TAMPA – More than two weeks since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Jon Gruden, his alarm still buzzes at 3:17 a.m.
Time to go to work.
“You have to keep trying to get better,” Gruden said.
His old desk at One Buc Place is now occupied by Raheem Morris, but the only coach to lead the franchise to a Super Bowl championship has a new place to hole up in the dark. It’s at the St. Pete Times Forum downtown, where Tampa Bay Storm Coach Tim Marcum of the Arena Football League has given Gruden an office complete with all the computer equipment needed to engage in his passion of breaking down tape.
The man has a new mission (and it’s not to lower his golf handicap).
“I want to learn the spread offense,” Gruden said. “This is exciting for me.”
Whether that means Gruden’s next job — and he’ll definitely have one — will be in college or the NFL is anyone’s guess. And don’t make the assumption that a crash course in the sexy spread means Gruden has his sights set on coaching Saturdays.
Gruden, 45 and self-proclaimed president of the Fired Football Coaches of America, talked about his past, present, future — and Tim Tebow — Friday night in a joint interview with the Sentinel and Tampa Tribune.
“[The Bucs are] going in a different direction,” Gruden said. “And so am I.”
Q: Right now, it looks like you’re going to take a year off.
A: “You know, the thing I’m really struggling with, I miss football. So thank God for Tim Marcum. … I go down there, I got my Beta cam, all my films and got people in the league who have sent me stuff to study. … I hit the pad on the Ice Palace, man, it’s the most beautiful facility. I love it. It’s the first place I ever saw Bon Jovi. I go in there and he’s afforded me a chance to study film. He comes in, we watch tape. [I know] some college coaches and I’ve already, in my own sick mind, budgeted time for this and this and this and this, and I’m going to learn a lot about the spread offense, and about college football. I already know the questions I’m going to ask. I’m going to do clinics. I’m going to do appearances, but more than anything else I’m going to do research.”
Q: People are going to think you want a college job.
A: “No. It means I want to learn more football. I’m going to pick out two or three cool colleges that I think have great offenses. Great places. I want to go to Oregon. I want my son to go to Oregon football camp, and I want to learn what the Oregon Ducks are doing on offense. … I want to go in there and try to be a guest coach. I want to go to Al Groh’s camp in Virginia. I love the way Al Groh coaches that football team. I want to learn a little bit about Coach [Jim] Leavitt. I want to learn about the USF team. I think he has done a hell of a job, building it from scratch. I think that’s one of the great stories in football, what he’s done in 12 years there at USF.”
Q: The spread is being run in high schools and colleges, is it possible it could be a base offense in the NFL one day?
A: “No question. The hard part is, you have to isolate the option. That’s why Tim Tebow is so interesting to me. He’s like Brandon Jacobs playing quarterback. He’s 250 pounds. He’s the strongest human being who’s ever played the position. Ever. He will kick the living [expletive] out of a defensive lineman. He’ll fight anybody. He is rare. Tebow is the kind of guy who could revolutionize the game. He’s the ‘wildcat’ who can throw. Most of the teams that have the wildcat back there, it’s Ronnie Brown, it’s Jerious Norwood, it’s whoever you want to say it is. This guy here is 250 pounds of concrete cyanide, man. And he can throw. He throws well enough at any level to play quarterback.”
Q: Most people are dismissing Tebow as a quarterback in the NFL.
A: “He can play quarterback in the NFL. When he was a high school senior, they played Armwood in the state championship game. I have tape. He has an 80-yard touchdown run that put them in the lead. When it flipped around, and Armwood had the ball, what position do you think Tebow was playing? He was playing nose guard — and he disrupted about 10 plays. This guy is totally different. He’s got Rich Gannon, Drew Brees, that kind of makeup as a team guy. What he said after the Ole Miss game, I said, ‘That’s my favorite football player I’ve ever seen in my whole life.’ I said, ‘I want Florida to win every game that kid plays from now on.'”
Q: How’d you come to terms with being fired for the first time in your life?
A: “You know what? Mike Shanahan got fired. Mike Holmgren is out of football. Brian Billick is out of football. That’s the reality of it. Mostly though, I’m just really proud of working hard. I’ve always been taught you can only look yourself in the eye and ask ‘Is that the best you’ve got? Is that the best you can do?’ And I’m not going to criticize anybody. That was the best I could do. … In the NFL you’ve got to get to the Super Bowl and you’ve got to win it. That’s the evaluation we’re all accountable to. I wasn’t able to get close enough and that’s the way it is.”
Q: What about the jabs taken at you? Did the comments by guys like Jeff Garcia, Michael Clayton and Simeon Rice hurt?
A: “Yeah, it hurt. But I’ve also had some of the greatest phone calls that made it all worthwhile. I remember when I got the job, they weren’t real happy with where they were at that time, either. There was a lot of criticism of the last coach [Tony Dungy]. I remember when Mike Holmgren left Green Bay, they were killing him. I remember when Bill Walsh left, what Joe [Montana] said about him. So this happens. When you’re the head coach, you coach 53 people, and their wives and their girlfriends and their families and all those people. So I’m not going to worry about it. Yeah, I’m disappointed that I’m a ‘scumbag’ and that I couldn’t get along with the quarterback [when] I live my life through the quarterback. Mike Clayton has his own opinion and I respect that.”
Q: How would you sum up the last seven years?
A: “I worked as hard as I could work and I loved it. I feel a great sense of accomplishment, but I also feel a great sense of loss. … I’m never going to point the finger at anybody, either. I’m good. I did my best. My body of work is out there for everybody to evaluate. … We won three division championships; won 60 games in seven years; won a Super Bowl. It wasn’t like it was total futility.”
Q: Will you pull for the Bucs now?
A: “I’ll be the biggest Bucs fan out there this year. And I’ll be there; I’ll be at the games. I’ll root for Raheem. I love Raheem. I hired Raheem — twice. I have a lot of confidence he can do the job and wish him the best.”