Q&A with new 'Monday Night Football' analyst Jon Gruden
Jon Gruden says he misses the sidelines, but is having blast on TV
Ravens, Steelers, Saints among teams that impressed Gruden
Gruden part of The FFCA -- Fired Football Coaches of America
ESPN announced in May that Jon Gruden would replace Tony Kornheiser as an analyst on its Monday Night Football coverage. Gruden was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January after going 60-57 in seven seasons for the team, including winning Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. He has a 95-81 career record as a coach. Last week Gruden spoke with SI.com about broadcasting:
SI.com: You turned 46 last month. Is it logistical to assume you will coach again?
Gruden: I don't know. I coached for so long. Obviously, it's been an adjustment not being in training camp and not going through the daily preparation. I miss the quarterback meetings. I miss helping a guy get better. I miss seeing his development. I miss the locker room after a win. I can't tell you how much I miss those things. But this has really given me a whole new picture of life. I've been able to enjoy some of the little things I took for granted. I've also been able to prepare X's and O's and football-wise in a totally different way. I'm going to take this opportunity and do the best I can and let ESPN decide my future. But I'm really having a blast at this.
SI.com: Your boss, ESPN executive vice president John Skipper, predicted to SI that you would be in the booth for at least two years. Will he be right?
Gruden: I hate to predict my future. I never really thought I would be a head coach at 34 years old. I never thought I would be traded to Tampa. I never even really thought I would be fired, even though I probably deserved it. I try not to predict things. I signed up to a job and I'm going to finish it and give it everything I have. I feel like I have made some improvements, but I have a long way to go to be good at it.
SI.com: Why did you want the ESPN job?
Gruden: I love football, and in particular, I love the NFL. Having been in the league with five different franchises, I know what the meaning of Monday Night Football is. It's usually the best games and the greatest venue outside the playoffs. I was a communication major at Dayton, and I'm blessed to have the opportunity. I have plenty of rough spots, but I'm having a really good time and I think I'm on a great team.
SI.com: Guess majoring in communication does pay off for some people?
Gruden: (laughs) I'm getting some good use out of my degree.
SI.com: Give us a couple of teams you really like heading into the season?
Gruden: We've seen some good teams. We saw a rematch of last year's Super Bowl. We saw the Giants, Ravens and Carolina. I can tell you the Steelers are no joke. That was no accident last year. They are spectacular on defense and Ben Roethlisberger, well, I don't know how he does it, but he makes more plays than the average guy. He is just amazing. I love the Ravens. I think Joe Flacco is on his way and Ray Rice is going to be an emerging star on the league. So I really like Baltimore and Pittsburgh. I was impressed with the New Orleans Saints. Sean Payton is a good friend of mine and I think [defensive coordinator] Gregg Williams will really help their defense, the way they are attacking now. They've made some additions to their secondary, and they will score. I think the Saints have a chance to make it to Miami for the Super Bowl. They are my sleeper team.
SI.com: When you are watching a game as a broadcaster, what are you specifically watching on the field. How do you look at the game?
Gruden: I have to watch the game and be on top of the situation. The four preseason games are much different than the regular season because of the massive substitutions. We're really not covering the specific tendencies or adjustments that coaches are making because of the substitutions. But you want to point out to the fans stuff like, who is playing left guard, who came in and made that catch or tackle. My role is to give some insight in terms of adjustments, the strategy and some specifics as to what happened.
SI.com: Can you be critical of players you used to coach, and coaches you used to employ or might coach with again?
Gruden: Yeah, I can be critical. Now I'm not going to be one of these sports-talk show hosts that does negative criticizing for a living. I don't want to be a negative piece of barbed-wire sitting up in the booth with all the answers. I think that's a turn-off. I'm going try to upbeat, positive and honest. There will be some criticism, and I think with criticism or second-guessing, there is a professional way to do that. But I'm not going to be naive to the cold-hearted facts of ESPN and what my crew wants me to do. I'm going to try to be honest and give my explanation as to what happened, and in my professional opinion, what should have been done.
SI.com: How difficult a profession is broadcasting compared to professional football?
Gruden: It's hard. I was probably more nervous for this preseason than I was for big playoff games or critical calls in a game. There is a cadence of how long you have to talk. When the play is over, you don't know if the offense is going to jump in a no-huddle and you don't want to talk when quarterback is over the ball. Some of these offenses never huddle and some do for prolonged periods. You are prepared for a 38-word sentence and sometimes you only have time to get that across in 12 words. You have to be able to make some quick adjustments. You don't want to be thinking with your mouth open where you can really look like a dolt.
SI.com: How will Brett Favre do this season?
