Eagles Wake-Up Call: The Jon Gruden Argument

Jeffrey Lurie’s statement made it clear.

“There is no certain formula here,” he said, when asked if the Eagles were open to hiring a college coach. “Everything is on the table. There are some outstanding college coaches out there and some outstanding coordinators out there. There are outstanding coaches that used to coach in the National Football League out there. [We’ll leave] no stone unturned, and we’re open to it all.”

As of this morning, it’s been two weeks since the Eagles fired Andy Reid and Lurie made those comments. He has stayed true to his words (for the most part). He’s looked at college coaches (Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien, Brian Kelly). He’s looked at coordinators (Gus Bradley, Mike McCoyJay Gruden). And he’s looked at previous head coaches (Brian Billick, Lovie Smith, Mike Nolan).

With every new day, it seems like a new name surfaces. But through it all, one has been missing: Jon Gruden.

This is not about finding someone fiery or appeasing the sports-talk calling masses. It’s about leaving no stone unturned, as Lurie put it. So let’s review the key points and questions on both sides of the Gruden argument, one-by-one:

Is Gruden’s resume really that impressive?

Everyone discusses the Tampa years, but Gruden’s first shot as a head coach came in Oakland. He inherited a team that had gone 11-21 the previous two seasons. Gruden had a pair of 8-8 years and then turned the Raiders into a playoff team. They went 12-4 and 10-6 in 2000 and 2001, making the playoffs both years. In the 11 seasons since Gruden left, the Raiders have had a winning record once. That was in 2002, the year after he departed.

And then there’s Tampa. An overall 57-55 record with the Bucs is not all that impressive. It’s true that Gruden inherited a team that had made the playoffs the previous three seasons. But Tampa had also experienced first-round exits in back-to-back years. In 2002, with Gruden, they won the Super Bowl. He had a lot of Tony Dungy’s players, but as this article explains, there were some changes made to the roster that year. Gruden’s Tampa teams finished with a winning record in four of seven seasons and made the postseason three times.

What went wrong during the end of his tenure there?

If I’m an owner, this is one of the first questions I pose to Gruden, and also one that I do a lot of my own homework on. After the Super Bowl season, Gruden’s teams missed out on the postseason in four of six years. During his final season in Tampa, the Bucs closed out the season on a four-game losing streak and finished 9-7 after starting out 9-3.

Things got ugly. Simeon Rice called Gruden a “scumbag.” Wide receiver Michael Clayton called him a turncoat. Assistant coaches had some not-so-nice things to say about Gruden and his ego. And so, he was shown the door.

Gruden never developed a young quarterback.

This is true to a point. Then again, unless I missed something, the guys he was working with didn’t exactly go on to bigger and better things – like Pro Bowls and Super Bowls – when Gruden was out of the picture. I mean, we’re talking about Brian Griese, Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski here.

On the other hand, Gruden helped Rich Gannon (95.5 QB rating in 2001 at the age of 36), Brad Johnson (22 TDs, 6 INTs at the age of 34 during the Super Bowl year) and Jeff Garcia (92.2 QB rating in 2007-2008 at the age of 37) to some very productive years.

What about his personnel decisions?

This is an important one. How much control are you willing to give Gruden, given his track record? How much say would he demand? Those are questions a team like the Eagles would have to ask itself. It’s true that Gruden wasn’t responsible for building Tampa’s Super Bowl team. But the Bucs had just one pick in the first two rounds in Gruden’s first two seasons there. In other words, building his own core for the long-term was challenging.

Does Gruden want to coach? Why aren’t the Eagles talking to him?

On the final day of the regular season, reports surfaced that Gruden and the Eagles could be a realistic match, but nothing ever materialized (publicly, anyway). Ron Jaworski, a friend of Gruden’s, indicated last week that Gruden could be interested in the Eagles, but the team hasn’t reached out to him. Mike Mayock and Dick Vermeil, two well-connected members of the NFL community, recently called for the Eagles to go after Gruden too.

