When he took over as general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nearly a decade ago, Bruce Allen couldn’t help but notice something peculiar about one of the team’s offensive assistants, Jay Gruden.
The younger brother of then-head coach Jon Gruden, Jay attacked his duties with fervor. And then at the conclusion of each day – which for the coaches didn’t generally end until after dark – Jay Gruden would get in his car and make the 100-mile drive from Tampa to Orlando so he be in place the next day for his job as head coach of the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League. Then, he would drive back to Tampa, and resume his role with the Bucs.
The drive, work ethic and success he experienced as an AFL coach and while on the Bucs staff indicated to Allen that someday, Gruden would make a great head coach in the NFL.
“Yeah, you could see that,” Allen recalled on Thursday. “He’s a smart coach, but he’s smart because he prepares. He’s a hard worker.”
Little did Allen know at the time that he would wind up hiring Gruden as his head coach all these years later.
The two didn’t maintain frequent contact, but did run into each other here and there at various league offseason events. But their talks were always brief.
When he interviewed Gruden this week for the Redskins’ head coaching job, Allen was impressed with the growth he saw in Gruden as a football mind and leader.
“I knew Jay, obviously, when he was helping us in Tampa Bay, but what he’s developed into, being an offensive coordinator … he’s really developed,” said Allen, who along with Al Davis 16 years earlier, hired Jon Gruden as head coach of the Raiders. “When you look at the Cincinnati Bengals, they’re one of five teams in the NFL that’s made the playoffs three consecutive years, and Jay was a part of it. I’m obviously not saying it was all Jay. Marvin [Lewis] did a hell of a job and the defense did a hell of a job. We liked the fact that he’s had success and really liked the plan he laid out for us.”
Although Gruden doesn’t have experience as an NFL head coach, Allen believes his track record in that capacity in the AFL and UFL, as well as his success as an NFL play-caller, qualified him for the job.
Gruden knows he has “a lot of work” to do to turn the Redskins around. But he embraces the challenge, and remains undaunted despite having never served as head coach on this level.
“That’s everybody’s opinion – they can say I’m not ready or whatever they want, but I’ve had to deal with players my whole life,” he said. “Whatever level you’re coaching, whether it’s Arena League or the UFL, you still have to motivate and coach and teach players to compete and motivate different types of players – good guys, bad guys. You have to weather storms, losing streaks, fumbles, interception, losing in the playoffs, losing three games in a row, winning three games in a row, there’s a lot of things that you can learn from whatever league you coach to get yourself ready. My strength, I believe, is dealing with players, motivating players, keeping players excited to come to work and plan and not letting them get too high or too low but keeping them even keel and letting them understand that, honestly, as a head coach, I have their best interest at heart. My only thing is to make them and provide them with every resource that they can get better and win games and compete every week. And I think as a football player they’ll appreciate that. That’s really at the end of the day all they want. They want to be coached, and they want to play well and we’re going to provide them with every resource to do that.”