Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden wraps up his first season in the broadcast booth with ESPN tonight as the network airs the Pro Bowl. After being fired by the Bucs a year ago, Gruden briefly joined the NFL Network then signed on to become an analyst on Monday Night Football. Gruden earned rave reviews for his broadcast work and, after signing a multiyear contract extension in November, seems committed to broadcasting for at least another year. He still makes his home in Tampa and just opened a football office where he studies game film, draws up plays and meets with other former and future coaches. While unpacking boxes in his new office, Gruden spent a few minutes with St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones to talk about his first season in the booth, when he might return to coaching and even the joy of buying lemonade.
So how was the first year in the broadcast booth for you?
You know what? I really enjoyed it. I had a good time. I have a long way to go before I'm really any good at it, but the guys I'm working with — Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, producer Jay Rothman and everyone else — really helped me.
Was it harder than you thought it would be, or easier or about what you expected?
It is a little harder than I thought. There are some technical things that you just have to experience before you can get used to it, like people talking in your ear and using the talk-back button and using the telestrator. And then there's working in a three-man booth that you just have to get used to so you know when to talk and when to shut up.
How hard was knowing when to talk and when to shut up?
I took a few shots in the ribs (from Jaworski) when I went up to Bristol (Conn.) and did practice games and during the preseason games. But all that comes with experience. You just learn to be straightforward. You want to be able to analyze the play concisely, and you don't want to overdo it. A big thing is not talking when the quarterback is over center. And after a big play, let the crowd tell the story. We all became more comfortable as the season went along, and, hopefully, we were in a rhythm by the end of the season.
Is broadcasting fulfilling? Does it fill the void left by coaching?
Obviously, I miss coaching. It's all I've done most of my life. I definitely had some withdrawal after I was fired. But fortunately, this came along, and it was a great opportunity. And I do enjoy it. I enjoy seeing which two teams we have next and focusing on those two teams and not really looking to become an expert on the whole league. You have your two teams, you learn their X's and O's. You get a chance to see these guys in the meeting rooms, and I had the opportunity, for instance, to meet Drew Brees and sit down with him as he prepared for the game, and it was really, really interesting for me.
Most people thought you would do the broadcast thing for maybe a year, if that long, and then you would go back into coaching. But then midway through the season, you signed a contract extension with ESPN. Why?
I really put a lot of time into this broadcasting thing. I look at Monday Night Football as the premier broadcasting job in football. I look at it that highly. I want to take the proper time to see if (I'm) actually any good at it. I just made a major career change going from coaching to broadcasting, and I just don't want to jump around right away. I want make a commitment and see if I'm any good at this.
Well, you got a lot of rave reviews for your work. Some people have said you could do this for a long time and become another John Madden. Have you considered that?
I don't know. I just want to be as good as I can be. You can't compare anybody to John Madden. He was one of a kind. We're both former Raiders coaches, so I guess I have that going for me (laughs). But that's about it for now. Listen, I just want to invest some real time in this, and then I'll see how it plays out.
Would you watch replays of the broadcasts?
The neat thing about this job is you get a lot of analysis from the people traveling around doing the games with you and you get a lot of feedback. Jay Rothman has these meetings, and they (replay) everything you do — all the telestrators you did, all the things you said. And if you did something wrong, you certainly hear about it. People say I was a tough guy to play for, but I'm telling you, man, these people can be tough to work for, too. But it's all about teaching and learning and just trying to get better, and these people are the best in the business.
How did you think you did?
I did okay. I felt like I got better as the season went along, which was important to me. By the end of the season — the 49ers-Cardinals game and the Bears-Vikings over the last few weeks — I felt much better about my overall performance. Before that, I thought I was good in spurts. But I would go back a lot of time and think, "Aw, I wish I could've said that here or communicated that a little better." I still feel like I have a long way to go.
Would you get nervous before a broadcast?
The first few games, yeah, I was really nervous, especially when they showed me the graphic of how many countries and people are watching. And they make it very clear, in case you didn't know, that it is live. If you do something as little as cough and sneeze and don't mute it out, you're not going to last too long. I used to get real nervous doing these cut-in things before the game. I'm not real good at memorizing stuff like that. I like to prepare for a game and then react to what just happened. But we would do these cut-in things before the game, and just as I was about to talk, you know whose voice I would hear in the headset? Keyshawn Johnson! It took everything I could do not to start laughing as he was yelling at me.
As the season went along, did you miss coaching less?
Well, you still miss it. The thing I miss is the teaching and being around players. I miss that part of the relationship — teaching players and seeing improvement and watching the team get better and better. That's what I loved most about coaching. But broadcasting helped. Being at a game every Monday night helped and we had a good schedule with meaningful games, so it was nice to be a part of something like that.
Broadcasting is a full-time job, but it's not like coaching. Did your quality of life improve?
Absolutely. I guess the way to put it is I got my life a little more organized. I recommitted myself to a lot of things, mostly my family. I got to see one of my sons play high school football every Friday night. I got to coach another son's middle school flag-football team. I was able to start going to church again, which was hard for me when I was coaching on Sundays. Now I don't get up at 3:17 in the morning. And now I enjoy the little things, like going to the grocery store and being able to buy the kind of lemonade I like. Or going to the mall and picking out a shirt. My wife was buying all my shirts when I was coaching, so I like now being able to pick out my own shirts (laughs). And I was able to reconnect with some old friends and make new friends. When you're coaching, you don't have a lot of friends. Just acquaintances, professional relationships. So now I'm able to have a somewhat normal life again.
Could you understand some of the things Urban Meyer was going through when he talked about retiring and taking a leave?
Oh yeah. But everyone is different. There's a lot of self-induced pressure. Everyone handles it differently, but I can see how one would get into a situation like Urban. Hopefully, he'll figure it out and get himself healthy.
Seems like every time a coaching job comes open — the Redskins, Notre Dame, Tennessee and so on — your name comes up. Is it good that people think of you immediately or does it bother you?
Well, there are always going to be rumors and speculation to a certain degree, and I understand that and I accept that. So that's why I've tried to be as open and honest as soon as I can to say I'm doing now what I want to be doing by working on Monday Night Football.
So you don't have a timetable for how much longer you want to broadcast or if and when you might return to coaching?
I really don't. I love football. I love coaching. But I'm fortunate right now to be involved in football and doing something I love, and right now I'm just committed to improving as best I can as a broadcaster.
Before you go, what are your thoughts on the Super Bowl?
Well, if you go back to the ESPN The Magazine before the season, you'll see I picked the Saints to go to the Super Bowl. So I'm strutting like a peacock these days. I'm good friends with (Saints coach) Sean Payton and (Colts offensive coordinator) Tom Moore. And I love these two quarterbacks. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, they're like CEOs, you know what I mean? They run their offenses. I think it's going to be a four-quarter game. Both of these guys are like the Terminator. They just keep coming. Nobody is going to lose this game. One of them is just going to run out of time.