Today, we add…
We are thrilled to hear that Monday Night Football Chatterbox Jon Gruden is being considered for the University of Texas Longhorn head coaching job. Yes, after the administration pushed Mack Brown into the Douglas MacArthur forced retirement/dismissal and his very own “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away” speech, they started to intensify their search for a replacement– a process that has been in progress in one form or another for over fifteen years, just slightly shorter than Mack’s sixteen year tenure.
Texas is probably the only job (and state) large enough for Jon’s gargantuan ego and “Chucky” would be entertaining at the helm of the unwieldy S.S. Monolith of Austin– a control freak constantly tested and tormented by annoying NCAA rules, big money boosters, billionaires, spoiled alumni, professional recruiters/athlete “comfort facilitators” and the rest of the Children of Entitlement who constitute “Longhorn Nation” who think they warrant constant input into the running of the NCAA’s version of the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys. Now there is a reality show we might watch!
We want him to leave on that private Lear Jet to the Lone Star Waste because we can no longer stomach his Monday Night Filibusters of repetitive false positives that numb the listener to the point where they can no longer summon the neuro-muscular function required to find the mute button on their TV remote control.
Jon has not seen a play or a player on Monday Night Football that has not warranted an orange slice, consolation trophy or slap on the backside accompanied by a vapid Tony Robbins quote.
This was not always so.
Jon Gruden was a decent NFL head coach when he was with the Raiders. He went .500 in his first two years in Oakland , followed by two excellent years before leaving under somewhat controversial circumstances for Tampa Bay. He finished in Oakland with a 38-26 record. His greatest strength, according to people there at the time, was that he treated the players like men– let them do as they please as long as they kept winning and turned a blind eye to many behavioral issues that would upset other head coaches. In other words, that made him the perfect coach for the laissez faire Raiders and more importantly for the legend, owner, oracle, defacto general manager and walking Lenin’s tomb impersonator: Al Davis.
He won the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay in his first year. Five years later he was fired, sporting a very mediocre and disappointing 57-55 record. Despite being hailed as an offensive genius, his offense was always in the bottom third of the league or worse. He was incredibly conservative and annoyed Tampa fans constantly when he settled for field goals in the red zone or punted on fourth and short. (Interesting, because on Monday Night Football, he almost boils over with intoxicating effervescence and encouragement every time a coach rolls the dice in any situation, falsely giving the impression he himself is a graduate of the George Devol School of Riverboat Gamblers. )
In Oakland and Tampa, he didn’t leave on the best terms with his employers. The late Al Davis felt especially betrayed by his departure and spewed unprintable admonishments in public and worse in private, apparently referring to him as that “Little Golden Haired Benedict Arnold.” His son apparently has carried on with the grudge and generally declines to comment when “Chucky” Gruden’s name comes up in interviews.
The Glazers in Tampa Bay also were not enthralled with “Chucky”. Besides his mediocre coaching record, they cited him as being devious and untrustworthy. They alleged he was more concerned with his image than winning, claiming he spent a lot of time behind the scenes manipulating football and non-football matters that were not under his job description so that he would be portrayed in a positive light and not blamed for the team’s underwhelming performance.
On the football front, we have an assortment of old stories and criticisms regarding his greatest success:
- He won the Super Bowl with a team that had been built to the brink of success by first Sam Wyche and then Tony Dungy.
- He lucked out when during the week of the Super Bowl in San Diego, the Oakland Raiders lost their starting center/offensive captain/protection scheme caller Barrett Robbins when he went missing in Tijuana due to an unfortunate manifestation of his bipolar disorder.
- Oakland Coach Bill Callahan apparently did not change the offensive or defensive play calling signals from the previous year when Gruden was the boss, and during the game, the Bucs knew most of the plays before the snap.
You cannot blame Gruden for not tinkering with a great defense that he inherited, or being slightly conservative on offense as a result, but for a man hailed as an offensive guru and quarterback whisperer, his career results have been pretty average. As a head coach, his only positive quarterback grooming result was Rich Gannon. His post Super Bowl record was half a decade of mediocre “Plop & Fizzle” instead of “Shock and Awe.”
Nobody seriously talked about Jon Gruden as a saviour to coach their professional or college team after his dismissal from the west coast of Florida. But, television was interested.
