Today's most entertaining talking head on ESPN is one of the two analysts on "Monday Night Football": Jon Gruden. Unlike his co-analyst, ex-Philadelphia Eagles QB Ron (Jaws) Jaworski, Gruden is a loose cannon in the TV booth. If this is a (fair & balanced) trivial pursuit, so be it.
[x The New Yorker]
Monday Night Lights
By Kelefa Sanneh
Tag Cloud of the following article
Jon Gruden has one of the most recognizable faces in professional football, partly because he hasn’t worn a helmet since 1985, when he began his transformation from feckless college quarterback to triumphant professional coach. In 1998, he was named the head coach of the Oakland Raiders; in 2003, at thirty-nine, he won the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sports Illustrated chronicled his “spectacular” rise, and People anointed him one of the “beautiful people,” although his appearance was more impish than debonair—he was known as Chucky, because of his devilish squint, which made him resemble the psychotic doll from the horror movie “Child’s Play.”
In 2009, after a particularly disappointing season, the Buccaneers fired him, but, instead of moving on, he stayed put, and prospered. Gruden, who is now forty-eight, remained in Tampa, with his wife and three sons. He rented an office in a local strip mall, where he began presiding over irregular gatherings of a group that he calls the Fired Football Coaches Association. (He keeps boxes of F.F.C.A. visors and T-shirts in the bathroom, stacked in the shower stall.) Gruden’s office contains one of the country’s greatest collections of football videotapes, sorted according to a complicated taxonomy of his own devising. He says, “You want to talk about two-minute offense? Ball security? Nickel jam? Red-zone touchdown passes? Quarterback fundamentals? Read options? Three-down nickel blitzes? Checkdowns? Wildcats? I got it all down here.”
A few weeks after Gruden was fired, he got a call from a TV producer, who wanted him to evaluate college players for coverage of the N.F.L. draft. His technical facility and slightly screwy intensity transformed an interminable event into something a regular person might watch, at least for a few minutes: in Gruden’s amplified view, the seemingly mundane selection process is actually a series of criminally good deals and unconscionable misjudgments. In May, 2009, ESPN announced that Gruden would be joining “Monday Night Football,” the network’s top-rated show, as one of two analysts, alongside Ron Jaworski, a former quarterback, and Mike Tirico, the play-by-play announcer. Jaworski is an erudite football scholar, and a levelheaded one, which means that he sometimes seems like Gruden’s sensible sidekick, or perhaps his minder.
Earlier this season, deep in the third quarter of a close game, the camera cut to the broadcasting trio in the booth. “This division is up for grabs,” Gruden said. His TV voice, a twangy Midwestern snarl, is no different from his everyday speaking voice. “Somebody’s got to grab ahold of it and choke it!”
Jaworski hung his big hand on Gruden’s shoulder. “Relax, Jon,” he said. “Relax.”
In October, ESPN gave Gruden a five-year contract extension. Gruden is now one of the most influential analysts of the country’s most popular sport—a mixed blessing for a man who only ever wanted to be a coach. When his son Deuce made his high-school football team, Gruden agreed to be the assistant offensive-line coach, and he rented a cherry picker so that he could record the games from high above the field, for intensive study. Sean Payton, the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, a former protégé of Gruden’s and a longtime friend, has noticed that neither Gruden’s level of effort nor his routine has changed much since he got fired. “I think if we were clocking Jon, the hours would be very, very similar,” he said.
On TV, Gruden’s understanding of football strategy is less conspicuous than the sheer delight he takes in the game, and the urgency he ascribes to even the most banal triumph or miscue. The world of football is dominated by two types, brutes and nitpickers, and Gruden’s exuberant commentary shows how both can coexist in one rather feverish person. During a replay of a successful run, he praised the elegant design and the decisive violence. “Well, I like that kind of football right there,” he said. “You put about three tight ends on the right, and you just mash people.
He is also a polarizing figure, criticized for overpraising players—the man once known as Chucky has become something of a cheerleader. “Outstanding young man,” he said one night, gushing over a promising quarterback named Matt Cassel. During another game, after an unremarkable six-yard rushing play, he said, “That was one of the best runs I’ve seen.” And when the New Orleans Saints’ transcendent quarterback, Drew Brees, darted away from a mob of defenders to complete an unlikely pass, Gruden said, “Way to go, Brees—that’s awesome!”
