ALAMEDA, Calif. — Ten years might not seem long in general, but it is an eternity in the NFL.
So many things have changed since Jon Gruden last roamed an NFL sideline in 2008 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We aren’t just talking about the CBA, rule changes or where the Oakland Raiders will be calling home in 2020 (pssst, Las Vegas).
Because while no one who has been around Gruden the past decade will ever argue that he is not insanely prepared to coach a football game, there are questions as to whether his manic, in-your-face style of coaching will jibe with this generation of players.
“He can be your best friend or your worst enemy,” said Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, who played for Gruden in Oakland in 2001. “That’s going to keep you on your toes. And maybe that was something that the players, they were lacking this year.
“I hope these players are ready because they’re going to get Chucky. They’re going to get him … Chucky’s going to come out.”
Gruden is expected to light a fire under players who might not be properly motivated, so to speak. Rice, the greatest receiver of all time before he crossed the San Francisco Bay to join the Raiders, said Gruden motivated even him by pushing him.
“Either you buy in, or you’re not going to be a part of it,” said Rice, who compared Gruden to Bill Walsh as a motivator and coach.
“Yeah, he’s coming for them, man,” Charles Woodson, who was Gruden’s first draft pick in 1998 and who last played for Oakland in 2015, said of the current Raiders.
“I think the guys will be ready. I think the one thing that will probably take them by surprise is the star-like quality that Gruden has and the relationship that he had with the fan base when he was here. They haven’t seen that. So he’ll be the most popular guy on the sideline. It won’t be Derek Carr. It won’t be Khalil Mack. It’s going to be Jon Gruden.”
Woodson recalled how “demanding” Gruden was as a coach.
“That’s what they’ll have to be ready for,” he added. “They’re young and impressionable, and Gruden will bring the best out of them. And if you don’t respond, you’ve got to go. You’re all-in or nothing.”
Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown, who was with the Raiders for all four of Gruden’s seasons in Oakland, played his final NFL season with Gruden in Tampa Bay. Brown also had some advice for the current Raiders players.
“Get ready,” he said. “It’s going to be real. I think the one thing we all loved about Jon is he brought passion to the game. It wasn’t just about playing football. It was about playing football with passion.”
Lincoln Kennedy played right tackle for the entirety of Gruden’s Raiders and said he bought in to Gruden immediately, even though he said Gruden had a “Napoleon complex” as coach. Kennedy does wonder about the current group, though.
“The mentality of today’s player is different,” Kennedy said. “Can he mesh with that?
“He’s excited about the opportunity. I’ve known Jon for many years. I’ve known he wanted to get back. I know he felt there is unfinished business … he’s got a young team. He’s got a young nucleus. He’s got a quarterback. When you have a quarterback, you’ve got a chance. He didn’t really have that in his years in Tampa Bay.”
What about Gruden? Does he wonder if his coaching style will work a decade after he last coached?
“Well, these 50 extra Oakland Raider players that are here today didn’t mind it,” Gruden said of his adversarial style, with a laugh. “I mean, I don’t know what my reputation is. There are some great video clips of me swearing, screaming at players, but I was also the biggest cheerleader in the league. I get excited when we make a play. I get excited when we make a first down. I really get excited when we win. I get really upset when we don’t, and I hope that still has a place in the NFL.
“That is how this organization rolls. It is about winning. If you aren’t winning, we are not going to be happy. I hope that is still a big part of every team in this league because it will be a big part of this organization.”