The ESPN Monday Night Football experiment of resurrecting Howard Cosell in the form of Tony Kornheiser had been a failed gambit, so they turfed out Tony and the likable but unexciting Ron Jaworski and in 2009 went back to a two man booth, hiring Jon Gruden to work color with the very workmanlike Mike Tirico at play-by-play.
For awhile, a star was born. Jon Gruden was handsome, photogenic, youthful-looking and most important telegenic. He is an excellent X&O’s disciple and does lots of preparation. In a society that is fascinated with superficial, contrived celebrities and simplistic solutions to complex problems prophesied by attractive talking heads in concise sound bytes, this flaxen haired Kardashian seemed perfect.
In the beginning everything was fine. Jon came off as an ever-youthful and mischievous Dennis the Menace who gave analysis as opposed to Kornheiser had only demonstrated that he really wasn’t an analyst (Duh!)– just a cranky old Mr. Wilson who whined about everything through abrasive dismissals and tired jokes.
Jon Gruden was a new face who sounded like he knew what he was talking about. He tested well with young people in focus groups, an important factor because the new slate of sub-par Monday Night games meant that ESPN needed some pizzazz to get higher ratings, beyond the traditional audience of failed fantasy football fools and degenerate gamblers hoping to be bailed out by the Monday Night result. While these groups are an ever-increasing constituency, they do not alone represent a profit quorum for the huge sum of money that ABC/ESPN paid for playing second fiddle to the wildly successful Sunday Night Football schedule that NBC had procured.
But after a few years, the Gruden approach has been exposed as tiresome propaganda– an endless spewing of non-critical platitudes that heap praise upon everyone and anything. As a result, his analysis is almost meaningless in that his circular method of reasoning consistently results in oxymoronic non-analysis.
This surfaced at its zenith during the NFL Draft a couple of years ago when Jon was invited to sit in on ESPN’s coverage of the NFL spectacle. Not only was Jon lousy at any critical assessment of the players taken in the draft (since he predictably praised every single pick as the second coming of Red Grange, Jim Brown or Mother Theresa) he was also grossly unprepared, ill-informed and unjustifiably rude to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. continually throughout the broadcast. He inferred that only people such as himself had the knowledge, experience and instincts to assess the players and the draft process. If you followed Jon’s logic, every team had a fantastic draft day and all thirty-two teams had a legitimate shot to win next year’s Super Bowl.
He voiced complete contempt for people like Kiper and their vocation with a snide condescension that was worthy of the best efforts of Bryant Gumble, Cris Collinsworth, Randy Cross and the late Todd Christensen. He kept interrupting Kiper and host Chris Berman so often that you as a viewer had to decide whether you wanted to actually learn something about the players selected in the draft and turn the channel to follow what Mike Mayock had to say in real time on the NFL Network, or stick around a little longer to see if Mel Kiper might actually lose his temper for the first time in his life on air and stuff his prep notes down the smirking pie hole of this snarky, platinum-coiffed & discourteous lawn troll.
All of this has occurred partly because Jon is smart. He has learned from predecessors and is planning for his own future: There is no danger in bullying a non combatant like Mel Kiper Jr., but you NEVER say anything overly negative about a football player, coach, GM, or any coaching or management decision. Therefore, you never offend the general manager or owner who drafted or hired that individual, and as a result– human ego being what it is– no future potential employer watching the game will harbor resentment toward you. On a subconscious level, they might then be inclined to hire you in the future due to your agreeable nature and brilliance in not finding any fault in bad decisions that they have previously undertaken.
If Jon can just continue to espouse flower power philosophy and Norman Vincent Peale platitudes a little bit longer on Monday Night Football, there is bound to be another William Clay Ford or university search committee with more money than common sense willing to give “Chucky” the Matt Millen square deal of a lifetime.
And at worst or best– or intentionally all along– he can Nick Saban leverage/extort any coaching rumors into a huge contract extension/raise in his present job. It is no accident that Jon Gruden’s name comes up in rumors for every new high profile job. (He doesn’t employ an expensive major public relations firm just to help hawk his latest QB instructional video or his new line of forehead frown-line wrinkle removal cream.)
