Jon Gruden has star power, maybe more than any other NFL head coach. He can hock Coronas and Hooters wings with ease following a nine-year stint in the broadcast booth and a colorful stretch roaming the sidelines for Oakland and Tampa Bay.
The spotlight will track the silver and black in his return to coaching. Gruden understands it will be part of the Raiders experience now. The magnifying glass will expose beauty and warts alike while Gruden trying to show he’s still got it.
“I know there is a big bullseye on my chest, certainly,” Gruden said. “If the people want to use that as an incentive, then so be it. I worked for Al Davis in 1998. That was pressure. I was 34 years old. I’ve dealt with pressure before. I don’t really feel pressure. I love the excitement and thrill of competing, and I can’t worry about things I can’t control in that regard. I know people will want to step on me and beat me, and that is just the way this league is.”
The Raiders didn’t deal with pressure well last year. They were deemed AFC contenders and a sexy Super Bowl pick over the summer yet ended up 6-10, well known for having a glass jaw. Adversity often won the day, an unattractive attribute Gruden won’t tolerate moving forward.
Expectations are sky high entering Gruden’s first season, and despite the Super Bowl ring on his finger and five division titles in 11 seasons coached, Gruden feels he has plenty to prove in his the Raiders.
“I have not coached since 2008. I haven’t won a game since 2008,” Gruden said. “I haven’t lost any either, so I just want to keep that in perspective. I’ve got to hire a great coaching staff. It’s about the people, it’s about the staff, it’s about the tempo that we establish as a coaching staff. I’ve got a lot to prove and I know that.”
The NFL has changed since Gruden last ran a franchise, with schematic advancements and practice restrictions that make life harder on those teaching the game. Gruden won’t play as much catch-up as you might think. He has stayed involved with the game both as a broadcaster, a consultant and a football nerd who likes studying game tape.
“There are advantages and disadvantages, depending on what website you want to read,” Gruden said. “I will be people who are positive about this and those who don’t like it. I’ve been away for a awhile, but I didn’t close my eyes and shut my ears. I’ve been involved in football. My brother (Jay Gruden) is a head coach. Most of my friends are in coaching, and I go on vacations with my wife to training camp. That’s where I take her. It’s not I’ve been away from the game, but I do have a lot to prove.”
That isn’t just a motivational tactic. Gruden has to show he’s still got it, and justify a massive 10-year, $100 million contract.
“It’s always about the money. If you’re the highest paid quarterback or receiver or safety, the target’s always on your back,” former Raiders defensive back and current ESPN analyst Charles Woodson said. Gruden’s coming back after a long layoff, and everyone knows about the contract he got. They’re asking, ‘Is he worth that much money? That will be a part of the deal. There will be a lot of expectations, even after such a long layoff. I know he’ll be up to the challenge.”