With all of his studying of the game during his 9 years away from coaching while part of the Monday Night Football crew, there may be an aspect of the game that Gruden didn’t notice had drastically changed — how it’s covered.
When Gruden last coached in 2008, facebook and twitter weren’t a thing yet. The age of social media means even the smallest soundbites get taken out of context and misinterpreted a hundred different ways. So, when he stepped to the mic at the combine in from of a national audience for the first time as the returning Raiders head coach, he was his usual witty self. He threw out some zingers and some light humor and the media was entertained. It’s the lovable Chucky.
The problem was in the reverberations when his words were picked through and dissected and taken with absolute seriousness.
One statement that got the most mileage was when he said he wanted to take throw the Raiders back to 1998, when he first became coach. He even threw in some language that made the 54-year-old sound downright geriatric. That is if you didn’t hear it with the sparkle in his eye as it was intended.
“Are you talking about the analytics, the GPS, all the modern technology?” Gruden said with a chuckle. “Man, I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998.” And he laughed again.
Then after mocking ‘data’ and technology, he wrapped up the statement saying “I still think doing things the old fashioned way is a good way. We’re going to try to lean to kneel that way a bit.”
The interpretation of that was that he was living in the stone age. That he was unwilling to adapt to how the game had changed and therefore the game had passed him by.
After that, every move he made and every word he said was being examined through that lens. Not the least of which being his free agent movement which has included several older players and not much flash.
Media continuously using these things against him based on his tongue-in-cheek statement at the combine is clearly starting to grate on Gruden’s nerves.
At the coach’s breakfast at the owner’s meeting this week, Gruden was asked about a comment he made that Amari Cooper reminded him of a young Tim Brown. A comment that would normally be seen as simply a nice compliment to Coop. But of course it was seen as more proof Gruden was living in the past.
As soon as the question got to the part about taking the team back to 1998, he bristled and jumped in.
“You’re blowing that whole thing out of [proportion]. You guys are having a lot of fun with that,” Gruden said, clearly annoyed by the line of questioning. Then he went about dispelling this notion while clarifying just what he meant with his original statement.
“I mean, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” Gruden continued. “I re-signed a blocking tight end that was on the team the last three years. And I brought in a fullback but I also traded our fullback. So, I don’t know where we’re taking that 1998 quote, but what we did in 1998 is we brought in a lot of veteran free agents at the beginning that were tough guys, that were leaders of their position, guys like Anthony Newman and Richard Harvey and Elijah Alexander and Eric Allen and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to bring in a work ethic like 1998 and I’m excited about it.”
What’s really interesting about all of this is how that one statement had Gruden go from being seen as an innovative offensive guru to a stubborn dinosaur so quickly. And he hasn’t even met his players yet, let alone installed a game plan.
As far as what to expect from that game plan, he has said he is going to be focusing on power running. So he always talks about using a fullback and blocking tight ends. Also an area he doesn’t understand why he is catching so much flak about.
“If you wanna run the ball, you have to have some components to do it,” Gruden said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re gonna spread the field, we’re gonna have all the bubble screens and RPO’s that everybody else has, but there will be a package that will involve a fullback, will involve a blocking tight end, we might even move an offensive tackle to tight end.”
The tight end aspect of this particularly seems to grind Gruden’s gears in light of recent success with multiple tight end attacks, including the one that just hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
“Look at Philadelphia play. They just won the Super Bowl,” Gruden said of the Eagles. “They use three tight ends. A lot. And they drove defenses crazy. Sorry about that, but I like tight ends. A lot of unpredictability.
“Kansas City Chiefs are in our division, they use three tight ends. And they drive people crazy. It’s a great package to have. You can close people out in the four minute drill, run out the clock, you can hand the ball off at the goal line, there’s some great play actions and I don’t think I’m a heck of a lot different than Doug Pederson and Andy Reid that way.”
Gruden’s hoping this has finally set the record straight once and for all. Just because he values old school qualities in players, doesn’t mean his game plan will be from a bygone era.
“I gotta adapt,” he said. “You either adapt or die. And I don’t plan on dying.”