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The first 100 days

Jon Gruden turns each marathon day into a sprint for success. From the wee morning hours to the darkened road home, the Bucs coach won't allow himself to fall behind.

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Jon Gruden, with coffee in hand, begins his work day at 3:57 a.m. on Tuesday. He usually is at One Buc Place by 4 a.m.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 29, 2002


TAMPA -- It is about 3:45 on a cool Tuesday morning in May, and Jon Gruden makes his regular pit stop on his morning commute to work.

It's a 24-hour service station on Dale Mabry Highway, and he needs a coffee fix. Badly. The attendants, who have grown accustomed to their famous early morning customer, accept his $1.25 and bid him a pleasant day.

It's all part of the Gruden routine.

"At 3:45 a.m., he's going to work and, hell, I'm just coming in," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said jokingly. "It's Memorial weekend. But the truth about it is, you know you have somebody who is even more committed than you are."

Minutes before 4 a.m., Gruden parks at One Buc Place. The facility is silent. No players, no other coaches, no staff. No roar of airplanes at nearby Tampa International Airport. In his drive for perfection, Gruden has even beaten the newspaper delivery boy.

"I need the extra time," said Gruden, who gets up every day at 3:17 a.m., an arbitrary time he picked many years ago. "I come in and get the opportunity to get prepared for the day."

This is what the Bucs bought into when they paid a king's ransom, first- and second-round draft picks in 2002, a first-round pick in 2003, a second-round pick in 2004 and $8-million to Oakland for the 38-year-old workaholic.

They bought an offensive-minded coach who believes in structure, schedule and sacrifice. Described by those who know him as compulsive, the Bucs' new coach demands dedication from his players by exhibiting it himself.

"Why would you not want to kill for a man like that?" Sapp said. "When you're sleeping, he's working. When you're working, he's working. And when you're off? He's still working. That's the way he lives."

[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Gruden signs some autographs for Buccaneer fans during the John Lynch Salutes the Stars luncheon May 15 while his 8-year-old son, Deuce, waits.

Gruden's first 100 days have been fast and furious. During that tumultuous time, he left California for Florida, the AFC for the NFC, Raiders owner Al Davis for the Glazers.

He has had to replace a beloved former coach (Tony Dungy), hire a staff in limited time, convey his philosophy on offense to the Bucs brass, prepare for the draft, prepare for free agency, devise a playbook, earn the respect of his team, buy a house and get his family settled.

No problem.

"It was interesting, to say the least," Gruden said. "I got that phone call (about becoming Bucs coach) at 2 in the morning. The ball began rolling and hasn't stopped rolling."

Every step had its challenges.

First, he had to say goodbye to his players and coaches in Oakland, a task made difficult by the sudden departure and the NFL's strict rules about tampering.

As the new coach of the Bucs, Gruden, who signed a five-year, $17.5-million contract, could not be at the Oakland facility that morning or talk to his former players.

Accompanied by his wife, Cindy, Gruden flew to Tampa, attended a news conference the next day and began assembling a staff. With ownership adamant about retaining the defensive staff, Gruden's next challenge was to persuade those under contract to work for him and not join Dungy in Indianapolis.

"They had loyalties, too," said Gruden, who had a prior friendship with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. "Tony had done a great job here, and these guys had worked long and hard for him. And for a new guy to come in and try to build their trust and confidence is not an easy thing. It took some time."

Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who could have become Dungy's defensive coordinator, said buying into Gruden's approach took seconds.

"Immediately from that moment, I was ready to go full speed," said Marinelli, the Bucs assistant head coach. "There really was no thought process. I believed and really liked the way he does things, the things he does, what he stands for. And we were off and running."

That was followed by a grinding two-week period during which Gruden attended the scouting combine and, at the same time, completed an offensive staff to add to offensive line coach Bill Muir, whom the Bucs had hired from the Jets.

The two Grudens

In the meantime, a common sacrifice played itself out. Jon Gruden the coach consumed Jon Gruden the man.

photo
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Gruden can get very involved with his work. "There are days when I tell him to go home to his wife or she'll find a boyfriend," said Mark Ortega, Gruden's personal assistant.
"I probably haven't been Jon Gruden since I have been in football," he said. "I remember when I got my first break in Philly as offensive coordinator and I was 31. I didn't have time to be Jon Gruden then. I'm implementing an offense with a bunch of coaches that I never worked with.