Gruden: He understands the terminology. His footwork is good. He just looked very confident and experienced, just like I remember seeing him play in those Green Bay Packer years.
SI.com: Your partner Ron Jaworski is also an X's and O's savant. Have you figured out who should address a specific play when it happens?
Gruden: Ron and I wear each other out during the week. He has his own laboratory at NFL Films, and I have got a place in Tampa where I bunker down with a staff of coaches that meet two or three times a week. Ron and I text each other, call each other. We're time-coding plays to look at. It is insane, to be honest. 'Insane' really is the right word.
SI.com: How do you communicate during a game?
Gruden: During the game sometimes we might just elbow each other. Sometimes we will have eye contact. The really cool thing that we did is ESPN put us on this bus, which was like the traveling family bus like that the Partridge Family had. We landed in Pittsburgh and drove to Latrobe to watch the Steelers, then back to the Pittsburgh and did the game. Then we drove 9 1/2 hours to Albany, two hours to Newark, two hours to Bristol. We spent nine days together, two preseason games and did a segment. It allowed Ron, Mike Tirico and I to not only be comrades professionally, but become friends. Hopefully viewers sense by the end of the preseason, we're not just commenting about the game but talking to you in your living room. That's the atmosphere we are trying to come across. When you are up there doing live TV for three hours, you should have three grown men that are fired up to be there and fired up to be there with each other.
SI.com: Has your quality of life improved since you left coaching?
Gruden: My quality of life probably is better. There's no doubt about that. I've been able to get a lot of personal things organized, like my faith and be able to take time for my family. I've been able to get on the treadmill and exercise and watch all the screw-ups I did in the previous game. I have taken advantage of not being in the grind; but at the same time, I will do my best to lead the nation in preparation in terms of analysts. I might not be first because Jaworski is pretty hard to beat. But I can be a close second.
SI.com: How much preparation will you do each week?
Gruden: I leave Saturday morning for a game. We watch the home team practice and then we interview the players and coaches after practice. Then on Sunday, we interview the opponent at their hotel. On Monday we have a production meeting for the game and then the next day, I am back home in Tampa. Away from the games, we have meetings every Wednesday at 6 in the morning. We call our group The FFCA -- The Fired Football Coaches of America. There are 12 or 15 coaches every Wednesday. We look at tape on Wednesdays and Thursdays and we go from 6 in the morning to 1:30 or so before picking the kids up at school. On Friday, I basically take all the things we studied, get up early at my house, type up the notes, and dub some tapes together.
SI.com: Who is part of The FFCA?
Gruden: Bruce Allen [former GM of the Bucs], Tim Marcum [former coach of the AFL Storm], [Former Bucs coach] Rick Venturi, Jim Haslett, high school coaches and some guys from USF. We had [Oregon coach] Chip Kelly come in and the offensive and defensive coordinators from Appalachian State. But we have a nucleus of about 10 guys and we watch a lot of tape. We get the young coaches on the board and make fun of their circles.
SI.com: How will the Michael Vick situation play out in Philadelphia?
Gruden: I was in San Francisco in 1990. We had a left-handed quarterback who was a backup named Steve Young. He was a great athlete and when he had to go in and play, he was a difference-maker. You can say Wildcat, bubble screens and shovel passes and smoke and mirrors, but I really think this is Donovan McNabb's team. They have been to five NFC Championship games. Donovan will be the quarterback, and I think they will bring Michael Vick back to NFL life this season; and if something were to happen to Donovan, they will have a guy Andy Reid will know what to do with. It will give people nightmares in terms of preparing. Whether they even go to these players or possibilities, I might even think is remote. But you will have to be on your heels with contingency planning because of the possibilities.
SI.com: Will you read your reviews from critics?
Gruden: You know [MNF producer] Jay Rothman is the only review that matters. Well, if John Skipper wants to say something, obviously I would take that very seriously (laughs). But Jay Rothman and [director] Chip Dean beat you up pretty good with the reviews, so I'm kind of afraid to look at what anybody else has to say. I know I've got to read all the good bloggers. But I also know not all of them are going to be positive. Actually, I gotta learn how to blog, so I can start ripping you.
SI.com: Join the club. Now that you are budding television star, what's the one program away from sports that you'd love to be on?
Gruden: American Idol.
SI.com: Why American Idol?
Gruden: You get a chance to go around the country and see people that claim to have the talent to be a superstar American Idol. I would love to reward someone with a ticket to L.A. or shatter their hopes -- just like mine have been dashed many times. (laughs). I'd like to watch them through their nervousness and stuff. Me and my kids watch that show relentlessly. Simon Cowell is a pretty rough guy.