ESPN's Jon Gruden talks with Channel Surfing
Yet while Green Bay was only Jon Gruden’s home for three seasons in the early ’90s, the Super Bowl-winning coach has expressed a particular fondness for his time in Titletown while mentoring wide receivers on Mike Holmgren’s staff.
Before he returns to Green Bay for Monday’s Packers-Baltimore Ravens game on ESPN, the rookie “Monday Night Football” analyst talked with the Green Bay Press-Gazette about his love of SueAnn’s Bagels, how he’s adjusting to a new view from the press box, and of course, that Brett Favre guy.
What do you remember most about Green Bay?
I had my first son there. Jon David II, we call him Deuce, and a matter of fact, he’s 15 years old now, so that tells you how long ago that was. (Laughs.) That’s my favorite memory. But next to that, just coaching for the Green Bay Packers and being around Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci, Ray Rhodes and Dick Jauron. That was a great staff. And obviously, we met a young quarterback who helped us out a little bit named Brett Favre, so that was exciting.
You know, I was given an opportunity at a young age to coach wide receivers like Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Mark Clayton and Anthony Morgan, so those are great memories. James Campen, who is now an offensive line coach, was a good friend of mine. And I still have great friends there. I’m going to see Bob and Mary Bodmer. Hopefully have some chili and eat a bratwurst.
Was there anything specific you learned in Green Bay that you carried to your other jobs?
No question, you try to simulate the organization that you understand. Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci, all those guys, Rhodes, Jauron, they would say the same thing. When we became head coaches, there were a lot of things we took with us: how to run an organization, how to run a practice, how to look at the draft. And I tried to emulate Green Bay the best way I could. You always try to surround yourself with a broad scope of people, young coaches and veteran coaches. I always tried to do that. I also carried with me an emphasis on veteran players. If you remember Tootie Robbins. John Stephens. A number of guys. Mark Clayton. They came in and really helped us as we developed younger players.
I also know that when I went to Oakland and Tampa Bay that I got to shed a lot of my winter clothes. (Laughs.) But some of the people that I was around, look, I was really fortunate to have Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf near me everyday. You can’t help but get better. And then witnessing the development of possibly the greatest quarterback in NFL history can’t hurt you, either.
What was your reaction when you realized you’d be working in Green Bay?
I have been cold before since my dad coached at Notre Dame, so I went to high school in South Bend, Ind. And cold in South Bend is not as cold as it is in Ashwaubenon, Wis., that I did discover quickly.
But I loved it. I really, really did. Growing up around football, I had a really strong feeling for tradition, and I know a lot about the Green Bay Packers. So just to be on the sidelines and meet the legends, the players and be a part of that organization with Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren, the thrill of being around Packers fans, was an awesome time. And then obviously, we got Reggie White and everyone’s life changed, so I was really fortunate to get a few victories and walk right home on Ridge Road, then go back to work the next day.
So, you lived close to Lambeau?
I lived about a mile away. Used to walk right past SueAnn’s Bagels everyday.
Oh, unfortunately SueAnn’s isn’t there anymore.
It’s not there? Wow. That’s a real disappointment. They fed me about twice a day, every day, for about three years. I loved it.
Were you ready to move on or did leaving Green Bay come a bit earlier than expected?
Honestly, I always expected to be an assistant. I never really wanted to leave. I wanted to stay because of Mike and how much I loved it in Green Bay. I also knew how good the team was going to be. But I was offered the opportunity to be the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, and when you’re a young guy and someone gives you the opportunity — someone like Ray Rhodes, who I had coached with in Green Bay and San Francisco — I felt like it was a wise thing to do. Still, a year later and seeing them go to the Super Bowl, you wonder, what would have happened had I stayed?
Did you still get a great deal of satisfaction watching that '96 team knowing you helped develop those players?
No doubt, but it was also a little bittersweet. You missed it. Still, and I realized this coaching the Raiders and coaching Tampa Bay, there was something so special about Lambeau Field. You’d always be thinking about it. "Green Bay. Man, was this a cool place to launch your coaching career." It really was an unforgettable experience. That’s a special place if you’re a football coach and a football fan.
Having worked with Holmgren and Favre during their formative years in Green Bay, did you have a sense that something special was brewing?
No question. And we had another guy sitting behind Favre named Mark Brunell who a lot of people thought was something special, too. So we knew we had the talent. We knew we had Mike Holmgren’s system. And we had a guy like Mariucci who could teach it. To have a player who could make your wildest dreams come true? Look, there are not a lot of guys like Brett Favre. In fact, I’ve never met a guy like Brett Favre. So everyday, we came to work and knew it was going to be interesting, knew it was going to be fun, and we knew we’d be a handful. Unfortunately, I left and went to Philadelphia right when the Packers took off and went onto the Super Bowl. But to have those memories and work with a quarterback at that stage in his development and see the lights come on. Just awesome.
What are you looking forward to most about returning to Green Bay with ESPN?