The rise of fantasy football has created a subcategory of fans for whom individual player statistics (which determine the performance of their fantasy teams) are more important than wins and losses. But Gruden abhors the “stats sluts” who try to replace the judgments of a trained eye with mathematical formulas. He says, “You know what I hate, man? Guys that you know haven’t seen the film: they just quote a bunch of statistical bullshit.” Of course, there’s something absurd about a man who loves data railing against “statistical bullshit.” As Gruden demonstrates every Monday night, it’s not possible to assess football without statistics. If anything, his voluminous appetite for game film suggests that football needs more and better statistics: a way to measure all the things that Gruden notices when he is watching and rewatching plays. But coaches, no less than fans, like to believe that there will always be a role in the game for spirit and determination—and, by extension, for coaches and for fans.
In “Moneyball,” the film based on Michael Lewis’s baseball book, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who revolutionized baseball through sophisticated statistical analysis: it turned out that managers were routinely overrating or underrating players. Through unsentimental analysis and shrewd trading, Beane managed to improve the Athletics’ wins-per-dollar ratio: he couldn’t outspend the Yankees, but he could outsmart them. The film presents Beane’s triumph as a victory for a scrappy team, and for baseball, which could cast off the shackles of faulty statistics. In fact, the Athletics’ triumph was incomplete (they never won the World Series) and temporary, because other teams started using more accurate statistics, too. Beane’s broader achievement, making baseball more efficient, could even make it more difficult for cash-strapped teams like the Athletics to prosper. “Moneyball” is, despite itself, a melancholy film: it hints at a joyless future in which players always play about as well as the numbers would predict, and therefore have no reason to play at all. Gruden energetically upholds the illusion, essential to fandom, that sports is a test of character—that every play, every game, really matters.
Gruden wakes up early, at three-seventeen (an arbitrary alarm-clock setting that stuck), and on a recent Thursday morning he arrived at the F.F.C.A. at around three-forty-five, pulling his white Mercedes into the empty lot. He wanted to learn everything he could about the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were playing in the following Monday’s game. Gruden spent the morning examining “melts,” video compilations that allow him to view every play from just about every angle.
He is fit and reflexively physical, with a habit, common to coaches, of accentuating his statements with pokes, taps, and gentle shoves. But he has trained himself to sit still for hours, holding a professional-grade remote control called a Cowboy clicker, watching plays forward and backward, at full speed and in slow motion. He works in silence, except for his own occasional remarks. Every week, as he gets to know the two teams, he quickly comes to view their achievements and blunders as his own. “That wasn’t very good,” he murmured, after one uninspired Chiefs sequence. “That wasn’t our best effort. Wonder what happened.” Then he hit rewind and watched the play again.
There is no rational way to explain the amount of time that Gruden invests in each “Monday Night Football” broadcast: he spends days memorizing the names, numbers, and tendencies of all fifty-three players on both teams, even though little of this information makes it onto the broadcast. Once he has a sense of each team, he starts editing, creating a series of four-minute demonstration reels, known as “cutups,” to share with his producers and fellow-broadcasters, partly so they can create highlight clips for the show, and partly so that he can be sure they know what he’s talking about. When he is finished compiling a cutup, he sits with the Cowboy clicker in his left hand and a mouse in his right hand, so that he can run back and forth over the plays and draw emphatic arrows and circles, while he records an audio commentary track. These commentaries, for internal use only, are both loopier and more technical than what’s broadcast on “Monday Night Football.” Footage of Tom Brady, the Patriots’ dominant quarterback, inspired a theatrical soliloquy:
Tom Brady? He’ll kill ya. If he catches you half asleep, he’ll punch you right in the face with the stretch—he’ll hand the ball to Woodhead, or Green-Ellis, or Ridley, or Faulk. Guys aren’t ready. They’re not ready. He’ll do it five plays in a row, on national TV, in front of the world. And he loves nothing more than humiliating you. Because I know this: he humiliated me. It’s a hell of a system they have, and he is the greatest trigger of our lifetime. Look at him! He’s snapping these plays off before the Jets are ready. You can be as multiple as you want on defense, but, when you play Tom Brady, he regulates you. He turns you into [whispered] trash.
It seems likely that Gruden spends more time watching tape than the average N.F.L. coach; certainly he spends more time talking to other coaches, because he has no secrets to protect. From one perspective, this might seem like a waste: one of football’s sharpest minds, watching all the teams without coaching any of them.
