INDIANAPOLIS — Jon Gruden’s passion for football was on display soon after he was fired by the Buccaneers in 2008, and it went well beyond the strip-mall office space that housed the Fired Football Coaches Association.
Almost immediately, stories popped up of how he was visiting this NFL staff or that group of college coaches in an effort to glean information on where the game was going, even if he wasn’t coaching. As his quarterback camp became established, his study of concepts at the college level increased; those close to Gruden whispered how this quiet quest for more knowledge would be on display whenever he decided to return to the sidelines.
That time is now, and that innovation, from one of the NFL’s turn-of-the-century innovators, is coming.
And considering all that, it was certainly interesting hearing Gruden’s take on analytics at the combine on Wednesday.
“Man, I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998,” Gruden said. “Really, as a broadcaster, I went around and tried to observe every team. Asked a lot of questions. Took a look at the facilities, how they’re doing business. There’s a stack of analytical data … people don’t even know how to read it. It’s one thing to have the data. It’s another things to know how to read the damn thing.
“So I’m not going to rely on GPS and all the modern technology. I will certainly have some people that are professional that help me from that regard. But I still think doing things the old-fashioned way is the a good way.”
If you think this seems to be a little stone-aged to hear from a forward-thinking guy, I’ll grant you that. But based on my knowledge of where the Raiders are, I’m not going to interpret this as Gruden taking Oakland back to the days of Tom Flores in its methods.
There are two points to make on that.
First, last year the feeling internally was that quarterback Derek Carr and other young players in the building needed harder coaching, and Gruden’s in-your-face style will certainly address that. I believe that in saying he’s going to “throw the game back to 1998”, he’s telling his players that it’ll be a rough road to September for a team that could use that kind of tough love.
Second, Reggie McKenzie is still in the building, and the seventh-year GM has done much to modernize Oakland as a franchise—in particular by building up the team’s analytics operation. The Raiders employ a three-man staff, headed by former ESPN and NFL Network researcher George Li, and all the progress they’ve made in that area isn’t going out the window.
I understand why people would scoff at what Gruden said. But honestly, I don’t think there’s any reason read too much into it, given the coach’s history, his team’s needs and the organization’s work in the area of data.
Here are five other quick-hitters from the first full day of the combine, with players arriving, and coaches and GMs addressing the assembled media on Wednesday.
1. Credit to Washington VP of player personnel Doug Williams for putting an end to the idea that the team could tag Kirk Cousins. Cousins’s camp would have immediately filed a grievance if the ’Skins had pulled that, and there’s a good chance the quarterback would’ve prevailed. In the end, it would’ve just looked petty and further damaged the team’s image in the eyes of players and the public, and the team has incurred too much of that kind of damage in the last year.
2. I believe Dolphins coach Adam Gase is being genuine when he expresses his love for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But Tannehill, who’s coming off a torn ACL, is about to turn 30 and has no guaranteed money left on his deal. So if Miami sees someone (like Baker Mayfield) available with the 11th pick who could be an upgrade by 2019 or ’20, it would make sense for the Dolphins to consider it.
3. When I heard Giants GM Dave Gettleman say he wanted a Hall-of-Fame type with the draft’s second pick, I couldn’t help but think of the last time New York was drafting in the Top 5, in 2004. Back then, Ernie Accorsi said he didn’t plan on picking that high again, and that belief led them to strike on the opportunity to find a franchise quarterback. This will come down to Gettleman’s evaluation of this year’s quarterbacks, but it’s hard to imagine he’d pass on someone he sees as a potential Hall-of-Famer at the most important position. Gettleman, by the way, was working for Accorsi in 2004.
4. Bears GM Ryan Pace confirmed the obvious on Wednesday – Chicago will be cutting QB Mike Glennon, who it signed to a three-year, $45 million deal last year. Was it a mistake? That depends on whether or not Mitch Trubisky makes it. What the Bears did last year is not unlike what the Eagles did in 2016. Because Carson Wentz panned out, people barely remember that Philly’s “over-investment” in the position included doing sizable deals with Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. Same goes here. If Pace got it right on Trubisky, the Glennon deal becomes a footnote to how he got there.
5. The 49ers have a lot to sort through in the case of Rueben Foster, but let’s make no mistake on the decision by the brass to ride it out with him—his talent is a major factor here. They believe he can be a star, and nerve center of a great defense. And this isn’t just a Niners thing. It’s an NFL thing. A player’s ability is his ticket to getting second chances and/or the benefit of the doubt.
Coming tomorrow: We’ll be hearing from more coaches and general managers on Thursday—and the back-room meetings where free-agent tampering may or may not be taking place will roll on. Workouts start on Friday, with the running backs, offensive linemen and specialists taking the Lucas Oil Stadium field.