Skip to main content

Big Brother watching

Jim Haslett, who saw it, called Jay Gruden his brother's right hand man when Jon Gruden head coached the Buccaneers to three division titles and a Super Bowl championship from 2002-08.

But Jay Gruden emphasized Thursday in his conference call with the Cincinnati media that "it was (Jon's) show."

But Jon Gruden knew Thursday was finally Jay's turn in the spotlight when he made the jump from UFL head coach to his first NFL offensive coordinator job with the Bengals. It kept Gruden, the popular Monday Night Football analyst, warm on ESPN's frigid Super Bowl set in Dallas.

He said he already sent his old coach at the University of Dayton, Mike Kelly, an e-mail, and he's making plans to attend some practices after putting in a request for a Bengals visor.  

"I'm so happy for my brother. He's had chances to get into the league, but he's a family guy and he stayed in Orlando," Jon Gruden said. "But now the time is right and there's a great opportunity in Cincinnati. He's a good football man. He's a big-picture guy who can tie things together. He worked very closely with me in Tampa. He helped me put the game plan together during the week and he was the guy I talked to on the phone during the game, helping me with adjustments, advising me on play calls and the clock."

It was that relationship that drew Haslett, the former Saints head coach, to the younger Gruden when he got the head job for the UFLs Florida Tuskers in 2009. With Jay Gruden as his offensive coordinator, Haslett's club went unbeaten in the regular season with a league-best 30.5 points per game.

"He's Jon without the brass; he's a quieter version," Haslett said. "But they're the same guy when it comes to football. He's an aggressive guy. He's a really good playcaller. He's got a good mix of run and pass. He's an unbelievably smart guy. The thing about Jay is that if he's running the ball, he'll keep running it. If he can't, he'll find another way with play-action, or something else. If he's got four good wide receivers, he'll play four wides. If he's got three good tight ends, he'll play three tights. He'll play anything. 

"People can say what they want, that he's ever called plays in the NFL. But he was right there next to Jon. Yeah, I would say he was his right-hand man, and it prepared him. You've got a good one."

The Bucs struggled at quarterback during most of Gruden's run in Tampa, although Brad Johnson led them to the title in 2002 and their highest offensive ranking in his tenure was No. 10. Gruden said offensive coordinator and line coach Bill Muir and Jon Gruden worked on the running game during the week while he worked the passing game, third down and blitz packages, as well as breaking down blitzes and having a major role in red-zone installation.

"The good thing about it is that everybody had their hand in it and Jon had the final decision on what goes in, what doesn't go in," Jay said. "On game day I was his direct line of communication … he called the plays. In timeouts or when the defense was on the field we would talk about what's been called, what might work, what coverages, what blitzes might come."

Jay Gruden realizes what might come is criticism of the lack of NFL experience as a playcaller. He's been a successful head coach in the Arena League with two titles and when he replaced Haslett as the head coach of the Tuskers last season he led them to the UFL title game.

Even though Jon Gruden and Haslett point to his work in Tampa, Jay knows there are going to be questions.

"I don't have a lot of background. I don't have a lot of success calling plays in the NFL. I'm new," Jay Gruden said. "But hopefully they'll buy into the product. There's going to be some change and excitement. It's going to be a little bit different for them, but I hope they buy in, and I think if they come in and give it a shot I think they'll all enjoy it, enjoy playing football and we'll all have success because of that.

"We sell them on the production over the years we had in Tampa, we sell them on energy, we sell them on fresh plays, new plays, a new system they can succeed with. They've had some great years in Cincinnati and I'm not saying our terminology or our system is the best in the world, but I promise to give them every opportunity to succeed."

Jon Gruden and Haslett say Jay has turned down chances to work in the NFL to stay in the Orlando area because of the ages of his three sons. They say he turned down a shot coaching the Eagles quarterbacks a few years back but now that his sons are older the time is right for him at age 43. He had a run at a job with Carolina last month, and then Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis called. Lewis never met Jay until then, but Jon's got an association with Lewis that goes back to 1991 when they were assistants at the University of Pittsburgh.

That's why both Grudens feel good about the difficult task of being charged with running the bulk of a staff that has been here for all of nine seasons. Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who interviewed for the job, and tight ends coach Jon Hayes both came with Lewis. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander is heading into his 18th season. Running backs coach Jim Anderson is the senior assistant in the NFL with 28 straight seasons with the same team. Mike Sheppard has been coaching the wide receivers for four seasons.

"It's tough," said Jon Gruden, who's been through it. "I got traded to Tampa from Oakland in the middle of the night and everyone on the defensive staff wanted to go with Coach (Tony) Dungy to Indy. I wouldn't let them go. That was tough, but we won the Super Bowl. When I was a young coach, no one wanted to go to Oakland with me. But that's why they're called 'professional coaches.' Every building in the league goes (through changes). The Bengals have a great staff of guys that have been around a long time like Paul Alexander and Ken Zampese."

Jay Gruden thinks that experience gives him an edge.

"It might be a concern for some people, but for me it's going to be a great advantage," Jay Gruden said, "because the staff knows the personnel very well. They know their strengths and their weaknesses and we'll have a lot of dialogue at what they're good at and what they need to work on. It's going to be a huge advantage and everybody on our offensive staff knows the teams we play twice a year and that's a huge advantage. The blitz pickups are already broken down. We'll have a big leg up … I'll learn a lot from the offensive staff in place and we'll add some things I like and we'll go from there. It will be a process but it will be a good process because of the experience we have on staff already."

It used to be Jon's show. Now it's Jay's show.

"Our show," he corrected.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.