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Former Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden finds a niche on television

Jon Gruden, on right chatting with Jets pick Mark Sanchez, impressed NFL Network brass with his draft coverage work.

NFL Network

Jon Gruden, on right chatting with Jets pick Mark Sanchez, impressed NFL Network brass with his draft coverage work.

Jon Gruden on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' drafting of Josh Freeman: "I used to not talk about quarterbacks until the middle of the sixth round."

After all of these years, after all of these questions, it turns out that former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden was on the wrong side of the microphone. Who knew?

Say hello to Jon Gruden, television star.

Soon, he may have his own sit-com.

That's how good Jon Gruden was last weekend as an analyst for the NFL Network. He was fresh, he was funny. He was informed, he was insightful. He looked like a guy having a ball, and he helped viewers have one, too.

Also, he said part of his draft preparation was to get an $86 haircut. Let Mel Kiper match that.

"We were very impressed,'' said Eric Weinberger, the executive producer of the NFL Network. "It didn't surprise us, but to be on the air for as long as he was, we were more impressed the deeper and deeper we got of how much knowledge he had, how alert and how aware he was of the draft and all 32 teams.''

Odd how things work out, isn't it? A guy spends most of his life trying to be the next Bill Walsh, and as it turns out, he might be the next John Madden. And why not? The pay is good, the work is steady and no scoreboard is involved.

No matter what you think of Gruden, whether you think his firing was undeserved or overdue, whether you think the Bucs let him down or vice versa, it was a treat to watch him work the NFL draft.

And, yeah, when it comes to spending time in front of a camera, the guy has a future like Natalie Portman's.

On Raiders pick Darrius Heyward-Bey: "I know (Al Davis) loves speed. I remember standing on the field one day when James Jett ran by and he asked me if I could feel that. You can feel Heyward-Bey."

For Gruden, like a lot of coaches, the question is how much he wants to conquer television.

He is, after all, a football coach, and football coaches love the smell of analgesic in the morning. He is used to leading a team, and to getting the rush that comes with winning or the crash that comes with losing or the satisfaction that comes with calling the right play at the right time.

Broadcasting isn't the same thing. Oh, it's a safe haven for a coach who is waiting for his batteries to recharge — or for his contract to run out — but it isn't the same thrill as competition. Ask Bill Parcells, who stops by the studio every time he needs to sit until a new job opens up.

Still, Madden once made the transition. Jimmy Johnson, the old coach of the Cowboys and Dolphins, never came back.

The smart money says Gruden will. He'll coach somebody.

But what if he doesn't? He'd be good in a studio, but personally, I'd love to hear him as a game analyst. Eventually, I think he could be the best in the business.

Eventually, he could end up on Monday night. Either as an analyst, or as Charlie Sheen's long-lost brother in the updated Three and a Half Men.

On the Lions' new pass-catch combination of Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson: "Who would have thought Georgia and Georgia Tech would work together to rebuild the Detroit Lions?''

Personally, I think it's good when the old coaches find work. The employment figures are bad enough.

It's odd, but the fans of Tampa Bay still haven't let go of the Gruden debate. Perhaps that's because he won a Super Bowl. Perhaps it's because the team never came close again. Perhaps it's because this is Tampa Bay, where fans never let go of a good argument.

The thing is, Gruden's success on television won't surprise anyone who ever interviewed him. Gruden was criticized for a lot of things over the years — yes, many of them in this column — but no one ever criticized the way he talked. He was glib, and he told great stories and gave great descriptions of his players. Granted, most of the time, he would give away only so much information, and sometimes his praise of a player he wasn't using struck you as less than sincere.

On television, where a quick wit and a healthy dose of charisma will win you an Emmy, that's perfect. The networks are not exactly swimming in sincerity.

And so Gruden kept it light. He didn't talk too much, as many new analysts do. He didn't criticize players, but he made his points. And he seemed to have a good time.

When Deion Sanders told Josh Freeman that if Gruden had a quarterback like him, he wouldn't be working the draft for NFL Network, Gruden laughed louder than anyone and waved.

When Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he would give Gruden an A-plus grade for his work as an analyst, Gruden said: "I love that guy. That's why he was 6-0 against me."

"His potential is unlimited,'' Weinberger said. "He is candid. He's edgy. He's very easy to work with because he has such a passion for the sport. He could be a very good person in this industry.''

On the Dolphins' selection of Pat White: "The spread offense is officially in the NFL. … I've been studying this all offseason, I don't have a job."

Maybe he should have.

Maybe it's time to bring Chucky to the small screen.

Former Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden finds a niche on television 04/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2009 9:05am]
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