But, from a different perspective, it is football’s complexity and secrecy that seem wasteful: all that intelligence and effort devoted to delicate, multivariable contingency plans that the vast majority of fans will never notice, let alone decipher. Football strategy, an arms race between offenses and defenses, is a bit like Beane’s moneyball: it doesn’t necessarily make the sport more entertaining, and may indeed make it less so. Tim Tebow, of the Denver Broncos, became one of the year’s biggest stories precisely because he counters this trend: he is a much maligned quarterback, dogged but crude, who has thrilled fans—and converted Gruden, a former skeptic—by reviving a violent and risky offensive scheme called the option, which was supposed to have been rendered obsolete by the speed and aptitude of modern N.F.L. defenders. Tebow throws less and runs more: instead of looking calmly downfield, he might scuttle toward the sideline, daring a linebacker to try to tackle him.
John Madden, the ultimate coach-turned-commentator, discovered that, after twelve years of coaching professional football, he was burned out; his thirty-year second act, as an analyst and a lovable celebrity, eventually came to define him, and he never seemed to question his decision to abandon the sidelines. Gruden is still widely perceived as a potential coach—his name is mentioned, online and on sports radio, whenever there is a quivering team in need of defibrillation. But executives at ESPN won’t say whether his new contract includes a provision that would allow him to return to coaching, and, for now, Gruden considers himself lucky to have one of football’s best jobs. “Every time, after a Monday-night game, I try to walk by the locker rooms, because I love to see the team that just won,” he says. “And then you drift by the losing team’s locker room. You just see the pain, the fatigue in people’s faces—that’s what you don’t miss.”
Gruden grew up in a football family, the son of a journeyman coach, Jim Gruden, who was hired as an assistant at Notre Dame in 1978, when Gruden was fifteen. There was AstroTurf in the basement and Notre Dame memorabilia on the walls. The décor changed in 1981, when his father was fired, which turned Gruden against the Fighting Irish without turning him against the game. He wanted to be an élite quarterback, but he wasn’t as strong or as fast as his younger brother Jay, who went on to be a star at the University of Louisville and in the Arena Football League. So Jon enrolled at the University of Dayton, where he was a communications major and a second-string quarterback for a third-tier team. He discovered that he loved studying anything that was football and nothing that wasn’t.
In “Do You Love Football?!,” a memoir that Gruden published after his Super Bowl victory, he remembers his peculiar fondness for the aesthetics of coaching: as a teen-ager, he practiced drawing perfect chalk circles so that when the time came to diagram plays his “X”s and “O”s would be neat and consistent. He proved himself at a series of assistant-coaching jobs at colleges, and then, starting in 1990, in the N.F.L., working as a glorified secretary for Mike Holmgren, the offensive coördinator for the San Francisco 49ers, who found that his new assistant was unstumpable.
Gruden was thirty-one when the Philadelphia Eagles named him their offensive coördinator, and he was thirty-four when Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, named him head coach. Gruden modernized the Raiders’ playbook, using short pass plays to lure opposing defensive backs toward the line of scrimmage, leaving them more vulnerable to occasional long passes. In 2002, Davis traded Gruden’s services to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in exchange for four prime draft picks and eight million dollars.
Gruden’s success in Tampa Bay may have arrived too quickly. He won the Super Bowl in his first year, propelled by a ferocious defense. Since he is considered an offense-minded coach, some of the credit went to Monte Kiffin, the team’s revered defensive coördinator. In the years that followed, the Buccaneers never won another playoff game, and Gruden struggled to build a reliable offense. In his last six seasons, the team cycled through seven different starting quarterbacks. By the time he was fired, his record at Tampa Bay was fifty-seven wins and fifty-five losses. He pushed the Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl, but he left behind a team that was worse than the one he inherited.
Earlier this season, on a Tampa radio station, Shaun King, a former Buccaneer quarterback, complained that Gruden was “judgmental” and “dishonest.” Gruden replied, mischievously, “I did fail miserably in developing Shaun King.” By most accounts, Gruden had strained relationships with many of his Buccaneers; Derrick Brooks, a linebacker who was sent to the Pro Bowl, the league’s all-star game, eleven times, recalls that he occasionally served as a mediator between his teammates and Gruden. But players who aren’t winning consistently are supposed to be unhappy—and no coach had great success with King, an outstanding college quarterback who never became an outstanding professional. Coaches are at the mercy of their players, and this must be the worst part of the job: watching helplessly as one perfectly conceived play after another springs imperfectly, sometimes disastrously, to life.
