BLOOMINGTON — Jon Gruden can't stay away. The passion is too strong.
Football coaching is part of his DNA and the call of his former profession pulls at him wherever he goes.
For now Gruden remains an ESPN NFL analyst. He's the color commentator for Monday Night Football. He's in his eighth season of hosting Jon Gruden's QB Camp, a show that features close looks at the top quarterbacks in the NFL draft. This year that includes Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.
For the record, Gruden really likes Mahomes, who threw for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns last season.
Gruden once won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won 95 games as a NFL coach, the last in 2008. He previously was a college assistant coach. His father, Jim, coached in college. A brother, Jay, is the head coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins. Whenever a prime job opens in either college or the NFL, Gruden's name is mentioned.
Will he coach again?
“I probably will be. Every year I fight it.”
The fight took Gruden to Bloomington last week as part of Indiana's spring game activities. He lived there in the 1970s when his father was an assistant coach under Lee Corso. He visited places from his youth, such as Cascades Park. He remembered how, in 1976, because of a string of injuries, a fourth-string running back named Mike Harkrader “saved my dad's job” by rushing for 1,003 yards, “So we named our cocker spaniel, 'Harky.'
“That was the greatest memory.”
While at IU on Thursday Gruden talked to the players about the keys to football success. He talked coaching with Tom Allen and his staff.
A few weeks earlier he spent time at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. He also hosted “15 to 20 people” at his Tampa Bay home in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft. He plans to visit NFL camps next month.
“My wife thinks I've lost my mind,” he said. “I fuel my diet for football. I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I want to know what's going on out there.”
As far as coaching again, he said, “I really feel like I am coaching. I don't think people know what goes into these quarterback camp shows we do or Monday Night football. You don't just show up and go after the microphone. You put a lot of preparation into it.
“You try to help these quarterbacks get one percent better. (Washington quarterback) Kirk Cousins and a bunch of the Redskins players came down to Tampa for a few days. That's coaching. I spent some time with the (IU) players. That's coaching.
“One of these days, maybe (I'll coach again). Who knows. I'm preparing to do that.”
The facial contortions that led to his Chucky doll persona — see the horror movie Child's Play to understand — missed the Bloomington trip. But his insight into what makes a quarterback great made it. Few people understand the position as well.
Gruden said it comes down to three keys, what he calls RCE — Recognition, Communication and Execution.
“So many of these young quarterbacks are not finishing college. They don't compete in spring practice because they don't want to get hurt, and then, on game day, they don't look at the defense. They get all their information from the sideline (and the coaches), so the recognition of the coverage, the recognition of the matchups, the recognition of what to do, is reduced. It also reduces the communication.
“The great quarterbacks recognize the defense. They recognize everything, and then they communicate the best possible play to run. That allows for extreme execution. Those three things are the areas I focus on. That's what the great ones have — the ability to do that.”
Gruden spoke to the Hoosiers and emphasized three more things – communication, mastery and training.
“Communication means emphasizing a winning edge. It's face-to-face communication.
“I challenged everybody to master the system of football. This system is new. The offense is new. Master it. On defense take it to another level of mastery.
“Train the young kids coming in here. Coaches have it tough. They really do. The rules prohibit a lot of contact as we once had. That's a big reason why I'm not in coaching anymore. Young players have to learn to train themselves and train the young kids coming in. To do that they have to be great communicators and master the system.”
Receiver Simmie Cobbs took it to heart.
“It was big time having him here. He's a very influential person. Whenever he has something to say, you definitely want to listen.”
Gruden also had something to say about IU's NFL impact with running backs Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard.
Howard made the NFL Pro Bowl this past season after rushing for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns as a Chicago Bears rookie. In two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Coleman has rushed for 912 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 31 passes for 421 yards and three TDs this past season as the Falcons reached the Super Bowl.
Coleman was a third-round draft pick. Howard went in the fifth round.
“Yeah, it has surprised me,” Gruden said of their success. “It surprised the whole league. They would have gone a lot higher in the draft if we knew they were this caliber of player.
“We knew Coleman could fly. Did anybody know he was this good as a receiver? Probably not. His receiving skills are rare. He's a force coming out of the backfield.
“Howard has been a mystery for a long time. Credit him for sticking with football. He's had a lot of adversity in his life. He's been a game changer for Chicago. I don't think anybody expected him to go to the Pro Bowl.”
Gruden feels a kinship with Allen, whose head coaching debut will come next season.
“He just loves football. I love being around that. I love being around (new offensive coordinator) Mike DeBord for the same reason. That's going to permeate the entire roster and program.”
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