It’s November and Jon Gruden is employed by ESPN, so that means head-coaching rumors are swirling around the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach. One difference this season: the Bucs themselves are subject of the rumors. Oh boy.
That started with Pewter Report, who tied Gruden to the Bucs way back in June, and have kept up the drumbeat since. Jason LaCanfora added to the rhythm this weekend, and now the Tampa Bay Times is picking it up. Nothing concrete so far: just vague insinuations that this could, theoretically, maybe happen. After all, Dirk Koetter is still the Bucs’ head coach and just won a game—he may just return next year.
I’m not sure why anyone is buying these Jon Gruden rumors, though. They come up every year, with different teams every time, and every time nothing happens. That’s been going on ever since Gruden was fired by the Bucs—and he just returns to ESPN each time, with a better contract received in part because of all of that media attention and the threat of him leaving to coach. Hey, I don’t blame him: NFL coaches keep ridiculous hours, and his ESPN job is much more chill.
But, okay, let’s suppose for a second that Gruden actually wants to come back to coaching. And let’s also assume that he’s interested in joining the Bucs, and that there’s an opening for whatever reason.
If we assume all of that, there’s still one important unanswered question: why would the Bucs even want Jon Gruden back?
They didn’t fire him for fun and games, after all. They fired Gruden because he hadn’t produced anything worth talking about in the six seasons after his Super Bowl win. They fired him because his teams were at best okay, and hit that ‘okay’ note almost entirely because of the defense—which was run by Monte Kiffin, and not Jon Gruden. They fired him because Gruden did all that with his hand-picked general manager in Bruce Allen at his side—not that the two always agreed on everything, but certainly they weren’t constantly butting heads on the team’s personnel strategy.
The Bucs haven’t actually done any better since firing Gruden, but that doesn’t mean he performed well—it just means his successors were even worse. So why would Gruden do any better this time around? Where is he going to find a defensive genius to turn his defense into a dominant unit?
So perhaps this time around Gruden will actually produce a dominant offense. After all, he’d have Jameis Winston now—not Bruce Gradkowski or Chris Simms. That’s a massive improvement. But we have no clue how good of an offensive coach Gruden is right now—the last time he produced a dominant unit was in Oakland, over 15 years ago. He hasn’t coached in nine years, and when he did he was always a very conservative coach: it took him years to even try a single shotgun play, for instance.
Gruden hasn’t been out of football entirely, but he hasn’t been a coach, either. And as any football writer can tell you, it’s a long way from commenting on the game and following its trends, to actually implementing them as a coach. Having once been successful is no guarantee for future success, as Lovie Smith taught us.
Jon Gruden may be an enticing name, especially after nearly a decade of failure, but there’s little reason to assume he’ll be a savior.