No coach has ever won a Super Bowl with one team and gone on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy with a second team. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Gruden’s only 49, and there’s at least a chance that he learned from his previous experiences and comes back improved. Ray Didinger explained this theory well on Daily News Live last week.

“He’s had the advantage of being out of it a little bit, but not too long,” Didinger said. “Four years is a good time to kind of catch your breath, re-charge, and when you’re around the game the way Jon’s around the game now as a broadcaster… he’s spent four years now traveling around the league, broadcasting games, spending time with every coaching staff, looking at tape, picking people’s brains. I’ve seen guys do this before. They get out of the game, are away from it a little bit, but continue to learn. And when they come back and get an opportunity to be a head coach again, they come back a better version of what they were. And I think Jon’s a smart enough guy that if he gets that opportunity, I think he’ll do that. …Whoever gets him next, I think, is going to get a very good coach.”

So, are the Eagles interested? There’s been little indication lately that they are. But remember, Lurie and company can be secretive when they choose to be. Admitting interest in Gruden and then hiring someone else would be a public-relations disaster. We didn’t find out about the O’Brien interview until after he already decided to stay at Penn State. We didn’t find out about Billick until several days after they met with him. And just recently, a report surfaced that they made a call or two about Bill Cowher.

If the Eagles looked into the Gruden possibility and decided against it, that’s OK. Maybe there are issues from when Gruden was the Eagles offensive coordinator back in the 90s. Maybe he’s making unreasonable contract demands. Maybe he wants full personnel control. Or maybe the story of how things fell apart in Tampa is even worse than we know. After all, it hasn’t been just the Eagles. No team has expressed interest publicly in Gruden this offseason. If Lurie and Howie Roseman did their homework and decided Gruden would be a bad fit, that’s fine.

But there’s always the possibility of another surprise candidate, especially if Lurie’s not smitten with any of his current remaining options.

Considering his comments at the beginning of the search and the nature of the process, Lurie would be making a mistake if he didn’t at least look into Gruden as an option somewhere along the line.

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles have reportedly interviewed Billick. Tim’s got some details.

The Birds are in the mix for CFL and former USC defensive tackle Armon Armstead.

Now that Brian Kelly has decided to stay at Notre Dame, is the pressure on the Eagles?

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune has some details on the Eagles’ pursuit of Brian Kelly:

In a phone conversation with the Tribune on Saturday, athletics director Jack Swarbrick laid out the timeline of the entire process: The Eagles first contacted Kelly, who had them contact Swarbrick, which they did the day after firing coach Andy Reid in late December.

Swarbrick asked that any conversations wait until after the BCS title game. Meanwhile, back in early December, Swarbrick had assured Kelly that a new deal was forthcoming.

… A league source said Kelly never received an offer from the Eagles. Which is logical, because the franchise had asked for a second meeting with Kelly to take place next week, if he desired it. No offer would have arrived before then.

It’s not directly Eagles-related, but Dan Le Batard has a must-read piece on Jason Taylor and the pain of playing in the NFL in The Miami Herald:

Dolphins legend Jason Taylor, for example, grew up right before our eyes, from a skinny Akron kid to a future Hall of Famer, his very public path out in front of those lights for 15 years. But take a look at what was happening in the dark. He was just a few blessed hours from having his leg amputated. He played games, plural, with a hidden and taped catheter running from his armpit to his heart. His calf was oozing blood for so many months, from September of one year to February of another, that he had to have the equivalent of a drain installed. This is a story of the private pain endured in pursuit of public glory, just one man’s broken body on a battlefield littered with thousands of them.

COMING UP

Jay Gruden is expected to interview with the Eagles today. We also have our last Birds 24/7 show on 97.5 The Fanatic from 6 to 7. Stop by Smith’s at 19th and Chestnut if you’re in the area.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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  • thefadd

    great article, thanks for this one. that Le Batard piece is haunting. one wonders if maybe some of them make things worse for themselves by continuing to play if only to give the pain a reason.

