Jon Gruden has been out of the NFL for almost a decade, but the talks of Gruden returning to potentially be the new head coach of the L.A. Rams are as hot as the talks of Jim Harbaugh returning to the NFL for the same position.
Both candidates signed their current deals through 2021. Harbaugh, of course, agreed to become the head football coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines in December of 2014. He signed a 7-year deal (including a $2 million signing bonus) that made him become the highest paid football coach in the NCAA. Jon Gruden last coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008 and later agreed to become an analyst for ESPN in 2009. Just like Harbaugh’s timing, Gruden agreed to an extension in December 2014 with ESPN through 2021. Although it’s easier to replace an analyst than a coach like Harbaugh at a Division I program, I think there is enough evidence to prove Jon Gruden will steer clear of a return to coaching.
An important thing to note about Jon Gruden is that the game has changed a lot since he last coached in the late 2000s. Much of the game during his coaching during the 1990s and 2000s was not as heavily revolved around players with size and gifted ability like it is now. These days, much of the fate of an NFL team rests on the shoulders of their quarterback’s natural vision and ability to get rid of the football in a poorly protected pocket. When you look at the newer class of quarterbacks of the NFL today like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rogers, they boast not only an accurate arm but good awareness that allows them to make the clutch play while being hurried in the pocket on 3rd & long. The tenacity and ability of defenders in the NFL have only made offensive lines reach that point where the quarterback must now contribute his fair share of evading the defensive pressure. The notable defensive forces of the Gruden coaching era were Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor, and Charles Woodson. Nowadays, teams like the Seahawks had Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril, and Byron Maxwell all opposite teams with an already struggling offense like the Rams’. It’s a league where the little talent on offense already sets up for failure, and a quarterback like Jared Goff who needs work doesn’t make the situation any better for a new head coach.
But this isn’t to say that Jon Gruden won’t take a job without a good offense or a good quarterback. He took the job as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 1998 after they had a 4-12 record in the 1997 NFL season and never had a season with the Raiders below .500. Jon Gruden also continued to coach the Bucs despite them losing both Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Sapp after his second season in Tampa. If anything, he surely could be called the “coach of recovery” with continuing success of rebounding from bad seasons. The Bucs went 7-9 in 2004 and then 5-11 in 2005 only to come roaring back under Gruden’s leadership in 2006 for an NFC South title and an 11-5 record. Again in the following 2 seasons, the Bucs wiped away a bad record of 4-12 in 2007 to come back in 2008 at 9-7 and appear in the Wild Card game after another NFC South title.
The drama-heightened NFL of today is something Jon Gruden likely doesn’t want to deal with but has had to face his fair share of drama in the past with the notorious Warren Sapp. During Gruden’s tenure in Tampa, the Bucs defensive tackle had his fair share of on-field incidents that gave him an infamous reputation. In a 2002 game against the Packers, Sapp dealt what would today be an illegal hit and later argued with then-Packers head coach Mike Clifton, threatening to beat him up during a post-game exchange of foul words. Later that same year, Sapp obnoxiously skipped in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers and found himself once again in an altercation; this time with star running back Jerome Bettis. Sapp continued to strengthen his controversial image with more skipping incidents and also intentionally hit an NFL referee in a game in 2003 for which he was fined $50,000. His response to said incident included calling the act a response to slavery that unfortunately ended in the NFL making him out to be a slave in fining him. Thus, a Gruden coach today would coach a drama-free LA Rams team in the drama-filled City of Angels in a drama-filled conference with Richard Sherman, Colin Kaepernick, and Chip Kelly(if he stays in the Bay Area).
I am strongly convinced that what’s keeping Gruden away from returning to the NFL and will continue to do so is how several coaches of his era won Super Bowls but left coaching jobs altogether after lengthy tenures with their respective teams; several of these coaches also abandoned coaching after the same season as Jon Gruden
From 1992-1994, Jon Gruden was on the coaching staff of the Green Bay Packers under head coach Mike Holmgren. Though Gruden was not there anymore in 1997, Holmgren and Brett Favre led the Packers to the Super Bowl that Year. Later in his career, Mike Holmgren spent 10 years with the Seahawks before retiring at age 60 from coaching duties after the 2008 season, the same year as Jon Gruden. Holmgren later took a short-term role as team president for the Cleveland Browns before beginning a career in radio broadcasting in 2012.
Tony Dungy coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before Jon Gruden from 1996 to 2001 before moving to Indianapolis to join forces with Peyton Manning and the Colts. Dungy coached the Colts beginning in 2002 and helped Peyton Manning win his first Super Bowl in the 2006 NFL Season with the receiving package of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Dungy would retire form coaching just a few years later after-you guessed it-the 2008 NFL season at age 53. An even further similarity to Jon Gruden is that Tony Dungy also went into broadcasting in 2009, but instead with NBC. I’m sure you are familiar with his presentation of Football Night in America every Sunday evening.
I’m thinking here that this extremely similar group of former coaches are likely what could be serving as a testament to Gruden that he no longer believes that he should be coaching. Gruden left coaching at 45 years of age with one Super Bowl ring and is likely comfortably enjoying his middle ages as an ESPN analyst. He founded the Fired Football Coaches Association in 2008 to support youth football programs after leaving Tampa and only coached once more on volunteer conditions at a private school in Tampa in 2010. If anything is for certain here, it’s that the Rams will definitely need to have several good acquisitions in the upcoming offseason to further incentivize the position if they are serious about making an offer to Jon Gruden.