Gruden: ‘I’ve got something to prove’
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Art Spander in Jon Gruden, Raiders, articles, football

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — It was part Las Vegas, of course. Have to plan ahead. Part Hollywood. Part pronounced humility. Jon Gruden had arrived with all the flash and fame expected of, and for, a prodigal son who, with a reputation and recognition gained elsewhere, is ready to show us he can go home again.

What a production on Tuesday, at a facility the Oakland Raiders will flee in a couple of years for the Vegas strip. There in the huge barnlike building called the performance center, which in season is full of athletes pumping iron, we were awed by a video that must have reminded Gruden of his most recent employer, ESPN. Do they have an Emmy category for Team Hype?

Then, after introductory remarks by owner Mark Davis, gloating as if he were the one getting the $100 million and not paying it, out stepped the Savior, his own self, Gruden, telling us, “I’ve got something to prove.” Which he does. Which he doesn’t.

He’s a football coach now, again, at age 54, because — and you’ve heard this before — that’s what he feels the need to be. For the previous nine years, including through last Saturday night, he was an analyst/commentator for ESPN, in the broadcast booth, not down on the field.

That looked like the best job in sports, picking apart the game plan of others, for $7 million annually, rather than have others pick apart his. And he did have the satisfaction and glory of coaching a Super Bowl champion, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who obtained Gruden from these very same Raiders in a trade.

It wasn’t that he did a poor job at Oakland in the four seasons, 1998 to 2001, he was, well, not in charge, because it was Mark’s daddy, Al, who was the power in those days, but at least the head coach.  

As the story goes, Al was somewhat pushed out of shape because Gruden, with his winning ways, charming personality and photogenic looks — hey, TV knows what sells — became the Face of the Franchise. Tsk, tsk. Off with his head, said the Red Queen, uh, or rather the silver-and-black knight. 

After the ’01 season, the one climaxing for Oakland with the NFL snow job, i.e. the Tuck Rule, conveniently called after the New England Patriots lost a fumble to the Raiders in the playoffs.

“For my career to end that night in New England, it still ticks me off,” Gruden said. “I’m so thrilled to be back here. I hope people understand the emotion inside.

“I feel there’s unfinished business. I feel a lot of loyalty and responsibility to get the Raiders going again. It’s been a while since the team has consistently performed at a high level. I’m going to do everything I can to help this team get right again.”

Gruden’s first season in Tampa ended with a 48-21 win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, but he never won another playoff game in the next five seasons. Not that it matters, or maybe it matters greatly, but no coach — Lombardi, Parcells, none of them — has won a Super Bowl with two different teams.

“I haven’t changed all that much since 2008,” said Gruden. The game has changed, but Gruden, announcing, conducting that ESPN QB Camp, maybe knows more about the players and changes than he would have as a coach. He has been to every one of the league’s 32 training complexes. He has worked Derek Carr, the man who will be his Raiders quarterback.

And if Carr wasn’t on site Tuesday, numerous former Raider players were, including Mike Haynes, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Charles Woodson, and the QB Gruden beat in the Super Bowl, Rich Gannon. Remember how critics said Gruden knew what was coming because he knew the Raiders, his former team. 

Woodson worked for ESPN this season, on field at halftime. He also is involved in a Napa winery carrying his name. In 1998, he was the first draft pick of a rookie coach named Gruden. 

“All of us want to know,” said Woodson, whose playing career went from Oakland to Green Bay to Oakland, “is there a no-trade clause in your deal?”

Gruden laughed, “You’re going to make me want to go home, Charles.”

But this is home, isn’t it?  “I’m glad to be back,” Gruden conceded. The Raiders, at $100 mill, are glad to have him back.

Article originally appeared on Art Spander (http://artspander.com/).
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