To see football from a coach’s perspective is to see almost nothing but failure: a grim parade of misaligned bodies, incorrect decisions, missed signals, and bad ideas, occasionally interrupted by a heads-up play or a feat of physical genius. Football is entertainment, but the players dissected on Gruden’s screens seem less like performers in the spotlight than workers under surveillance. Ensconced in his lair in Tampa, far from the “Monday Night Football” cameras, Gruden can sound shockingly negative. He is forever judging players who don’t or can’t excel—“slapdicks,” he calls them, or, more familiarly, “slappies.” A defensive lineman gets shoved back on his heels and collapses, too calmly, onto the turf. “He just looks like he’s enjoying this, getting blocked,” Gruden says. Three receivers run malformed routes, and they all end up in the same throwing lane. “That’s horrific,” Gruden says. An offensive tackle dives halfheartedly at the feet of a defender, who leaps over him and knocks down the quarterback. “I can’t take it,” Gruden says.
It is an analyst’s job to notice these errors, and to somehow incorporate them into a coherent account of the game. John Madden revolutionized the form, highlighting mistakes while also minimizing them, by deflating the game’s pretensions. He talked as if he were standing with friends around a barbecue grill, and his casual diction encouraged fans to imagine highly paid professionals as spirited amateurs. He taught viewers how to recognize well-laid blocks, but he also loved fat guys, busted plays, muddy fields. The NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, a former wide receiver, has honed a smooth, aloof style, presenting players’ errors for inspection and gentle ridicule. During a recent game, he responded to an interception by saying, with satisfaction, “He made a blind throw, and paid a big price for it.”
But, for Gruden, there is nothing funny about a mistake, and if he downplays errors it’s because he wants to fix them. His enthusiasm isn’t meant to fool the fans—it’s meant to motivate and inspire them, as if they were players. Some of Gruden’s best moments occur when he forgets where he is, offering viewers advice they are unlikely to use in their everyday lives. One night, a slow-motion replay of a short throw known as a screen pass inspired him to wax pedagogical on the art of blocking. “When you run a screen pass, and you’re the first lineman out, you have to look for that linebacker who’s matching the back in man-to-man coverage,” he said. “And, if you get him, you’ve got a big play. Great job!”
“Monday Night Football” has been one of television’s highest-rated programs since its début, on ABC, in 1970. Roone Arledge, the television executive who created it, realized that the tribes of fans who watched their local teams on Sunday would also tune in, en masse, for a nationally televised game on Monday. The timing, and the bright lights, implied that the Monday game was special, and the perception has lingered. But, because the games are scheduled months in advance, and because football—with its short season and frequent injuries—is hard to predict, Monday’s games are no better or worse, on average, than any others. The show moved from ABC to its corporate sibling ESPN in 2006, and the transition from an entertainment network to a sports network has been accompanied by a shift in emphasis. Where once “Monday Night Football” tried to link football to popular culture (the comedian Dennis Miller spent two seasons in the booth), now it is dedicated to football purism.
Even so, “Monday Night Football” is the most popular show on cable television, typically drawing about thirteen million viewers—more than twice as many, often, as its closest competitors. No sport has benefitted more than football from television’s high-definition reinvention, which makes it somewhat easier to follow twenty-two men, wearing suits of plastic armor, carrying out twenty-two different assignments at the same time.
Earlier this year, the league was fending off inquiries about the dangers posed to players by concussions, and fans thought that a labor dispute might cancel the season. But the players and owners reached an agreement, and the disturbing research into head injuries hasn’t yet eroded football’s reputation, however mystifying, for providing wholesome and patriotic entertainment. Instead, it’s the National Basketball Association that had to cancel part of the season. And the sixth game of this year’s World Series, hailed as an all-time classic, drew about as many viewers as a regular-season football game a few nights later.
Midway through the season, the Chiefs seemed promising: they were led by Matt Cassel, the quarterback whom Gruden had called an “outstanding young man.” Then they lost two seemingly easy games, and Cassel injured his hand; the new Chiefs quarterback was Tyler Palko, an unheralded twenty-eight-year-old whose résumé includes engagements in the United Football League and the Canadian Football League. By contrast, Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback, could be the most accurate and effective passer of his generation; Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ crafty coach, is probably the most feared man in football.
