Everywhere Jon Gruden turned Tuesday during his introductory news conference, he spotted familiar faces. Rich Gannon, Charles Woodson, Rickey Dudley, Tim Brown; it was a who’s who of Raiders past glory, including the four years Gruden coached the Raiders.
He last coached the Raiders 16 seasons ago. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is the only player left from those teams, and he might be dumped this offseason. Overall, Gruden has been out of the NFL for the past nine seasons, at least in terms of coaching.
That means that few of the players on the Raiders roster have met Gruden, and their perception of him is based solely upon stories those who have or what they have gleaned from Gruden on Monday Night Football and his spots during the NFL draft and his popular Gruden QB Camp series.
On Tuesday, Gruden spoke about being “anxious” to meet running back Marshawn Lynch for the first time. For what Lynch and others can expect, here’s some valuable insight from Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who first encountered Gruden soon after Al Davis traded Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and Gruden replaced Tony Dungy.
This comes from one of two chapters on Gruden in the recently released book, titled “Al Davis: Behind the Raiders Shield,” which I co-authored with longtime Raiders scouts Bruce Kebric and Jon Kingdon:
Sapp initially viewed Gruden as an interloper, of sorts.
The Buccaneers had been successful before Gruden arrived, and head coach Tony Dungy was popular among the players before he was deposed. Hence, Sapp visited Gruden at his office soon after the trade was consummated.
“You don’t have to knock on that door,” Gruden told Sapp. “You open that door.”
“I looked and said, ‘Huh?’ ” Sapp recalled.
“You open that door. You’re my captain, ain’t you?” Gruden asked.
“Yeah,” Sapp said, as the two fierce competitors with fiery personalities commenced a feeling-out process. Sapp quickly made visits to Gruden’s office part of his routine.
“Every morning, I bullshit you not, I used to walk into that office and sit for an hour, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.,” Sapp said. “That’s where I used to eat my breakfast at, and it wasn’t food I was eating. I was eating the knowledge of my head coach because this son of a bitch loved the game.
“I was like, ‘How in the hell did Al Davis let him out of Oakland, with an MVP (Rich Gannon), Charlie Garner, with fucking Jerry Rice and all them boys? They’re crazy. How in the hell did they let him get out of there?’ And they let him get to me?
“I said to him, ‘I promise you, every person in this building is going to pay attention to what you got going.’ ”
“Either that, or I’ll run ’em out of here,” Gruden said.
In other words, Lynch and others on the Raiders roster shouldn’t be fooled by the playful, giddy Gruden they saw during the news conference to announce Gruden’s return to the Raiders.
The Gruden they are going to encounter in the coming days will be intense, curious, provocative, probing and blunt. It’s all part of the process that Gruden puts players through. He wants to make darn sure that his players are as passionate about winning as he is, that they are fully invested and willing to put in the time and effort required.
Gruden found that in Gannon, Brown, Jerry Rice, Lincoln Kennedy, Greg Biekert, Tyrone Wheatley and so many others. Yet, the roadside is littered with players who didn’t possess Gruden’s exacting standards.
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