I’m sure Chucky is aware of what happened to Trev Alberts at ESPN. To our minds, Alberts was one of the sharpest-witted and most refreshing analysts ever employed at the network– a shining lighthouse amongst the surfeit of over-coached, coddled, humanoid dim light bulbs consisting of ex-athletes and an assembly line of prefab broadcasting school graduate clones that haunt the halls and offices in Storrs, Connecticut.
They infest the numerous time slots that the multiple television channel and online colossus provides, sitting behind polished styrene desks wearing rented suits or role-playing pathetic and pointless little athletic re-enactments on studio sets that resemble creative playgrounds for midlife crisis-suffering ex-jocks who are too inarticulate, uninterested or afraid to engage in any real form of journalism. Not likely, since that type of reporting might not jibe with the viewpoints or goals of the multitude of corporate sponsors, sports league affiliations and special interests that ESPN long ago prioritized above the fans, viewers or the principal of commitment to honest and unfettered journalism.
It is no accident that most of the major sports stories that have been broken in the last half decade have been by Yahoo, Bleacher Report or SI and not the Pravda News Departments of the bought and sold major television networks.
When Trev Alberts showed a will of his own on matters regarding the politics of college football by routinely criticizing and mocking the hypocrisy of the BCS, his days were numbered. He also seemed to be reluctant to engage in phony on-air arguments with Mark May about non-issues that the poducers obviously wanted. He was thus turfed out and the always amiable “Golly Gee Shucks” Will Rogers of college football and part-time Pa Kettle impersonator Lou Holtz was hired to replace him in the studio and play silly little reindeer games with the terminally dull Mark May. The network, for some strange reason, has always tried to boost Mr. May’s personna and profile by inferring he really has some sort of wild and crazy personality bubbling under the skin with lame ideas like promoting a phony nickname (“Mayday!”) or having him host his own retread blooper reel segment like they did with the equally charisma-challenged Mark Schlereth.
The television grapevine being what it is, Alberts found it difficult to find other broadcasting jobs that paid very well. He was pasted with the “difficult” label. As a result he now is toiling away in obscurity as athletic director at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where the budget is so underwhelming that ex-linebacker Alberts was forced to cut the football program from the athletic department.
So while Jon Gruden toils away at planning his future, Monday Night Football continues to languish in analyst mediocrity. Gruden’s act is grating and old. He is humorless and unengaging, never relates any entertaining tales from his past experience and appears to know almost zilch about the real world outside of football. If you had to have dinner with someone and football was forbidden as a topic of conversation, Gruden would rival Phil Simms for the worst table guest ever.
Gruden’s little pre-game feature where he sits down in his trailer with a player involved in the upcoming game and they review game film is now a staple of Monday Night Football. Not so much because it is all that informative or earth shattering– Ron Jaworski used to explain the same things in a far clearer and more accessible manner– but just to watch Chucky’s reaction each and every time he starts playing with the machine. His eyes light up like a revived pagan idol in a 1930’s cliffhanger serial, his nostrils flare, his mouth drools, his voice shakes– the pleasure is all his. Some people are addicted to chocolate, drugs, alcohol, sex or buying worthless commemorative plates. Jon Gruden is predisposed to DVRs, telestrators and his museum archive quality porn stash of countless football practice discs and tapes.
Monday Night Football is supposed to be entertaining– not sure how having the equivalent of a junior sized “Chatty Cathy” platitudinizing eunuch continually repeating audited coach-speak, even when the games are out-of-hand is in anyway a compliment to the brand or the legacy of the show. Jon Gruden’s observations and comments have become anemic and trite, as penetrating and informative as an Ahmad Rashad one-on-one interview.
Time to shake things up– focus groups and internet bloggers be damned! Maybe it’s time for the three or four man booth again in 2014. ESPN could bring back Kornheiser and Theisman (their disdain for each other was palpable every week)… or Ted Nugent working alongside Alec Baldwin… or Bobby Bittman with Sammy Maudlin. Even Dennis Miller could be brought back in some train wreck capacity– if only we could put him in a pre- 9/11 time machine before he became a right wing apologist and lost 90% of his comedic IQ, timing and judgment.
Best bet? Get self-appointed MMA expert trainer & Fox Sports “Insider”Jay Glazer to tutor Mel Kiper Jr. in his L.A. gym and then send him into a new custom octagon-shaped booth each Monday Night to work color alongside Jon Gruden.