What you should make of disgrace of Jon Gruden

by Gary Shelton on October 14, 2021

in general

Gruden's legacy has been stained./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

I thought he was egotistical. Then again, a great many NFL coaches are. Feeding that ego is part of their motivation.

I thought he was stubborn. I thought he was confrontational. I thought he was overrated. I thought he had way too much power for his ability.

But I never thought Jon Gruden was a racist. I never thought he was the sort of guy to sit behind a keyboard and spew bigotry in all directions. I never thought he would be so dumb as to light fire to his career.

Turns out, I was wrong.

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So what are the to make of the slop that Gruden's career ended upon? Are we to apologize for his hatred? Are we to shrug and suggest he's just one of many NFL coaches who resents a great many things about society? Are we to feel sorry and blame the concept of "woke" for his troubles?

Or are we to look suspiciously at the NFL and wonder how long people around Gruden have known the filthy soul inside of him?

Let's be honest. Being wrong-minded is a simple thing, but Gruden could be a complicated man. As a writer who often criticized him -- and was criticized for doing so -- I found him to be a fascinating subject. He was cantankerous and opinionated, and he often acted as if he was above reproach. But he was also witty, smart, driven, charismatic. He was a burst of energy, and he a talented play caller. But there was a part of him that seemed to believe that a Super Bowl afterglow should last forever.

Oh, as the lead dog of a football franchise, he had faults. He could not build a team, and he could not maintain the talent of the one he had here. He made a poor hire in Bruce Allen, who coincidentally was the recipient of many of the renegade opinions that ended his career.

But who knew his loathing of his surroundings was that widespread?

-- He criticized players who knelt, although Americans died for them to have that right. (I have criticized Colin Kaepernick myself, but for his record, not for his protests).

-- He made a racist comment about NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith.

--- He criticized female referees.

-- He criticized the drafting of a gay football player.

-- He insulted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

-- He made a lewd comment about Bryan Glazer, although the Glazers paid him millions, helped him win his only title and inducted him (temporarily) into the Ring of Honor.

-- And on and on.

So now Gruden is a former coach, and a former member of the Bucs' Ring of Honor. It's quite the embarrassment when immortality throws you back, isn't it?

Oh, there are those who would argue that Gruden should have been kept in the Ring of Honor. After all, the emails in question didn't happen until almost a decade after his Super Bowl, and they began almost a decade ago. Are we to begin a snipe hunt against all former members now?

But there is this, too. A lot of current players and fans walk under the names of the Ring of Honor recipients each week. Were the Glazers simply to turn their head at his transgressions?

Remember this: No one is voted into the Ring of Honor. It's bestowed by the team itself, by the Glazers. It's up to them who is in and who is out. You could always have an argument whether Gruden's one memorable season with the Bucs -- 12-4 and the Super Bowl -- should offset the 45-51 record that followed it.

If Gruden had stayed in the Ring of Honor, he would have been a punch line. "Some honor there," fans would say and shake their heads. "That's some fall," another would say. "From the Ring of Honor to the Badge of Dishonor," He would have turned into a symbol for wrong thoughts.

The bottom line is that you can remember Gruden how you wish. If that is for the energy he put into the 2002 season, that's your right. If you want to remember him for chasing off Rich McKay and others, or for letting John Lynch and Warren Sapp go without compensation, you can remember that, too. And ic you want to remember him for his emails, well, that's fair, too.

As a coach, Gruden was hard to cover. Another front office member once told me Gruden liked the team "road kill" for players he claimed off get waiver wife who had something left. I used the term in a column, and the next day, I was told that Gruden went through the hallways yelling about it.

Another time, when the Bucs started a season 0-4, I wrote that things simply weren't working out with Gruden and Allen. The team won the next day, and as things happen, there was the attitude that everyone was okay now throughout the locker room.

I was between interviews in the locker room that day, and an errand boy for Gruden walks up and slapped me on the back. "I read what you wrote this morning," he said. I mumbled a thank you when the guy's voice raised. "It was lies," he yelled. "It was all lies."

For once, instead of losing my cool, I simply smiled at the guy.

"I thought I got the part about 0-4 right," I said. I still consider it the finest comeback of my life.

For years, I covered Gruden. I suggested his 2004 coaching season might have been the best single season of coaching strangers that there has ever been. And I suggested he had lost control by the end.

But through all those interviews, I never heard him say anything racist. Of course, I wasn't privy to his e-mail.

History will make a villain out of Jon Gruden. He'll go to his grave hearing about his prejudices. A football team would be foolish to hire him now. So would a TV network.

Gruden is done now. All that remains is the mess he created, and the kinships he developed. He'll be forgotten long before his new legacy ever is.

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