"Then I went to Oakland as a 34-year-old head coach and had to implement a philosophy with an owner who had his own reputation and a veteran team that hadn't done particularly well. I didn't have time to be Jon Gruden then either. Maybe I don't know who I am outside the lines, outside these buildings. It probably isn't a good thing."

Mark Ortega, Gruden's close friend, personal assistant and the only staff member to follow him from Oakland, said he sometimes worries about Gruden's relentless approach and the toll it takes on his body.

"It does bother me because there are days he forgets to eat," Ortega said. "It'll be 5 p.m., and I'll say, 'Coach, have you eaten?' And he'll say, 'Ahhh, no.' (And then return to watching film.) There are days when I tell him to go home to his wife or she'll find a boyfriend.

"He's obsessive, no doubt. His regimen is unbelievable. In March, we were already planning training camp. We were already planning the sequences of practice all the way to the kickoff on opening day against the Saints."

On Ortega's desk is a folder with a comprehensive breakdown of the next 102 days before the opener. Every detail, every time sequence is accounted for. A tentative roommate pairing for training camp is included.

"(On Gruden's orders,) every minute of every day of every week of every month is structured," Ortega said. "John Lynch asked me the other day, 'How can coach plan training camp this far in advance and stick to it?' I said, 'John, just watch him. You'll be shocked when you see it.' "

Kathy Gruden, Jon's mother, can explain her son's obsessive behavior.

"I was the same way as a teacher," said Kathy, who taught at Berkley Prep for 18 years. "I was up at 5:15 a.m. every morning and worked all day and was never satisfied. I wanted to be the best. He's the same way.

"We are concerned about the way he drives himself and pushes himself. But it's part of his passion. He wants to push himself."

New facilities

In March and April, Gruden began putting his stamp on the franchise in obvious and subtle ways.

With backing from general manager Rich McKay and the Glazers, Gruden implemented significant and costly renovations to the 26-year-old One Buc Place. For example, the front lobby was converted into a 1,596-square-foot auditorium. It took 24 days and cost about $100,000.

The room, the project of Andres Trescastro, the team's director of security, has high-backed leather chairs, pull-down screens and the most modern audio-video equipment. It is large enough for the entire team and unlike any other in the trailer-laden facility.

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Gruden talks to the team at the end of the postdraft minicamp. The seventh coach in franchise history already is planning every detail of training camp at Disney, including roommate pairings, and the sequences of practices all of the way to the kickoff of the first game against New Orleans.

"My goal wasn't to come in here and change the roster and fix the building. My goal was to come in here and be myself," Gruden said. "To take 10 days, two weeks, whatever and just observe and say, 'You know, we could sure use, if it's possible, a meeting room where we can have a team meeting; an entire team meeting; where I could watch my players eyeball to eyeball.'

"I'm not here to change the uniforms or upgrade the suite sales or anything like that. I'm here to provide a real consistent, highly organized environment where players can flourish, buy into it and get better."

Sapp said the room is an indication of Gruden's proactive approach to challenges.

"Tony would never have said anything about a meeting room," Sapp said. "It was not his nature. Like an obstacle in the road, Tony would have found a way around it. Jon would rather get this obstacle, break it down, turn it into an aide, get on it and ride it."

It is no coincidence that since Gruden's arrival, the Bucs have moved forward with plans to build a new training facility near the University of South Florida.

Evolving roster

Changes to One Buc Place, though, were minor compared to the roster. While the bulk of the defense remained, Gruden piloted an offensive overhaul and made the offseason free-agency period one of the busiest in franchise history.

Not afraid to hurt feelings about past offensive woes, Gruden vowed to bring in his style of player and increase the competition to ensure better results.

"We had a situation here where we have clearly struggled on one side of the ball," McKay said. "Jon will help us with his approach, with his offense, in fixing or helping that struggle."

In about six weeks, the Bucs added Marco Battaglia and Ken Dilger at tight end, Michael Pittman at running back, Rob Johnson at quarterback, Joe Jurevicius, E.G. Green and Keith Poole at receiver and Kerry Jenkins and Roman Oben on the offensive line.

"Sitting down and looking at the film and evaluating every phase of our football team, there were some changes that we felt needed to be made," Gruden said. "We needed to run the ball better. And (there's) no better way to do that than to try to increase the depth and competition for jobs on the offensive line.