By the time Gruden and the others arrived in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on a Saturday morning in November, Patriots-Chiefs no longer seemed like a battle of equals. At the first on-site production meeting, at a hotel on the stadium grounds, Gruden addressed the group, explaining how his various observations might fit into story lines. He talked about how the Patriots like to start plays before their opponents can get set, and how their constantly fluctuating formations can confuse opposing teams. Then he switched to the language of television. “I want to show confusion, chaos—I want to show stress,” he said. “And I want to show the Patriots creating that stress.”
Gruden, Jaworski, and the rest of the crew filed into a cinder-block room in the bowels of the stadium, where they interviewed various Patriots. The team’s two best receivers arrived together: Wes Welker, a small, intense veteran wide receiver, and Rob Gronkowski, an ingenuous six-foot-six tight end, who looks like a teen-ager still learning to handle an epic growth spurt. The producers thought it might be fun to frame Welker and Gronkowski as the Patriots’ “Odd Couple,” and someone was dispatched to see about licensing the theme song. It was an inane idea, but it would give the producers an excuse to broadcast a package of clips of the two receivers, helping viewers to understand their divergent styles: Welker puts himself exactly where the ball will find him, while Gronkowski can reach over, around, or through defenders to make a catch.
On Sunday, ESPN technicians set up eight television screens in a hotel conference room, so that Gruden and the rest of the team could watch all the day’s games at the same time. Gruden sat in front of the one showing the Baltimore Ravens versus the Cincinnati Bengals—he was rooting for the Bengals, who employ his younger brother, Jay, as offensive coördinator. That night, Gruden and the crew travelled half an hour south, to Providence, Rhode Island, where the Chiefs were staying. They were searching for hope. Tyler Palko, nattily attired in a jacket, a checked shirt, and a tie with a tie pin, seemed mellow and unflustered; he referred to his coach, Todd Haley, as Todd instead of Coach. Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs’ defensive coördinator, was jolly but not necessarily reassuring.
“They got Welker, they got Gronkowski,” Gruden said. “You only got eleven guys.”
“You said it,” Crennel replied.
At the Monday-morning production meeting, Gruden made a grim prediction. “My point spread is 29.5, and rising,” he said. Jaworski bet him a steak dinner that the Patriots wouldn’t cover.
When it was Jaworski’s turn, he issued a stern proclamation. “Call me crazy, but I’m really excited for Tyler Palko tonight,” he said, and a roomful of skeptical sports producers erupted in laughter. Jaworski had given himself the thankless task of building up the Chiefs, praising them as much as he could without putting his own credibility at risk. Perhaps viewers would buy into the idea, however far-fetched, that Palko would emerge as the night’s underdog hero. Later that day, as Jaworski was making a cup of coffee in the ESPN bus, he tried the line again. “Call me crazy, but I’m excited about Tyler Palko,” he said. He exhaled. “I’ve got to sell this,” he said to himself.
Gruden was storing up his reserves of optimism for the camera-operator meeting, which was held, a few hours before kickoff, in the crowded training room of the New England Revolution, the local soccer team. “Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson—no one could believe it,” he said. “Villanova won the N.C.A.A. title—no one could believe it. Upsets do happen!” If an upset occurred, he wanted it filmed properly. “Let’s document everything that happens, good and bad,” he said. “It could be one hell of an interesting night!” This was as far as he was willing to go on the Chiefs’ behalf. As the camera operators cheered, Gruden and Jaworski walked out of the locker room, across the floodlit field, and up into the broadcast booth.
The broadcast started at eight-thirty, with final predictions from the booth. Gruden looked solemn. “I think the Kansas City Chiefs are in real trouble tonight,” he said.
Jaworski looked at Gruden and Mike Tirico. “You guys can call me crazy, but I’m excited about Tyler Palko tonight,” he said. Tirico giggled, but Gruden just squinted.
The temperature was in the thirties, and the booth, with its folding window thrown open, wasn’t much warmer. The Chiefs had decided to try to unnerve the Patriots by starting fast, running plays without huddling first, and the broadcast team seemed slightly off balance, too—the game wasn’t sticking to the script. The crew got surprised by a foul—the referee announced a penalty before Tirico had time to explain what had happened. A field goal gave the Chiefs a 3–0 lead, and they hassled Brady, who prefers to do his precisely calibrated work in peace. In production trucks, parked on the far side of the stadium, ESPN producers were compiling brief highlight packages and trying to persuade their superiors to put them on the air.
