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Jon Gruden. Hack or Hero?

Updated on September 15, 2014

Gruden established a reputation as a pupil of Mike Holmgren, coaching under him for the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. It was from Holmgren that he learned the West Coast offense, the style of offensive football that the 49ers used to win all five of their super bowls. After three mildly successful years as the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, owner/general manager of the Oakland Raiders hired Gruden to be his head coach.
Before Gruden's signing, the Raiders had been an inconsistent team. They had not been over .500 in a season since they returned to Oakland in 1995, and the winningest team in NFL history seemed to be fading.

After Gruden was signed, the Raiders posted back to back 8-8 seasons. After Kansas City foolishly released QB Rich Gannon in favor of Elvis Grbac, Gruden quickly signed him. With a solid playcaller, Gruden was finally able to install a successful version of the west coast offense.
Gruden then lead the Raiders to the AFC championship with a 12 win season, the highest in Oakland in the decade. They ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens, the eventual super bowl champions. The following season, Gannon and Gruden lead the Raiders to a 10-6 season. They lost however, in the divisional round of the playoffs, in a game which is now infamously known as "The tuck rule game". In the "tuck rule game", a young Tom Brady was leading his offense down to score the game-tying fumble, when Charles Woodson, then an Oakland Raider, seemingly stripped the ball. The Raiders recovered, and it appeared to many as if the Raiders had won. However upon further review, the offical determined that Brady's arm was in motion, therefore it was an incomplete pass, as explained here.

"NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble."

They got the ball back, went down the field, tied it up, and won it in overtime.

To this day, Gruden, Patriot-haters, and Raider Nation will swear up and down that Brady's arm had tucked the ball. Don't let them convince you, see for yourself here...

( sorry i couldn't find a clearer clip)

During the off-season, Tony Dungy, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was fired for one too many playoff losses. Al Davis wanted to move in a different direction offensively, preferring the vertical style of passing offense to the horizontal west coast offense. So the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent two first round picks, two second round picks, and eight million dollars to Oakland for them to fire Jon Gruden as a head coach, thus ending the Gruden era in Oakland and beginning it in Tampa Bay.

Here is where things get iffy.

With the best defense in the NFL, Gruden was able to lead the Buc's to a super bowl victory in his first year as a head coach.

Now some NFL historians will tell you that his attitude and style of coaching is what finally pushed the Buc's from the NFL's worst team to the NFL's champion. They would be wrong.

When Tony Dungy was hired as the head coach of Tampa Bay, they were still one of the worst teams in the NFL. As pro-bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp would call them, "The Yuk's". Dungy installed his version of Chuck Knolls "Cover 2" defense, and transformed the Buc's into a playoff team. In his five years as head coach, Tampa Bay made the playoffs four times, and had a reputation as one of the best defenses in the NFL. So in 2001, when yet again his offense failed to get them past Philadelphia, he was fired and then immediately hired by the Indianapolis Colts.

So in 2002, when Gruden took over, he used Dungy's roster, and defense to win the super bowl. The offense was not successful. The only advantage that Gruden had was his dirty politics. From his coaching years in Philadelpha and Oakland, he knew their offenses. Andy Reid, the head coach of the Eagles, was also a disciple of Mike Holmgren, and the offense that the Raiders (who they defeated in the super bowl) was the offense that Gruden had set up himself the year before.

Was Jon Gruden hired to win the super bowl? Kinda, I mean every single employee of the NFL is hired for that. But the reason that Tampa Bay emptied their wallet was for Gruden to come in and install an offense that could compliment the defense that Dungy created. He failed.

Proof of Grudens failure isn't difficult to locate. Just go on to and look how successful the Bucanneers were with Gruden.

They returned to the playoffs twice, in 2005 and 2007, but were never considered a serious threat to anybody.

On January 16, 2009, Jon Gruden was fired after ending the season with four straight losses.

In his time at Tampa Bay, he was only 55-57.

On the other hand...

Tony Dungy enjoyed great success in Indianapolis, winning 139 of 208 games, and a super bowl of his own. He is considered a future hall of famer by many.

Many Tampa Bay players, including star DT Warren Sapp, have made it public that they feel as if they would have won that year with Dungy and maybe continued excellence, especially considering they would have two first round picks that Gruden never had.

For many coaches, NFL stands for Not for long. In a league where you can win a super bowl one day and be unemployed the next, there will always be a demand for a head coach in the NFL, and when these demands arise, retired coaches like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden always have their name thrown around. So you tell me. Do you believe that Jon Gruden is fit to be a coach in the NFL again or was he always coaching at the right place at the right time.

© 2012 Ryan Smith


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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I'm sorry I did not see this article sooner. Good stuff. I agree with your analysis of Gruden. Medicore coach who can't pick personnel. In order to run the West Coast offense, you really need a Walsh or Holmgren type (cerebral, calm demeanor, etc.). Gruden comes across as a glorified HS coach urging his players to "step up." That only goes so far in the NFL.