"We wanted to upgrade these receivers. We wanted to get bigger. We wanted to get better. Jurevicius is a guy we're fired up about, and we're going to keep looking."

Equally critical was getting to know his players; none perhaps more important than Sapp, who had been rumored to be part of the deal to acquire Gruden.

"After my Realtor, he was the first guy I wanted to talk to, and he was the first guy I met when I got here," Gruden said. "When I think of Tampa Bay, I'm thinking of Warren Sapp. By God, I wanted to work with him. I wanted to assure him that he wasn't going anywhere, and I told him that.

"I told him, no matter what you read on the Internet, no matter what you hear coming from other cities, there's no small continent that they could give up. I told him, 'You're going to be a captain here. You're going to be a force so long as I'm around here."'

Sapp, who has recovered from shoulder surgery, said while his love for Dungy was no secret, it was important for him to meet Gruden half way.

"I wasn't going to cross the line from Tony to Jon," Sapp said. "That was a delicate thing for me. I love Tony. He rescued me from purgatory, from a Third World country, and made us a championship ballclub. So I had to balance it myself.

"I didn't want to hear what Tim Brown had to say about (Gruden), what Regan Upshaw had to say about Jon Gruden. I wanted to get to know Jon Gruden for myself. When we sat down, I wanted to know what he was about, and I found out that immediately. This man is about winning, and that's all I needed to know."

Family life

The image of a man coming to work before dawn and returning late at night seems, on the surface, to contradict the family-first tradition of Gruden's predecessor.

But as a son of a former Bucs assistant (Jim Gruden coached from 1982-83) and the father of Jon II (8), Michael (5) and Jayson (2), Gruden is sensitive to suggestions that he is abandoning his family for his career.

"There are times when I get real sensitive that I'm not doing enough, but I know I'm doing all I can," said Gruden, born in Sandusky, Ohio. "When I'm not here, I'm (at home). It's not like I'm going golfing. I've got nothing else. It's football and family, and that's how I like it.

"The silver lining for me is that that's how my dad had it. My dad was a coach, and he was gone a lot. But I could not have imagined any better childhood in the world than to sit on the sidelines in Notre Dame with Joe Montana as the quarterback. I have as much pride in my family as any man alive. Nothing comes before my family. But at the same time, I'm fortunate to have found my passion, and I'm only going to be down here for so long."

In Tampa, as it has been wherever he has coached, Gruden turns over the home to Cindy, a former cheerleader at the University of Tennessee he met in 1987 and married in 1991.

Cindy Gruden, who once taught aerobics to help with finances during the early days of the marriage, runs the household, pays the bills and understands Gruden's approach.

She picked the new home (in Carrollwood, previously owned by former Bucs tackle Paul Gruber). She furnished it. She decorated it. She moved the family in.

"My wife is the key to me doing what I'm doing," Gruden said. "She gives me great peace of mind knowing that she's there. She sacrifices a lot. She doesn't work. She raises the kids, and creatively, we have done a lot of things together." Gruden said he isn't all business. He said he's a typical father in the sense he wrestles with his sons, watches television with them, helps them with homework, gives them baths, plays catch in the back yard and even goes fishing.

He describes this as "quality time," and it is different from being home while the children are playing video games.

Gruden recently spent a day at Busch Gardens with the family.

To increase his time with his sons, Gruden said he plans to incorporate them into team activities. Jon II, called Deuce, spent a night at training camp with the Raiders last year. He and Michael likely will be around at camp near Orlando.

From personal experience, Kathy Gruden points out it is not easy to be married to a coach.

"Lee Corso always said that there's a place in heaven for all coaches' wives, and I believe that," said Kathy, who lives six minutes from her son's new home. "Cindy's Jon's great blessing. She's the stability he needs to get things done at the pace he tries to get them done in."

Prince of darkness

Photos of Gruden on the field during the day clear him of any vampire rumors, but it is clear he prefers darkness.

He not only arrives before dawn and routinely leaves after dark, Gruden works in darkness. Since moving into Dungy's office, Gruden replaced the windows with grease boards, doesn't use the overhead lights and only occasionally uses a small desk lamp.

With the exception of when he takes the field, from the time he arrives to when he leaves, Gruden's eyes are tested only by the incandescent light of his computer screen and his television.

"It's less distracting," he said. "When you're looking at the film, a lot of film and looking at the computer and then the sun is beating in there, (it's like), 'Shut those (expletive) windows. Turn the lights off. Shut that door.

