clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Candidates: Jon...sigh...Gruden

I can't believe I'm writing this.  Over the past 48 hours is appears that Jon Gruden has indeed interviewed and expressed interest in the Michigan head coaching vacancy.  Gruden has been rumored for every single coaching vacancy since the dawn of time, but apparently he really is interested in this one.  Gruden, in a fever dream brought on by dysentery while crossing the country via covered wagon in the early 1990's, once uttered something to the fact that Michigan would be a dream job.  Because nobody can find the original quote to attribute that to my reality makes just as much sense as anybody else's. So there.

As much as has been written that Gruden interviewed, we also have this latest post from David Brandon himself wherein he states:

As it relates to our fans, I have received the "advice and recommendations" to hire just about every football coach in America -- including some who have never coached or haven't coached in years!

Ignoring the superfluous exclamation marks that show corporate-speak excitement! Optimism!, this statement seems to be directed at the Gruden proponents pretty directly.  "Haven't coached in years" indeed.  Nonetheless it does appear as though Gruden has expressed some interest, so here we go a-profiling.

Jon Gruden Essentials

Jon Gruden was born in Sandusky, Ohio, home to Cedar Point, which is the place we will all go to after this whole mess is over.  Once there we will ride roller coasters and laugh and laugh about the coaching search and its impact on our lives, specifically hours lost to checking blogs like this one.  Then we'll get ice cream!  With David Brandon!  Wait, what?  Oh, oh the profile.  Right.

Jon Gruden, Sandusky, Ohio.  He was born on August 17th, 1963, making him 47 years old.  This is surprising, as he has been a fixture on the coaching rumor circuit since cavemen roamed the earth.  He is younger than both Harbaugh and Hoke.  He coached the Tampa Bay Bucs for 7 seasons, and the Oakland Raiders for 4 seasons prior to that.  Currently, and you already know this, he is on the Monday Night Football Crew where he really likes to say "this guy" in reference to players who make plays.  In other words, he doesn't say anything at all that a well trained parrot couldn't say.  He is also paid hella cash to do so.

He spent his highschool days in South Bend, IN (so far he's 0-2 on living situations...) while he father was an assistant at Notre Dame under Dan Devine.  Instead of going to Notre Dame, Gruden chose to go to the University of Dayton where he played backup quarterback from 1982-84.  He has a degree in communications. 

He moved on to be a grad assistant at the University of Tennessee, followed by quarterbacks coach at Southeast Missouri State, and Wideout Coach at the University of the Pacific.  This is the extent of his college experience, a time period lasting from 1986 to 1989.  How much he gleaned from that time in terms of recruiting and the unique aspects of coaching a college team remains to be seen.  You can be skeptical. 

His time in the NFL was spent mostly as a head coach, but he spent some time as offensive coordinator for the Eagles.  His Tampa team did win the Super-Bowl in 2002, although it was primarily due to a lights-out defense tooled by the then-fired Tony Dungy.  When he was fired from Tampa Bay, he took the broadcasting job and hasn't publicly looked back.

The Details

Details are a little apples/oranges because his only head coaching experience has come from the NFL.  Here's a look at Gruden's defenses throughout his tenure as a head coach:

Team Year Yards Allowed NFL Rank
Oakland 1998 284.4 5th
Oakland 1999 305.0 10th
Oakland 2000 328.1 17th
Oakland 2001 316.9 16th
Tampa Bay 2002 252.8 1st
Tampa Bay 2003 279.1 5th
Tampa Bay 2004 284.5 5th
Tampa Bay 2005 277.8 1st
Tampa Bay 2006 329.4 17th
Tampa Bay 2007 278.4 2nd


Ok, for a guy who is much maligned for having taken "Tony Dungy's Defense" and won a Super Bowl, he's churned out pretty consistently awesome defenses year after year.  Admittedly, he didn't have to recruit any of these players, but to go 7 seasons in the NFL averaging in the top-5 for total defense requires some kind of know-how.  This is actually much more impressive than I thought it was going to be when I started.  His defense, should he come to Ann Arbor, would likely be...the Tampa 2.  Popularized by Dungy, it features a 4-man front, two deep safeties, and fast, athletic linebackers who can drop into coverage and swarm to the run.  It is very much a bend-don't-break defense.  As somebody who has watched a ton of Colts games over these past few years, it does indeed work, but it requires good safety play and good outside linebacking; two things that Michigan has lacked in recent seasons.  You don't blitz too much out of Tampa 2.

Gruden, for all the scowling and looking mean, is actually an offensive coach.  He learned the West Coast offense under Mike Holmgren and has taken it wherever he's gone.  The style features short passes out of a spread-shotgun type formation.  Sound familiar?  Here are his offensive stats throughout his tenure as head coach:

Team Year Yards/Game NFL Rank
Oakland 1998 300.9 18th
Oakland 1999 355.8 5th
Oakland 2000 361.0 6th
Oakland 2001 335.1 7th
Tampa Bay 2002 312.6 24th
Tampa Bay 2003 340.8 10th
Tampa Bay 2004 310.2 22nd
Tampa Bay 2005 294.8 23rd
Tampa Bay 2006 270.1 29th
Tampa Bay 2007 326.8 17th


It's worth noting that the moment that Gruden left Oakland they plummeted to the bottom of the league offensively.  His offense at Oakland, with Quarterback Rich Gannon, was pretty impressive.  He never really got the player mix quite right at Tampa Bay, but did win a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson of all people.  The Oakland offense definitely peaked during his tenure, while the Tampa offense went from average to...average.

One of the attractive things about Gruden is that he would likely be able to adopt his offense to work within Denard's skill set.  While he ran a pass-happy West Coast offense, I think he would likely adopt a more spread-read type attack given Michigan's personnel.  The short routes found in the West Coast offense fit Denard's arm perfectly, and frankly that little "OMG his he gonna run or pass, crap there's a touchdown" play is gonna be a feature of whoever the next coach is provided they hang on to Denard.

The Upshot

The upshot is that Gruden remains a long shot.  Despite Brian's assertion that the buzz seemed to be squarely around Miles with Gruden coming in second, I just can't see Brandon hiring an NFL guy with little to no college experience.  BUT PETE CARROLL! Yes, yes, there is that.  I do think that Gruden is a better coach than his overall NFL record indicates.  I also think that Gruden would be a successful recruiter beyond Weis's "Show 'em the ring" tactic, which actually worked pretty well.  Players definitely know who Jon Gruden is, and his connections to the league might be helpful when it comes to landing those blue-chippers with NFL aspirations.

It's impossible to know whether Gruden would be a successful College coach.  He has no track record in the league.  We do know that he was a competent NFL coach with a super-bowl ring.  He was also something of a prodigy when he first took over Oakland, and was the last person to do anything meaningful with that franchise.

I have no idea what kind of money it would take to land Gruden if he were a real option, nor what kind of incentives would be there (NFL Buyout?).  I would be very skeptical of hiring a career NFL guy to coach college, but unlike Weis Gruden does have Head Coach experience, and was relatively successful in that NFL way that eventually gets you fired. 

I think Gruden would be a fun hire who would be successful.  Also, at 47, he could probably stick around a little bit if he doesn't get the NFL itch, which is entirely possible.  However, with all college coaches, if they get the NFL itch it's probably because they've been extraordinarily successful in College, and frankly I'd exchange 5 to 8 years of extraordinary success for having to say goodbye to the coach who got us there.  Like everything Gruden related, please take this with extra grains of salt.