  • Nik

    Ha I completely forgot that the Gruden TB choke got the eagles into the playoffs

  • Myke Lowery

    Will he be bringing Derrick Brooks..John Lynch..and Warren Sapp?if not then no thanks.

    • http://twitter.com/PhiIs_Goodman Phils Goodman

      Yeah, I only want coaches who have won championships WITHOUT great players. Is that so much to ask?

  • The Guru

    Gruden is the best choice bar none. Turncoat and scumbag? Good! These players have been coddled way too much. Everyone points to Tampa’s last 5 years, but Rich Mckay was a horrible G.M. and had a couple drafts like Eagles ’11. That’s the reason for the decline….not because he couldn’t coach. And, anyone who can turn a 4-12 team into a 12-4 team and take them to the Super Bowl (tuck rule) under Al Davis can certainly turn around this dysfunctional franchise.

    The issue is he wants a say in personnel (if not full control…and how could you blame him after Rich McKay) and Golden Boy Roseman just isn’t giving that up.

    • johngiam

      I just think that a young Hungry KAT like Gus, who’s players run thru Brick walls is the way to go. trotter played for him, trotter bleeds green til this day, and strongly endorses him as our next HC. di dinger, another voice I respect, not our typical Blowhard, speaks glowingly of him. Carrol, Monte, Brooks, all his former players. tHis YOUNG MAN WILL BE HUNGRY, I believe he can handle our media, and after the dysfunctional environment this year where players weren’t held accountable, I think a guy who’s philosophy is to instill Genuine appreciation for every member of the organization, for together we will work to achieve a common goal, is a great message to send to these payers aft what happened this year, everyone throwing everyone under the Bus..Gus talks to his plays about GENUINE appreciation for the work that video TECHS , training staff, cafeteria people, assistants, practice players put into a franchise. I’m willing to bet that ALOT oF BAD HABBITS were instilled in our players this past year, a lot of GIMICKY crap that they need to forget as quickly as possible, wide 9, Mudd trying to reinvent the wheel, drastically changing how we block…Gus is the perfect guy, to whip these players back into shape! that’s My guy, if someone else hires Gus, then you will probably hear me start asking for Gruden….As long as there is still Gas in the Gus Bus, that’s what I’m riding!!!

      • The Guru

        I’d be ok with Gus. He’s the best candidate they’ve interviewed. But, Gruden is by far the most qualified and best candidate out there.

  • GoBirds1

    I thought it was common knowledge that Lurie and Gruden did not like each other from his previous experience here. Why does there have to be more to it than that. Why would Lurie want another egomaniac at the Nova Care complex that despises him?

  • Johngiam

    OK…so instead of courting Gus into signing a contract, The copper standard will spend its Monday with Jay Gruden? What did we ever do to deserve this? Does Lurie blame us for his divorce? I just don’t get it

  • bald_eagle

    Gruden wants to come to San Diego….. come on Chargers, hire him!

  • hillbillybirdsfan

    I’m not saying that I think he’s the perfect guy for the job, but with the net being cast as wide as it has been you have to figure they have at least contacted him.

  • FMWarner

    I’m not that excited about the possibility of Gruden as Eagles’ coach. But this article is right…if you’re interviewing this many guys, he merits a phone call. Maybe they’ve been talking to him all along – Sheil is right when he says that if they court Gruden and don’t land him it’s a disaster. It would be standard Lurie-era Eagles for them to have never uttered Gruden’s name and then announce him as the coach. We’ll see. Just because we haven’t heard about it doesn’t mean the Eagles haven’t looked into it.

  • http://twitter.com/PhiIs_Goodman Phils Goodman

    Great piece, Sheil. This is why I come here.

    There’s a deeper argument for having Gruden on your short-list than “BECAUSE HE’S GOT A RING ON HIS FINGER, NERD!” and you sum it up very well.

  • Jason Simonovich

    Yes! I want Gruden so bad. Imagine the excitement that he will bring to the city and the franchise. We are it every Monday night, he is the best analyst without a doubt. Philly needs to reach out to him. Great article.