The Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will elicit the opinions of general manager Jeff Irleand and close personal friend Carl Peterson when the season ends regarding his head coaching vacancy. When the new guy is announced, it will be his decision and his alone. If he trusts Jeff Ireland enough to make that call or Carl Peterson enough to make that call, it’s still his decision. It’s that decision that will shape the opinion of his already tainted ownership.
For now, we know of only one candidate who has tossed his hat into the ring, albeit by off-handed remarks, and that is Brian Billick the former Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl winning head coach. Word on the street is that another high-profile candidate, Bill Cowher doesn’t want to return to coaching, so we will skip him for now. Today, we look at the number 2 higher profile candidate. Jon Gruden.
Gruden was the man in charge of the Raiders so many years ago. He failed to get the Raiders into the Super Bowl and was fired by Al Davis. He landed in Tampa for the following season replacing Tony Dungy who was fired. There is an irony in the NFL. What one team perceives as a coach who simply doesn’t have the chops to win, can be a major player in another situation.
Gruden wasn’t the right guy for the Raiders but he took Tony Dungy’s team to the Super Bowl and beat his old team the Raiders. Dungy couldn’t do it in Tampa but did it in Indianapolis.
Can Gruden turn around the Miami Dolphins? That will be the question of any coach that is brought in. His offensive approach would do wonders for the Miami offense. It’s less a balanced attach and more of a downfield attack. Gruden loves the passing game and his approach is on the opposite end of the Bill Parcells/Tony Sparano coaching style. In other words, he likes to score points and lots of them and doesn’t worry about controlling the clock. Is that enough to warrant him becoming the next HC? Is he the right guy for that job?
Why Jon Gruden is the right guy for the job.
Gruden brings an energy that the Dolphins haven’t seen since Jimmy Johnson. For all of Johnson’s failures with this team his energy was undeniable. Teams, as I maintain, replicate their coaches styles on the field. If a coach is energetic and fired up, the team emulates that by playing with the same level of enthusiasm. If the coach is more reserved the team tends to play with a more finesse style or a harder approach. It’s not scientific by any means and simply an observation. There was no denying however that the Dolphins mimicked the coaching style of Tony Sparano. No fire and drive in two minute drills, satisfied with field goals instead of touchdowns, and so on. Gruden is not that style of coach.
The energy and passion that Gruden would bring to the team is not questioned. He gets the most of his players and has a drive to win. He loathes losing and doesn’t handle poor play well. His icy stare is usually enough to get his point across. Gruden is also a solid QB teaching coach. He has a history of working well with young QB’s something that the Dolphins are in desperate need of. He also has a mad “man crush” on Rober Griffith, III for those fans who see RGIII as the end all answer to the QB position.
That’s not to say of course that he will be able to pull that off and land the QB.
Gruden is also a coach who recognizes the importance of a franchises history. He realizes that the Miami Dolphins were once, one of the best NFL teams in the history of the NFL and the task of getting the team back to that prominence is something he would likely embrace. He has made it clear that he wants to coach a a storied franchise and of the current openings, no one rivals the Dolphins.
When you look at a head coaching candidate you have to ask if a coach still has the fire and drive to win. Especially after they have won the big game already or have been in the league so long that it’s an afterthought. Gruden won the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So in some regards, he shouldn’t have the same fire as a coach who has never held the Lombardi Trophy.
For Gruden however, his victory comes often with the, “but it was Tony Dungy’s team”. Something that is rightfully argued considering he was never able to take the Buc’s back to the big game. Lost as well is the fact that the team he beat was “his” team that he built the year before. In essence, Gruden’s team faced Gruden’s team. It’s because of this “not his team” mantra that many believe keeps that burning desire to win alive inside him. He doesn’t want to have that “but” when his team is mentioned. Of all the Super Bowl winning coaches only Dallas’ Barry Switzer gets less respect.
Why Gruden is not the right choice:
At the top of Gruden’s list to come out of the booth is money. Miami fans have seen this approach before. Throw a bunch of money at some coach who is on the fence and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Gruden reportedly was seeking a 7 million a year contract last year to come down from the booth, something no team was willing to do. That’s not likely to change this year, the demand that is. If Gruden wants to really coach, then money will not be his deciding factor, winning will be and I’m not convinced winning is enough.
Gruden has a cushion job with ESPN for the Monday Night Football telecasts. Will he trade that workload for an 80 work week? Will he uproot his family and move them to Miami so that he can spend scorching hot days of training camp yelling at a bunch of cramping NFL football players? What happens if the team doesn’t find immediate success in the first year or two? Will he resign and head back to the booth or will he demand that the GM get fired? Will ask Stephen Ross for money to stay?
That of course is only questions regarding his desire to coach. The real question is can he turn a team around after being out of football for so long? I don’t know Jon Gruden and I don’t know how he evaluates talent or how often he spends devoting his time to breaking down talent. I do know that Brian Billick spends a lot of time breaking down talent and has maintained that despite the fact he has been out of coaching for 7 years. Does Gruden still know this NFL well enough to coach it?
The NFL landscape has changed since his days in Tampa and I often wonder how much work Gruden has put in to identifying those changes on a coaching level. He appears on MNF as an analyst in a booth of three. Billick on the other hand spends more time breaking down players and the NFL for his appearances on the NFL Network. That’s not an indication that I believe Billick is a better choice than Gruden, it’s simply a self-perceived opinion with no factual basis of any kind.
I like Jon Gruden but I’m not sold that he would take this team to the Super Bowl. I believe he would change the attitude of the team and the approach that the team has towards winning but despite the fact that Gruden won a Super Bowl, he is not known as a consistently winning head coach. In his seven seasons as Tampa’s HC, Gruden’s teams went 11-5 once and finished 9-7 twice, the only winning seasons for the coach outside the SB season. In his four seasons in Oakland, Gruden had two 8-8 seasons and ended his time with two double digit winning seasons. (Al Davis at his best).
Will Gruden join the Dolphins?
That will be the big question. If Stephen Ross wants Jon Gruden, he will give him what he wants to coach the team. It’s not a given or a foregone conclusion that Ross will seek Gruden out to fill the vacancy. Ross needs someone who will win and someone who will sell tickets and there are too many questions surrounding Gruden to believe that his name alone will put fans back in the seats.