Monday, July 9, 2007

The Grand Obsession - Player Magazine

Every moment of Jon Gruden’s day is focused on one goal — his next Super Bowl.
A Renaissance Man he is not.


IT’S ONE OF THE SINGLE GREATEST enticements in pro sports. It implies hope. It connotes optimism. It fuels passion. Next time. Next down. Next inning. Next half. Next game. Next series.

For Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden, next year can’t come fast enough.

“When the season ends I immediately begin planning for the next season,” he says. “And the time to make things right is now. I just can’t wait for the season to begin.”

Right now, however, Gruden is holding court at a Super Bowl party in Houston. Gone is the man who rages up and down the sidelines like a caged lion at the end of his chain. Instead, the easy going guy I meet introduces me to his lovely wife, Cindy, counsels one of superagent Leigh Steinberg’s pro football hopefuls, and then hails another coaching legend, Terry Donahue. But behind the laughter, behind those piercing blue eyes, is a war horse chomping at the bit — thinking, scheming, analyzing as he prepares his return to the pinnacle of pro football.

At 31, Gruden became the youngest offensive coordinator in the history of the NFL when he was hired by the Eagles in 1995. Three years later, Darth Vader himself, Al Davis, hired Gruden to coach the Silver and Black. By the end of his four-season stint with the Raiders, Oakland was good enough to go to the Super Bowl without him. Actually, it was against Gruden and his new franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On that January day, the Vince Lombardi Trophy for Super Bowl XXXVII was awarded to the new head coach, who schooled his ex-employer 48-21

Then came the doldrums. Tampa Bay’s pirate frigate sailed south last year and finished with a lackluster 7-9 record. Seven of those losses were by a touchdown or less

“Those are the toughest ones. But you learn and move forward and get ready … for
the next game,” Gruden says. “It was frustrating because we’re competitors, and I’m extremely competitive, and my job is to win football games. It didn’t happen last year, and it has to change. It will change.”

Not that Gruden has any job security issues. Late last year, he signed a contract extension that will keep him in Tampa through the 2008 season. “It’s always good to know the people above you have confidence in you,” Gruden says. “But even with that, I still have to get the job done.”

Gruden is unlike most human beings and not just because he earns millions of dollars coaching a pro football team. Living on just four hours of sleep per night, Gruden is the ultimate Type A personality with only one interest away from his wife and three kids.

“Football is really all I know. I’m not a scratch golfer. I don’t know how to bowl. I can’t read the stock market. Hell, I have a hard time remembering my wife’s cell phone number. But I can call, ‘Flip Right Double X Jet 36 Counter Naked Waggle at 7 Quarter’ in my sleep,” says Gruden. So writes the 40-year-old in his 2003 autobiography, Do You Love Football?!

One of many manifestations of this laser-like focus is his refusal to dwell on the past, including personnel problems such as the departure of Keshawn Johnson and longtime Buc Warren Sapp
“I’m not going to waste my time talking about that stuff,” Gruden says. “I’m excited to talk about Ian Gold or Derrick Deese, guys who want to play for us.”

For Gruden, this sort of in-your-face approach to life is expressed via the sort of work ethic that builds empires. “We are at the office early in the morning picking apart tape, going over formations — defensive and offensive. We have basically diluted last year as much as we can so we can see every detail, the positive and negative. Then you start rebuilding it. It’s a long, very tedious process, but it’s necessary to get us back where we want to be next year.”

So where does Jon Gruden want to be when the 2004 campaign winds down?

His next Super Bowl.

Jon Gruden is a fun guy to spend time with. He's extremely focused and you get the impression if you were to annoy him too much he could snap your neck like a twig. In reality, given the right situation, like a party, Jon and his wife are just like your next door neighbor in that they are engaging, funny, interested in your life as much as you are in theirs. When I did this story he just handed me his cell phone number and said, "call me direct if you have any other questions."

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