TAMPA — One day before playing the Eagles in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, Jon Gruden addressed his team in the middle of Veterans Stadium, a place where the Bucs' season had gone to die the two previous years.
"I just tried to loosen them up because these guys want this game bad," Gruden said. "Philadelphia had our number. I remember telling the guys when I coached in Philadelphia, our fans used to call me foul names. So I said, 'Keyshawn (Johnson), cuss me out.' I had all the players just kind of cuss me out. I said, 'Is this the problem?'
"We were all laughing because they're all calling me you-know-whats. When we went out there in pregame the next day, I could hear the fans cussing out (Warren) Sapp and Keyshawn, and I could just see them smiling."
Chucky began to chuckle.
Gruden was back at One Buc Place on Wednesday for a news conference for the Bucs Ring of Honor, which this year will include him and late owner Malcolm Glazer. It has been 15 years since they won Super Bowl XXXVII.
Glazer will be honored posthumously during a nationally televised Thursday night game Oct. 5 against the Patriots.
Gruden, 53, who served as the team's head coach from 2002-08, will be inducted at the Bucs' Monday Night Football game that he will broadcast for ESPN on Dec. 18 against the Falcons.
Dressed in the team's red polo shirt and trademark visor, which he pulled over his mop of blonde hair, Gruden stood in the team auditorium where he used to install game plans.
"I feel like I'm still coaching," he said. "I feel like I could've gone out there today with a script. Then I see Jameis Winston and I was like, 'Damn I wish I had that guy.' "
Which begs the annual question: Will Gruden ever trade his microphone for a whistle?
The answer has never changed. He's the star of MNF, the highest-paid employee at ESPN at $6.5 million per year. He scratches his itch for coaching by studying tape in preparation for his job and with Gruden's QB Camp.
"I'm just trying to keep the job I have," Gruden said. "Part of me still considers myself a coach. I meet with NFL players and coaches and college guys. I do clinics. I went to North Dakota State and Indiana. I can't get away from it. I'm still up and at it every morning. I've got my own office, and my wife doesn't even worry about where I'm going."
Yep, Gruden would be crazy to leave that job for 100-hour work weeks and the stress that goes with it.
But in two years, I think he will be coaching again in the NFL.
By then, Gruden will be an empty-nester after his youngest son, Jayson, graduates from high school. While Gruden could be a TV star for another 10-15 years, it doesn't offer nearly the same intoxication of leading a football team and competing for a championship.
"No. You miss the adversity," he said. "The journey is what I'm talking about. Helping a guy get better. Seeing a guy get a contract. And seeing a seventh-round choice or free agent make the team.
"I remember telling the pilot take one more lap around, just another 12 minutes, so I can have a beer and enjoy this for just 12 more minutes. Because when the plane lands, it's all about the next game. When the season ends, it's all about the next season. It's a 365-day grind, and that's what I miss the most. All of it."
Gruden still is relatively young. Dirk Koetter didn't get his first NFL head-coaching job until he was 57. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is 65. Joe Gibbs was out 11 seasons and came back at 63. Dick Vermeil was 60 and spent 15 years in the TV booth before leaving to coach the Rams in 1997.
Gruden already is wealthy and coaching salaries are rising. ESPN's $1.9 billion contract with the NFL runs through 2021, but the network has dumped some high-salaried talent. Gruden could command at least as much as a head coach.
"I don't foresee myself coaching any time soon,'' he said. "But I do like getting as close to the fire as possible. All I really have going is football. I don't know what I would do without it. I'm happy with what I'm doing. I study as if I am a coach. I still make my own breakdowns, I still come up with my own playbook — I just don't have anybody to give it to."
Every offseason, college and pro teams ask if Gruden would consider coaching again. At some point they stopped asking Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson. But those guys didn't stay on top of the game's evolution the way Gruden does.
"I don't know, man. It's got to be perfect," said Bucs Super Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson. "It's got to have the GM and the quarterback."
At one point Wednesday, Gruden said, "I almost feel like I'm dying."
In a pensive moment, Gruden said he regretted not getting personally closer to his players.
"There's a lot of things I could've done better, and I regret not doing better," Gruden said. "I do know I always gave it my best shot."
It sure feels like he's preparing to take another one at coaching.