At 3 A.M., in a room at the Napa, Calif., Marriott that is his training-camp bunker, first-year Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden rises. Though he went to bed just 3� hours earlier, he doesn't need an alarm. Never has. By 3:30, after a 15-minute walk, he's watching tape of a preseason game. By 3:45 he's writing the offensive script for the 8:45 a.m. practice.
While attending Dayton in the mid-1980s, the now 35-year-old Gruden visited a hypnotist in hopes of finding a way to sleep more than four hours a night. The hypnotist didn't help, nor have the other insomnia gurus Gruden has consulted since. "The last one," Gruden says just before 4, working the Copenhagen between his lip and gum, "told me there are some people who just don't need as much sleep as others. The bottom line is, I love what I do, and I'm excited to get up every day."
Gruden has been warned about the toll that long hours can take on a coach from no less an authority than Mr. Burnout, the Rams' Dick Vermeil. "I told him, 'Don't let the game overwhelm you,' " Vermeil says. Gruden says he understands. Yet, as he goes through his predawn routine, it's clear that he views none of this as work. "You know why these hours are good?" he says of the time between his rising to his meeting with the assistants at 6:30. "I get to think—really think—about how I'm going to handle things. I don't have to rush."
Three times in 85 minutes, Gruden describes why the wee hours are so important. This is his chance to be an NFL head coach, he says. He'll be damned if he's going to leave one task undone, no matter how menial. At 5:10, Gruden is still working on his script when a bleary-eyed visitor gets up to leave. "Don't go taking a nap now," says Gruden. "Day's just starting."