clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jon Gruden thinks he’s going to ‘fix’ football by recapturing its past. He’s going to be disappointed.

He hasn’t even been back to the NFL for a full month, and he’s already tedious.

Oakland Raiders Introduce Jon Gruden Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Jon Gruden wants to write a book called The Football Gods. This is what he told Sports Illustrated in the requisite ‘he’s back isn’t that cool’ profile that dropped this week. I don’t know if writing this book is a real aspiration or just some folksy Grudenism like the shit he said during MNF broadcasts that was actually kind of fun sometimes.

But this isn’t fun. For Gruden, it’s more of a mission statement propped up by iconography about how he’s gonna bring back OLD TIMEY FOOTBALL to a modern game that’s lost its way.

Or some shit.

It’s tedious stuff. The kind of reverence for history delivered without context like some fool on cable news arguing for the Mayberryization of towns and cities.

Gruden hasn’t coached in almost a decade, but during that time he’s become a pro football prophet. A month into his NFL return, Gruden’s been transformed to an icon.

Like every other prophet, he’s full of shit. We just have to be smart enough not to get taken in by it.

Gruden the narrative will be inescapable. You should read the full profile, on top of the highlights I’m going to take a dump on here, because it’s interesting. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that if Gruden really believes the stuff he’s saying, he’s probably going to end up on the trash heap of overhyped coaches who have come and gone during the decade he was away from the NFL.

The crux of modern Grudenism is this:

“The state of the game? We have to put a GPS in Bobby’s shoulder pad to see if he’s working too hard,” Gruden sighs. “We stop a high school game in Florida three times every half to give ’em a water break. We run a zone-read every play in college—don’t even block the defensive end; we read him—because players can’t push themselves. It’s too risky; somebody had an episode six years ago. . . . Anyway, the Lord sees these gods and says, ‘We’ve got a problem with football. I need you guys to go back to earth and fix this.’”

Coming in with the mentality that the whole system is broken because it doesn’t fit the idealized version of the past isn’t a great way to restart a coaching career ... hell, it’s a dangerous way to start anything. One person against a system they perceive as “broken” makes for a nice literary conceit, but in reality it never works.

And is the game of football really broken and in need of a fix that requires a return to its 1970s roots? It is not. (We explored this notion in some depth in our Future of Football series last year.) The game evolves because of new realities at the youth and college levels, not to mention cultural shifts.

The piece even alludes to Gruden and the old guard being put off by these dang millennials, a word that’s come to mean “these dang kids today” more than actually identifying a generation. Each generation has a responsibility to meet each other, to see and acknowledge the differences and similarities and compromise on the best ways to work together.

But that doesn’t make for catchy football cliches.

Gruden doesn’t let up on the WHEN I WAS YOUNG AND EVERYTHING WAS RIGHT crap. You see, conforming and getting your block knocked off, bell rung and all that other pseudo-militaristic stuff is what made him a slightly better than .500 football coach, dang it!

“I wasn’t worth a damn, but I was on a team, I had to [report] by seven o’clock,” Gruden says of his time playing in high school and college. “I had to run through the line, not to it; my coach made me do it right. And I hated it at times. But if it wasn’t for football, I wouldn’t have any of these benefits. These geniuses tell you, ‘It’s a dangerous game, we shouldn’t play, you can [learn the same things] in drama class.’ I say bulls---.”

Actually, belonging to a team, or some kind of community, is typically really healthy for people, whether it’s football, drama class, debate club, baseball, hockey, science olympiad, model UN, etc. But not if you make them into cults full of unthinking, unquestionably reverent drones.

Gruden makes it clear he wants football players who want to work hard (as opposed to the pro players who don’t work hard?), don’t run fancy read options, and aren’t afraid to sacrifice their spine for a good old-fashioned win.

The Football Gods book that Gruden is not actually writing centers on reincarnated versions of Bear Bryants and Vince Lombardis who rejoin the living only to be appalled by the world they’ve returned to. It sounds more like a sports hybrid of Death Wish featuring George Bailey set in Bedford Falls.

The takeaway here is that Gruden portrays himself as another cranky oldster who sees a sport that’s lost its way. As a coach, he wants to fix it by returning to a version of football that no longer exists.

All of this is a bad omen for the Raiders and their fans.