I can’t wait to go to the Packers facility. I haven’t been in there since I left, so a chance to go into the coaches’ offices, I’m really looking forward to that. Of course, I’m going to tour the Packers Hall of Fame. But more than anything, I’m just anxious to get back to Green Bay and see how things have changed. They tell me Mike Holmgren has his own street. And (Saturday) at 3:30 p.m., we’ll be at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse to watch the Florida-Alabama game.
Imagine that, I’m going into Brett Favre’s Steakhouse. I remember just trying to remind Favre what the formation was for 76 X Shallow Cross, and now I’m eating at his steakhouse? So this is really something. I’m going to buy a bunch of T-shirts and memorabilia.
You’ve made no secret about your fondness for Favre, but what was it like seeing him in Vikings purple?
How would you like to sit in that production meeting and have Favre walk in wearing a purple hat? The first thing I said to him was, “There’s definitely something strange about this one, Brett.’’ That was hard. I remember running out of the Metrodome and seeing how much people just hated the Packers, hated Brett Favre. Now to hear those fans just turn the switch on and start cheering? That was really chilling.
Do you still keep in touch?
Well, I tried to recruit him to play for Tampa two years ago and he went to the Jets. He went to the Jets and I got fired, so maybe if he’d come to Tampa, maybe I’d still be coaching. (Laughs.) But now, I don’t get a chance to talk to him as much, but if there’s one guy I’m pulling for, that’s the guy. I know it’s been a turbulent matter for some Packers fans. But I know deep down, if the Packers don’t win the NFC North, they’ll be happy to see Favre do it because for 16 years he was so dominant for them.
Enough about our past. What do you think about Aaron Rodgers?
(Laughs.) I love Aaron Rodgers. I think he’s a great kid, too. The thing that’s really impressed me is his third down effectiveness. If you look at his passer rating on third down, it’s better than any quarterback ever. And I love their receivers. I think the passing game, in general, is outstanding and they have two tremendous receivers. I think (James) Jones is coming on, as well. (Coach) McCarthy knows how to use him.
I really think that offensive line is healthier now than earlier in the season, so that helps. And Rodgers, this guy has mobility, a cannon for an arm and he’s a great competitor. He’s tough. So at 7-4 and in the thick of this thing, if they can stay healthy and get a couple of key wins down the stretch, they’ll be a handful in the playoffs. Look, for a second year starter, there are not a lot of quarterbacks in my NFL lifetime that have come along and done much better than Aaron Rodgers has this fast.
Watching you interview Sean Payton last Monday, it struck me that it has to be a bit strange to be sitting across from a guy you recently coached against in the division. Now you’re picking his brain about an upcoming game. Has that ESPN adjustment been easy?
Moments like that are very strange. And I had a hand in hiring Sean Payton. He was my quarterbacks coach with the Eagles, so I’ve known him a long time and not only did we compete against each other, but we’re good friends. It’s funny, because to sit there and be an interviewer and an analyst now, I take a lot of grief from coaches. (Laughs.) I get a hard time for wearing a sports coat, for having my hair styled. They get on my case pretty good. But I’m having a lot of fun, and I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity.
Do you see the game differently now that you aren’t coaching?
Sometimes. I’ll tell you, I look at it this way, I’ve always been a fan of pro football. And there’s nothing more exciting than going out and competing against the best players in the world, the best coaches in the world. Now, to have a chance to get to know them personally, that’s something I really look forward to. It’s Ray Lewis and Ed Reed one week. Andre Johnson and Mario Williams down in Houston. Then Drew Brees. It’s a tremendous experience. Really been fun.
That must be why you locked up with ESPN a little longer.
Hey, I just got fired from one job, I thought I’d better hang onto this one as long as I can.
Was there any pressure to live up to a higher standard because of the “Monday Night Football” banner?
It’s a very honorable position. Probably the most coveted media job in sports. So I consider it a great responsibility and want to do a good job. I know that ESPN is very proud to have “Monday Night Football,” and I want to be part of a great team. Mike Tirico. Ron Jaworski. To have those educated and experienced people next to me – they take a lot of pride in the broadcast. I’m just trying to bring some enthusiasm and passion every week. I’m not trying to be a negative guy up there. Hopefully, the fans enjoy it.
Do you have more time to breathe and enjoy football these days?
That’s one way of looking at it. We work pretty good, and I’m a rookie when it comes to broadcasting … but I did get to see every one of my 15-year-old son’s high school football games, and that meant a lot to me. And just the chance to enjoy little things, like being home for Thanksgiving for a change or going to the mall and actually looking for a shirt that you like. It’s a change, man.
You probably don’t miss those post-game press conferences with the media, either.
No. Definitely not. (Laughs.) Some of those guys were just looking to beat me up. But there are a lot of things I do miss. Right now, this is a new life for me and I’m just trying to get better and better each week. Hopefully, people will say, “You know, Gruden got better as the year went on.’’
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, email@example.com