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Super Bowl XXXVII

Bucs coach has been intense all of his life

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003

She first saw "the Chucky look" when Jon Gruden was 2. Just a baby frowner. It's not a label Mom adores, but Kathy Gruden tolerates "Chucky" as cartoonish NFL pop culture.

"Jim and I see the look. We shrug and smile," Kathy said.

Jim Gruden is an old coach. Jon's dad understands sideline emotions.

But who better knows what is behind the sneering mask of Tampa Bay's little general than the mother who brought him into the world?

A woman of deep faith, Kathy sees it as "one of God's miracles that Jon was brought home to Tampa Bay, where his parents could watch from up close while being around both our sons and experiencing the ultimate joy of babysitting grandchildren."

Her biggest frustration with tyke Jon was "he refused to take naps." What a surprise. At 39, it's the same, with Gruden's habit of showing up at his office before even bakers and milk toters arise.

"Jim and I watched once as infant Jon climbed the wall of his crib and scampered away. If we put him back, we got "The Look,' " she says. Staying in his crib remains a challenge for the $3.5-million-a-year coach. He always is climbing out, heading to watch videotape or sketch a game plan.

Jim was a respected but not famous coach. He moved his family often and never got rich. At every stop, offspring was observing, learning and questioning. He was at Notre Dame under Dan Devine but fired when Gerry Faust took over. Jon's pop hung around South Bend and became a box salesman.

"Jim was good at it, but coaching is so in the Gruden blood," Kathy said. "John McKay called and asked Jim to coach Bucs running backs. That was it for the box salesman. We moved to Tampa and have been in the same house ever since."

Jim's final coaching work was in 1982-83, when the Bucs went 7-19. After that, the elder Gruden was Tampa Bay's player personnel director for two years,

Jon was maturing, so, too, was Jim's younger son.

Jay Gruden, 35, and four years younger than Chucky, was a terrific college quarterback at Louisville and became an Arena League hero with the Tampa Bay Storm and Orlando Predators.

After refusing Jon's bids to become an assistant with the Eagles and then the Raiders, Jay joined the Bucs staff in the summer. Still, from another stout competitor of the Gruden brood, there remains a drive to play the game.

"We call Jay the Michael Jordan of Arena football," his mother said. "What I mean is that he's always going to retire as a player but keeps coming back. Even now, Jay says he will be a Predators quarterback this coming summer.

"As for coaching, we'll see what unfolds. Jay is very much his own man. He, his wife, Sherry, (who worked years ago in the Bucs front office) and their three children still live in Orlando. It's home to them. Jay commutes, and when he sleeps, it's at Mom and Dad's house."

Kathy was a schoolteacher, working grades 1-4 for 18 years at Berkeley Prep before Jon and Jay talked her into retiring two terms ago.

"What I most admire in Jon is his work ethic," she said. "It's something that is often lacking in America today."

Kathy views Jon and Jay's Bucs from a box in Raymond James Stadium, sitting alongside Chucky's wife, Cindy. Jim is usually there but also goes on scouting assignments for the 49ers, his employer since 1986.

The parents usually see Tampa Bay road games on TVs in their living room and den. They babysat Jon's children and watched from home as the Bucs conquered the NFC and Philly demons last week.

"Jim is a pacer during games, letting his emotions flow," Kathy said. "He watches from one room then walks to the other. Moving like a nervous expectant father."

A father with adult expectations.

"Jim is very intense, like his sons. Most people do not understand the lifestyles of a coach, where you live and die with wins and losses."

Being 20-year residents, the senior Grudens have ample understanding of the glee now being experienced by the Tampa Bay area. "We've been there for all the bad times, when a lot of Bucs players and coaches tried with every ounce of their energies.

"We so admired what Tony Dungy did as coach. It was the true turnaround for the Bucs. Then the opportunity comes to Jon, which has been such an extraordinary ride. We understand why our neighbors are so jubilant and so welcoming of a Super Bowl moment that, for a long time, seemed so out of reach.

"Like I said, to us this a miracle from God."

Give us a smile, Chucky.

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail him at or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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