As the second quarter began, the producers fed Gruden a package designed to show how the Chiefs were succeeding. In one play, the Chiefs kept their most accomplished pass-rusher away from Brady, and sent a less fearsome but more unexpected player; in another, they assigned a total of four defenders to Gronkowski and Welker. “They’re going to double Wes Welker out of motion, and they’re going to double Gronkowski across the field,” Gruden said—the video froze, with rectangles around Welker and Gronkowski, and numbers to identify the two defenders covering each.
After one commercial break, Tirico set the scene. “A chilled and surprised crowd here in Foxborough,” he said. The surprise lasted until the end of the second quarter, when the Patriots’ many moving parts started moving together. Gruden explained to viewers how Brady, reading the Chiefs’ defense, switched at the last minute from a run play to a short pass. Later, after the Chiefs’ defenders lost track of Gronkowski, he reappeared in the end zone holding the football. “The Chiefs blew the coverage,” Gruden said. Once the cameras had cut to a commercial, he sounded as if he were back in his lair in Tampa. “God damn it,” he said. “You blow a coverage like that—they had ’em on the ropes!” By halftime, it was 10–3, Patriots.
In the second half, the Patriots kept scoring, and Palko, trying to keep pace, threw a pair of interceptions. When a rarely used Chief named Jerheme Urban checked in, Gruden told viewers to expect a wildcat, in which the ball goes directly to a rusher, instead of to the quarterback. “Look for some trickery,” Gruden said, and, sure enough, the Chiefs snapped the ball to Urban. But, increasingly, the producers in the truck inserted planned video segments—in one, Gruden proposed to address the N.B.A. lockout by allowing struggling football teams to draft idle basketball stars. With the Patriots leading, 27–3, Belichick, in keeping with his reputation for ruthlessness, pressed on. The Patriots scored a final touchdown to win, 34–3. The last touchdown was meaningless to just about everyone except Gruden. It put the Patriots up by thirty-one, which meant that they had covered his spread. Jaworski owed him dinner.
Gruden didn’t visit either team’s locker room that night. He walked across the parking lot to the hotel, escorted by security guards in fluorescent coats and ringed by high-spirited Patriots fans shouting, “Gru-den! Gru-den!” Later, he would get notes from Jay Rothman, the show’s top producer, who has been pushing Gruden to avoid talking over the action while also staying away from abrupt endings: the goal, for any football analyst, is to bring each commentary to a gentle conclusion just as the next play is about to begin.
The next morning, he flew back to Tampa. For Gruden, the real weekend is midweek, when he can immerse himself in film; his real season is off-season, when he can evaluate players, confer with coaches, maybe even run an occasional quarterback drill.
One of the studio analysts for “Monday Night Football” is Steve Young, the record-setting quarterback, who became close to Gruden when Gruden was an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers and Young was an impatient backup, waiting for Joe Montana to move on so that he could play. Young remembers discovering that Gruden was also a football nerd—they used to compete to see who could memorize more plays. Gruden was among Young’s earliest supporters, and Young is impressed and amused by the coach’s transformation. The language Gruden uses on the air is a lot more “flowery,” Young says, than the language he remembers being subjected to on the field.
Young tries to make Gruden’s commitment to broadcasting sound believable. “I think he’s found a really neat place,” he says. “He gets to get all his football out, and I think he’s enjoying it. I suspect that in a few years maybe something comes up, but, for now, I think he’s just fine.”
Still, he hesitates when asked which role suits Gruden better. “Aw, jeez,” he says. “I think he’s a good analyst. But I think he’s a great coach. You’re limited in what you can accomplish as an analyst.”
For Gruden, the two roles are linked: he wouldn’t be such a persuasive analyst if he didn’t feel like a coach, and it would be an odd sort of triumph if his time with ESPN—explaining football to thirteen million viewers, instead of to fifty-three players—proved even more successful than his time with the Buccaneers. Gruden admits that his current career, doing almost everything he used to do except winning and losing, is a poor substitute for the real thing. “I miss it a ton,” he said one day, after a long morning of watching tape in Tampa. “In some ways, I can’t believe I’m not a coach.” Ω
[Kelefa Sanneh joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008. Prior to that, he was the pop-music critic for the New York Times, beginning in 2002. Before covering music for the Times, he was the deputy editor of Transition, a journal of race and culture, based at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, at Harvard University. Sanneh is a graduate of Harvard University.]
Copyright © 2011 Condé Nast Digital
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves