Friday, 18 Jan 2019

"I know what he's going through": how did Jon and Jay Gruden get along all season?

Jon and Jay Gruden walk together during the Redskins training camp in 2014. (Associated Press)

Every Monday morning early, as the first rays of sun hit Ashburn, Virginia, and darkness still reigns over northern California, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden takes his phone and call his brother. If Jay Gruden has one thing to know, Jon Gruden, the Oakland Raiders head coach, will be woken up at 3:30 am.

The only brothers who are currently the main coaches of the NFL do not speak long, usually about five minutes. The subject is that of the day before and implies that each man pronounces "congratulations" or "keeps his head up", according to the result obtained the previous afternoon.

Somewhere in their brief discussion, Jon – who at age 55 is almost four years older than Jay – could call his little brother "Slappy", a nickname born 16 years ago in Tampa Bay. At the time, Jon was the famous coach of the Super Bowl winner Buccaneers, nicknamed "Chucky" because of his resemblance to the demonic doll of seven A child's game Jay was a little known quarterback from the Arena Football League and worked as a glorified intern working for Jon's staff.

A slapy, in the jargon of football.

When they finish speaking, both Grudens hang up and start thinking about their teams again – Jay's, who has a 5-3 record and who hangs in first place at NFC East, and Jon & S, tied for the worst NFL record at 1-7. . Over the next few days, they send a text message, mostly in the form of updates, as Jay suddenly loses nearly four-fifths of his offensive offensive line or Jon announces that he is swapping his passport for Khalil Mack for a decisive, triggering a new wave of angry football press and fans of the nation.

One will comfort the other, then it is the return to the practice and the planning of the game.

"I do not think any of us have time to be philosophical," says Jon Gruden.

The only person in America who can understand exactly what the other endurer is too concerned about his own calamity to offer more than a reassuring phrase. The empathy stems from a childhood of couch remnants and garden fights in South Bend or Dayton, or from any place in the school house of the university town that employed their father Jim as a deputy football coach and a respect that only two brothers can have.

"I know what he's going through," Jay said.

"There have been hard days to swallow this year," says Jon, referring to the seasons of the Redskins and Raiders. "That's why we rely on our parents."

Head coach Jay Gruden guided the Redskins to a 5-3 record this year. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

This weekend, the Redskins play the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, which is probably the closest thing to a center for Jay and Jon. It is in Tampa and near Orlando that Jay has spent most of his career in the arena. It was in Tampa that Jay was Jon's trusted assistant to the Bucs for seven years. It is also in Tampa that Jim Gruden and his wife Kathy settled many years ago and that the whole family considers themselves home.

And Jim Gruden will stay at the family house on Sunday. The old coach loves his boys. He is delighted that everyone is a head coach in the NFL at the same time, not because he has the hard life of football, but because everyone does what he loves. He has a third son, also named Jim, a doctor in New York and who loves his job, explains the father.

No, the reason Jim Sr. will not be going to Tampa Stadium is the same reason he still refuses Jay's offer to play in a Redskins game – he can not stand watching.

Sundays were once in his life, after leaving university training and becoming an NFL assistant and later a professional scout. But this intrinsic understanding means that he knows all too well what happens when a football team loses, that the coach is still to blame and that next week will be filled with unrelenting attacks on talk TV shows, sports radios and news sites.

At the time of the Redskins or Raiders, he leaves Kathy in front of the television and goes out. He will tinker in the yard or wander around the neighborhood, all of which prevents him from thinking about the potential disaster that comes from the screen inside. But finally, he can not bear not knowing what's going on and he's going to sneak inside, take a look around the corner and ask:

"How are we?"

If the score is close or if one of his son's teams is losing, he quickly rushes out. It's better not to know what's going on.

"We had eight hours a day when the Redskins play at 1 am and the Raiders at 4," says Jim. "I do not look forward to these days."

Finally, he looks at the games: dissect each game as a coach, study the formations, determine who played well and who did not play. He could pass on these observations during his brief biweekly interview with each of his boys. Most importantly, he asks the same questions that most adult fathers ask their sons, asking about wives and grandchildren, and seeing how well everyone understands.

"I'm sure it's hard for both of you," he says. "Jon is just trying to win a game and Jay is trying to keep him in Washington."

Jon Gruden won the Super Bowl as the Buccaneers head coach, but was eventually fired. (AP Photo / Chris O & Meara)

Jay Gruden was 35 years old and was a legend in the Arena Football League when Jon finally convinced him to be part of the Tampa Bay team in 2002. Jon, an unusual owner from Oakland, had just been traded to Bucs, and Jay was a quarterback the most valuable player in the league arena who had won four league titles. and two others as head coach of the Orlando Predators. Jon had always thought that Jay would make an excellent coach and pushed him to drop the indoor game and join him with the Raiders, but Jay did not want to stop playing.

Jon's arrival in Tampa Bay was an opportunity. Jay could continue to coach and quarterback the Predators during the Arena League season from April to August, then join the Bucs for training camp and the regular season.

"I did not want to be known as a guy of eight, so I had to start with the eleven man thing," says Jay. "I knew I had to do that soon, the Arena League would not be here forever and it was time for me to start learning."

Every Monday of the football season, Jay left his home in Orlando around 3:30 am, leaving behind his wife and children, and went to Tampa where he was working at the Buccaneers 'headquarters – sleeping at his parents' home – until he left. to Thursday afternoon. when he would come back to Orlando to return to Tampa early the next morning.

"The Brickyard 500" he would call these precipices from before dawn on Interstate 4.

He was 35 years old and worked the same way as the other Redskins offensive coordinators, as well as future head coaches Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay – all of Jon's slappies – and he realized that it was nice for him.

The first important task that Jon had assigned to Jay was to study the offenses and defenses of the opponent's red zone each week. Jay spent hours looking at how the other team's coordinators attacked and defended inside the 20-meter line. He appeared late this week with a tape filled with examples not only of the upcoming opponent's recent games, but also of previous coaching relays.

"Jay has exceeded the number of usual research coaches," recalls Bill Muir, the team's offensive line coach and Jay's mentor at that time. Jay said, "I know it's late in the week, but I have 150 shots in the red box to watch. . . . He would apologize for having so many, but we all knew we had to do what was necessary. "

After that first year, Jon gave Jay bigger tasks, mainly contributing to the development of the Bucs' attack. During games, Jay sat in the coaches box and spoke directly to Jon. Jay's understanding of the quick and fast faults resulting from the imagination of plays in the tiny grounds of the arena proved invaluable. During the seven years of their life together, until Jon's dismissal in 2008, Jay's influence on Jon's staff increased.

"Jon certainly did not treat Jay like crazy," says Muir. "He had a great respect for him. It is a very close and narrow family. There is no way to penetrate the Gruden link. "

One day recently, standing in the Redskins Center weight room, Jay Gruden thinks of the Tampa era and the way life has changed. He has also become the main coach, one with his own slappys, his even to finish with his big brother …

He shakes his head.

"I'm always the other Gruden," he says.

Then he smiles.

"Everything is fine," he continues. "I'm proud of all his accomplishments and what he did for the game. He learned a lot from him during my seven years in Tampa Bay. I would not be here without the knowledge I had accumulated while working with him. Always pulling for him. "

The Raiders have scored 1-7 this season in Jon Gruden's first season with the team. (AP Photo / Ben Margot)

But something has changed in the dynamics of the brothers. Jay went from Jon to Tampa as offensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals as the Redskins head coach. Jay will not talk much about it, but Jay was the NFL coach when Jon returned this year. Jon was outside the "Monday Night Football" booth who had not worn a helmet for years.

And while Jon was spending a lot of those Mondays playing the role of Jay's big brother defending Jay's early years, it's Jay who is now trying to protect Jon, who has been criticized in the media and described as being out scope for its trades. from Mack and Cooper for rough choices in the midst of the team's tough start.

"They do it the right way," says Jay. "They pick up as many draft picks as possible. This is the best way to build your team, you can not do it in free mode. "

From home in Tampa, Jim Gruden sighs. Jon was not ready to give up training when he was fired by the Bucs in 2008, he said. And while many offers came to train other places, Jon was interested only in one team. "He never wanted to leave the Raiders," Jim said. To return "it was not a question of money", he continues, "it was a question of Raiders".

Just as the father can not stay watching the games, he hates hearing Jon's criticism.

"They expect him to move a magic wand, as if it was not difficult," Jim said of Jon's media attacks.

Jay Gruden is used to the fire of today's NFL. Jon, after being part of the media at ESPN, discovers how hard it is to be a head coach in 2018.

"When Jay came into the league arena and Jon had already had his coaching career in the NFL, there was a lot of mentoring between them, Jon helping Jay to adapt to the NFL," says Muir. "Now that Jon has been away for eight years, I'm sure a lot of the landscape has changed in eight years and Jay is probably helping Jon do the same."

That's how these two have always been, say those who knew them, intensely loyal to each other, no matter who has the biggest name or the best title.

"Jay was a better athlete than me," says Jon. "You can see that he's a better coach, too."

Both face challenges in the second half of the season, with Jay trying to keep the lead of the Redskins division and Jon trying to maintain the optimism of a very tough campaign. When the season is over, they may be able to talk to each other, even on the phone for more than five minutes.

"It's great for an NFL head coach to have a confidant, someone who can help and not compromise him," Muir said. "With someone else, you can never be 100% sure of the information you get.

That's one thing Jay and Jon can probably expect from each other: a confidence that the other is there for him in this strange year, where each one occupies one of the most coveted jobs in the sport. It is the bond of the two brothers with the father who can not bear to watch them train.

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