Except that he wasn't. His father had been the same way, running on empty and no worse for it, but it took a doctor in Dayton to turn Jon around. "Stop worrying about it," he told Jon. "Consider it a strength. Find something you like to do."
Now there was a new problem. Gruden wanted to play football at Dayton, but how many teammates were up for passing drills at 4 a.m.? He tried to fill all that time in the dark by reading Rolling Stone cover to cover, writing letters to anyone he could think of. Gruden had always loved the idea of coaching, had loved going to work with his dad. Once, before Jim joined Lee Corso's staff at Indiana in 1973, he told Jon he was thinking about quitting and getting a normal job. "I'll spend more time with you boys, be around more," Jim said. Jon told him to stop talking nonsense. At Dayton, Jon declared in a questionnaire that he wanted to be the head coach at Michigan by age 39. But what did that have to do with sleep?
After graduating in 1985, Gruden went to Tennessee as a graduate assistant. His job entailed cutting up game film. It was supposed to be simple stuff, but each Saturday night Gruden buried himself under all that footage and spliced together everything—sideline shots, end-zone shots, all the angles, each reel tailored to the needs of a specific coach. The staff would come in on Sunday morning and find all that chaos organized and laid out like a Scorsese flick. Gruden had been up nearly all night. What the hell. It beat reading up on Van Halen.
He had guts, too. When the son of Vols coach Johnny Majors broke up with his girlfriend, a Tennessee cheerleader, Gruden moved in for the kill. Cindy Brooks never dated again. Three years later Walt Harris, the Vols' offensive coordinator, took over as coach at University of the Pacific and brought Gruden in as wide receivers coach. After one season, Gruden landed in the coaching gold mine at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif.—"the greatest show on earth," as he puts it—working as an aide to Holmgren, the team's offensive coordinator, and taking in the work of McKittrick, Seifert and Ray Rhodes. After that, Gruden, a confirmed West Coast offense man, went off to work with one of the scheme's gurus, Paul Hackett at Pitt. Holmgren had promised that if he ever made head coach in the NFL, he would have a job for Gruden. When, in 1992, Holmgren took over the Green Bay Packers, he punched Gruden's ticket, naming him an offensive assistant at 28.
Quickly, it became clear that Gruden's two most disquieting qualities were, in the high-pressure world of the NFL, enviable assets. He directed his insomniac's energy into studying film and game plans and stealing ideas, and when it came to players' tendencies and mistakes—those details that can mean the difference between a penalty flag and a touchdown—well, anyone in the Gruden family knew that Jon would spot them first.
After one season Holmgren made Gruden his receivers coach, and as Gruden negotiated the flinty egos of Mark Clayton and Sterling Sharpe—and later, as the league's youngest offensive coordinator, for the Philadelphia Eagles, the egos of quarterback Randall Cunningham and running back Ricky Watters—another thing became obvious: Players listened to him. He had not played big-time ball, yet his knowledge and passion won the players' respect, and his trash talking made them laugh.
"Of all the coaches I've been around, he's most like a player," says Gannon, the Oakland quarterback. "He'd give me plays during practice, and often he'd get in the huddle and almost call the play. He'd love to take the snap. Then, in meetings, his comments were comical. I would say ruthless, but with his tone they were just hysterical."
After People named Gruden one of its 50 most beautiful in 2001, he knew his preening players would razz him and would respect only one response. Gruden grinned and yelled, "You don't like it? Well, I don't give a s—-, because I'm one of the motherf——— most beautiful people on this planet!" Of course, players never saw the flip side of that cockiness: Whenever Oakland lost, Gruden would moan about how he'd been outcoached. "I don't think we're going to win another game," he'd say to his brother James.
"Even after they won the division the first time [in 2000], he had this neurosis about preparing more, working harder, staying on top," James says. "I said, 'Jon, you've proven yourself, give it a rest,' and he'd say, 'No, I haven't.' "
Nothing has changed. Already, Bucs players and staffers mimic Gruden's rapid-fire delivery. "You like football?" he'll ask, getting into a player's face. "You love football?" Last spring Gruden called Lynch and, after a few pleasantries, snapped, "Enough with the bulls—. I'm watching film on how to isolate number 47 in this first minicamp, and let me tell you: The first time you bring that weak-side free-safety blitz, I'm going to buzz a slant right by your f—-ing head. You won't know what hit you!"