"Just put the practice film on and let's try to find out how we can block this No. 99 and No. 92. I like darkness." Gruden admits his unique habits aren't for everyone. Thursday, as Gruden walked into his office at 3:58, offensive quality control coach Jeremy Bates was coming in through the back entrance. "To tell you the truth, I think the guy has been trying to beat me here for a while," Gruden said. "I gave him $100 and told him to go get a date. I told him I don't want to see him here that early. I told him, there's a place called a beach. He should visit it. He might like it."

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Since moving into Tony Dungy's office, Gruden replaced the windows with greaseboards, doesn't use the overhead lights and only occasionally uses a small desk lamp. The only lights are his computer screen and television. He said he likes working in the dark because it's less distracting.

Ortega, Gruden's personal assistant, said even by Gruden's standards, tremendous strides have been made during the first three months on the job.

"We are putting in things, movements and shifts and plays now that we didn't do until Year 4 in Oakland," Ortega said. "Jon's operating at a tremendous pace."

Seeing only the goals he strives for, Gruden is oblivious to the sense his approach is over the top.

"The first 100 days have, in some ways, been exactly like the first 100 days of any job I have ever taken," he said. "You want to make a statement on a personal level, but you're here to work.

"I have to earn my team's respect. I have no idea what Keyshawn (Johnson) thinks. Heck, I don't know what Tim Brown thinks now or (former Eagles receiver) Irving Fryar or whoever. But I figure over time, I can earn their respect. They'll see that I'm a sucker who works hard at it, who doesn't waste time."

TIME FLIES

Since Jon Gruden became Tampa Bay's coach on Feb.18, the team has made many changes. Here is a rundown of Gruden's first 100 days on the job:

FEB. 18: Bucs give the Raiders two No.1 draft picks, two No.2 picks and $8-million to make Gruden the franchise's seventh coach.

FEB. 20: Gruden arrives in Tampa, meets Bucs ownership and holds first news conference.

FEB. 21: General manager Rich McKay signs a six-year contract extension; Gruden begins interviewing for offensive coaching staff.

FEB. 25: Guard Randall McDaniel retires.

FEB. 26: Bucs release punter Mark Royals, linebacker Jeff Gooch and safety Eric Vance.

FEB. 27: Bucs release tight end Dave Moore.

FEB. 28: Bucs coaches go to Indianapolis for scouting combine. MARCH 1: Bucs agree to give defensive end Simeon Rice his roster bonus; free agency begins.

MARCH 6: Bucs sign left guard Kerry Jenkins. MARCH 7: Bucs sign defensive tackle Buck Gurley and cornerback Anthony Midget.

MARCH 8: Gruden hires strength coach Johnny Parker and speed coach Mike Morris.

MARCH 9: Bucs sign veteran quarterback Rob Johnson.

MARCH 14: Bucs release former Pro Bowl cornerback Donnie Abraham.

MARCH 15: Running back Warrick Dunn signs with the Falcons.

MARCH 18: Bucs re-sign reserve guard/center Todd Washington. MARCH 19: Bucs re-sign cornerback Brian Kelly and sign tight end Marco Battaglia. MARCH 20: Bucs move Shelton Quarles to middle linebacker and promote Al Singleton to first string.

MARCH 22: Bucs sign receiver Keith Poole and defensive end Greg Spires.

MARCH 25: Bucs sign running backs Michael Pittman and Byron Hanspard.

APRIL 4: Bucs sign linebacker Jack Golden.

APRIL 5: Bucs start first minicamp.

APRIL 9: Bucs sign receiver Joe Jurevicius.

APRIL 10: Bucs agree to extend the deadline for paying roster bonus to Mike Alstott.

APRIL 17: Bucs sign Pro Bowl tight end Ken Dilger and re-sign receiver Karl Williams.

APRIL 20: Bucs re-sign Mike Alstott and draft Michigan receiver Marquise Walker.

APRIL 26: Bucs re-sign safety Dexter Jackson.

MAY 10: Bucs sign veteran punter Tom Tupa.

MAY 20: Bucs sign veteran tackle Roman Oben, release tackle DeMarcus Curry.

MAY 22: Bucs announce deal to hold training camp in Disney.

MAY 23: Bucs re-sign offensive tackle Pete Pierson.


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Bucs

  • The first 100 days

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