the sight of a perfectly run slant route, or a beautifully executed zone blitz. That same naive man thinks that while Gruden’s knowledge is clearly superior, there’s little separation between the couch quarterback and the Super Bowl winning coach in terms of their love for the game. The primary difference is that Gruden has a microphone, which results in his joy being amplified.
The verbal image he paints is that of a borderline maniacal mind whose blood is infused with pigskin, which doesn’t make Gruden that much different than the rest of blood-sport thirsty America. We think he’s just a regular football guy who happens to wake up around 4 a.m. each day to watch eight hours of film. That’s just what coaches do, isn’t it? Even retired ones.
The realist saw what realists see: reality. Gruden’s constant praise could in part be just his loud personality, but it’s also an attempt to keep fire away from every NFL bridge that’s still willing to allow him safe passage. That’s why as coach hiring season and Black Monday loom, a report from Kevin Acee of the San Diego Tribune that Gruden could land in St. Louis is about as surprising as a visually appealing woman jumping out of a cake.
Acee outlined the chain of events that could halt the weekly loss of blood from my ears every Monday night. The catalyst for Gruden’s potential move to St. Louis despite his recently signed contract with ESPN lies in San Diego, where both general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner await their fates after a failed season.
Here are the few simple steps that could result in Gruden being in charge of Sam Bradford’s future:
1. Chargers owner Dean Spanos fires both Smith and Turner. While Smith’s future is more uncertain, Acee reports that Turner will soon be unemployed, and that Gruden has already decided to return to coaching, and he’s notified ESPN.
2. Acee also reports that St. Louis owner Stan Kroenke plans to “clean house” after the Rams potentially finish the season with just two wins, a cleaning that will include head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who’s expected to become the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator.
3. Kroenke’s next move hinges on the outcome of step No. 1, and Spanos’ decision. If he chooses to relieve Smith of his duties, then both Smith and Gruden will be packaged, and they’ll land in St. Louis.
Rams fans should be mostly excited about this, but also a little leery.
Through carefully edited segments on ESPN throughout the past several draft seasons, we’ve witnessed how Gruden’s vast knowledge benefits young quarterbacks. What’s most encouraging is that his interaction with the young arms soon tasked with leading an NFL offense goes beyond finite discussions of X’s and O’s. He’s able to expose the core weaknesses and strengths of a quarterback, and do it within minutes.
Cam Newton was left stuttering and stammering while in a room with Gruden when he was unable to recite the verbiage of any play he ran at Auburn. The most infamous example is Gruden’s destruction of Jimmy Clausen in which the Notre Dame pretty boy was revealed as a poor leader whose instinct is to deflect responsibility.
The opposite end of Gruden’s quarterback wizardry and his ability to promptly cut to the core of those on his QB depth chart is Chris Simms, Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in 2003 who had a passer rating of 138.3 over his four seasons with the Texas Longhorns. Gruden spent a mid-round pick on Simms, thinking he could massage his upside and turn him into a quarterback who could at the very least be an effective game manager.
Although his career was derailed by a serious injury in 2006, Simms still saw extended playing time in 2005, making 10 starts. It was his only prolonged stint as a starter, and the result was a quarterback rating that plummeted from his lofty rating in college to 81.4, 2.9 sacks per game, and a poor touchdown/interception ratio (10/7).
Thankfully, that’s the only significant dent in Gruden’s QB armor, and Bradford offers him far more raw talent to work with.