Will you pull for Jon Gruden to win?

by Gary Shelton on January 10, 2018 · 8 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Will you cheer for Jon Gruden?/JEFFREY S. KING

Will you cheer for Jon Gruden?/JEFFREY S. KING

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

His face will contort the same way as ever. His sound bites will sound as good. He will pump is fist in victory the way he used to.

But will you pull for Jon Gruden, the guy who used to work here?

A continent away, will you pull for him to succeed?

His name is in lights now in the Ring of Honor. The Super Bowl trophy he won is still here. But Gruden is someone else's coach now. He's going to swear his

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love for Oakland, and he's going to try to prove that he can be a builder after all. He will try to make you forget about his inflated contract with the substance of a coach.

And how will you feel about it?

Will you smile when he wins? Or will you shake your head at the coach who got away?

Gruden was introduced as the Raiders' coach Tuesday. It took a long time, I guess, because there were so many zeroes in his contract. And you wonder what the real story was in Tampa Bay: Did the Glazers flirt with him only to be driven off by his price tag?

And will you be  sorry if Gruden goes 11-5 next year and the Bucs go 7-9?

It's a complicated situation. A lot of Gruden's fans these days have never seen him coach, and certainly, they haven't seen him win a playoff game. It's been a decade since he wandered a sideline, a decade-and-a-half since his Super Bowl win. A lot of fans are unaware that he never developed a young quarterback here; it is television that constructed his reputation as a guru for them.

Money aside, this is a risk. In coaching, they keep score. It isn't TV where publicists send out our your sound bites. In this profession, you win or you lose.

As a lot of you know, I criticized Gruden. (I criticized Tony Dungy, too). It came with the position. But in the year he was fired, I did not call for his head. I thought that team had 6-10 talent and he coached it to 9-7.

But, yeah, in the years that the Bucs were bad under Gruden, I suggested they were bad. And they were. Gruden had a horrible general manager in Bruce Allen, and the Bucs didn't replace great players at the rate they were losing them, and the franchise was running in place. Gruden was a good enough coach to keep the Bucs around .500, but he wasn't good enough to overcome a shortness of talent.

A story: One year, when Gruden started off 0-4, I wrote a column that stated, simply, that it wasn't working with Allen and Gruden. I wondered if Gruden drove to the stadium and wondered why it had all slipped away.

Lo and behold, the Bucs won that day.

In the locker room, after the game, one of Gruden's errand guys came up behind me and clapped me on the back. "I read what you wrote this morning," he bellowed.

"Well, thanks," I said.

"It was lies," he screamed. "Lies. It was nothing but lies."

And, for once, I stayed calm. I looked at him and said simply, "I thought I got the part right about oh-and-four."

The thing is, I liked Gruden. I really did. He was funny, and he could fill up a notebook. But a bad record is a bad record, and Michael Clayton was Michael Clayton and Dexter Jackson was Dexter Jackson and Bruce Gradkowski was Bruce Gradkowski. There was a reason that Gruden was 45-51 after his first. year.

Oh, but what a first year it was. I've written it before but I don't think a coach ever had a first. year like Gruden. He went from a guy who mispronounced the names of his players to someone who provided the energy to win a Super Bowl.

And, yes, it was his Super Bowl. There has been a lot of debate about that year and whether it belonged to Gruden or Dungy. And most of you know that I'm a huge Dungy guy.

But when a coach takes over a team, and he runs it every day, it becomes his team. Dungy has said as much himself. Dungy built that era, but Gruden was in charge for the Super Bowl.

Now, he is chasing another one. Here's a question I've been asking: For $100 million, how many Super Bowls does he have to win before he's a bargain? Two? Four? How many years does he have to last? Six? Eight?

I know this: The NFL is better with Gruden on the sideline. It doesn't matter if the thought of him winning makes you ill, or if it fills you with joy. Gruden is a strong taste. He'll make the Raiders lovable again, and he'll make them hateable.

And so will you cheer? Will you take joy in his shortcomings? Will. you take interest in his defensive coordinator? Will you laugh if he's unhappy with his quarterback?

One thing seems certain: You won't ignore him.

Whether Gruden was 12-4 or 4-12, you never could.


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