ORLANDO — The Gruden brothers — Jay with Washington and Jon with Oakland — are a prominent coaching pair here at the NFL annual meeting. Both were full of vigor and humor Tuesday morning at the NFL coaches’ breakfast.
Both spun with ease at separate tables across the room.
It went this way:
How about a Washington/Oakland Super Bowl?
Jay: That would be nice, as long as we win it. We don’t talk about it. Jon’s never really left the game. He always broke down film, watched practices, stayed in touch with it all. I know he’s really happy to be back.
You said you never really wanted to leave Oakland. Well, why did you? What happened?
Jon: It’s a special place. We were doing pretty good. I was fired.
Did Al Davis tell you why?
Jon: Not really.
Assess your time in Washington. Where are you, where is the franchise, where is the team?
Jay: That’s a really good question. We’ve got a group of guys we’ve got to get out of the hot tub and the cold tub and get on the field. We’ve got some new pieces. We’ve gone 4-12, 9-7, 8-7-1, and 7-9. It’s time for us to make a move. It’s important for us to do that.
That move has to be made with the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in your division. That make it tougher?
Jay: Well, the Giants are going to be better, they had a lot of injuries last year just like us. Dallas is good. We know what the Eagles are. I think our division is the best in football. It’s always a great challenge. Even more now.
Remember those days in Tampa Bay when a young Jay used to break down film for you?
Jon: Oh yeah, there was a time (in 2004) when (current Dallas head coach) Jason Garrett was my quarterback, Jay was around helping, and later (current Rams head coach) Sean McVay was around helping, all young guys who will now be trying to beat my brains out.
I got a lot of doubters. I know that. But I can’t worry about that. I’m just going to get back to coaching and get back to our team.
I’m really exciting about the addition of (strength and conditioning coach) Tom Shaw. His staff spends more time with the players than the coaches do. He’s got a varied staff with him, including a former major league baseball trainer. They’ll have something for everyone, the kickers, the punters, all of the players. I think that’s really going to make a difference. It will help us build trust and relationships.
Are you better with Alex Smith at quarterback?
Expound on that, please.
Jay: I’m really not trying to compare the guys (Smith and now Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins), but it’s clear we evaluated it all and made a choice. I talked to Kirk. I wished him well and good luck. We’re going to pick Alex’s brain and see what he likes and make a smart transition for him. The things we do he has done in Kansas City and even with (Jim) Harbaugh (in San Francisco). It’s similar. Now, the transition.
You are known for having had some of the most lengthy, complicated offensive play calling verbiage in the NFL. Are you going to change that?
Jon: We have changed our presentation. We’ve moved to more normal terminology. We understand that some of these college quarterbacks nowadays enter the NFL without even having had a college playbook. So, our play-calling will become more universal in terminology. More streamlined. But remember, this is the NFL. If you’re going to have a varied offense, if you’re going to try to land a big, wide plane, you’ve got to have an airport.
How will your former receiver Terrelle Pryor do with the Jets?
Jay: He didn’t have great production for us last year. He was injured a bit. But anytime you have a 6’5 receiver who can run and catch like he can, you’ve got a chance to have something special.
And your own Josh Doctson?
Jay: He’s got a very special set of skills. His first year was a wash with the injuries and the limited playing time. He came on a bit last year. But he can do some special things. It’s up to us and Alex to get to that.
What’s especially different this time around?
Jon: I mean, the conversations at these meetings are totally different than they were nine years ago when I sat in them. There is a whole lot more about the plays, the rule changes — the CBA, you better know something about that and understand it. The people are different. The coaches are different. We used to take the coaches photo every year and even then there was change. We used to joke each year about how it was different and mark off the coaches gone on the photo. Heck, I even got myself crossed off. But it’s still football. I just love football.
What is it about running backs in the passing game?
Jay: It’s not always easy to get the ball to your outside wide receivers. But the running back can often win his matchup in the passing game. We’ve seen it all over the league. It’s become one of the most important matchups to have in pro football.
Your left tackle, Donald Penn, is the only Raider still around from the last time you coached. He was your player in Tampa Bay from 2006 through 2008. Another relationship that matters?
Jon: He worked to become a Pro Bowl player. We’ve got to get him healthy. We are both at different stages in our lives. You talk about relationships and I also think of my father (Jim, a longtime former NFL and college assistant coach and NFL scout). He was at Notre Dame when they had Joe Montana and Vegas Ferguson. Jay and I used to go to those practices. That’s where we began to love football. The Notre Dame fight song — I can still hear it. I worry about my dad. He’s going to live and die with each game both of us coach now in the NFL. He cares so much.