Some of you may have noticed that, over the past several months, we’ve stopped picking on ESPN. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just sort of happened.
For starters, plenty of other people fill the four-letter network watchdog role more capably and consistently that we ever could. And now that we’re sort of mainstream, we’re less inclined to overtly throw darts at a Comcast/NBC competitor. It just feels petty. (Then again, it always felt petty, but it never really stopped me from doing it.)
Indeed, I never mentioned the ESPN book. Not once. MDS posted something football related from the clumsily crafted chunks of interviews with no real narrative, but for the most part I just didn’t care about the prospect of rushing to the keyboard with the latest “can you believe he/she said that?” snippet. We’ve got too much of our own business to take care of to worry about ESPN, and so I’ll now do so only when encountering the most glaring and obvious problems.
Which leads me to the topic of this post.
Jon Gruden’s over-the-top butt-smooching and self-promotion, all in the name not just of getting another job in the NFL but having maximum options and leverage when he chooses to return, has risen to the level of nauseating.
I base my conclusion on the first few minutes of the special edition of his previously interesting QB Camp series, primarily since I couldn’t bring myself to keep watching it. At the very top of the show, we’re greeted by Gruden proclaiming yet again that he doesn’t sleep very much, and that he gets in at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m.
“I’m nuts,” Gruden says.
Aactually, anyone who is actually impressed by that carefully-crafted effort to create the perception that Gruden works harder than everyone else is nuts. Guys who truly work hard don’t feel compelled to tell the world that they work hard. They just work hard, and they allow others to notice it and spread the word that, “Hey, that guy is a hard worker.”
Then came the opening disclaimer from Rece Davis, in which he explained that ESPN declined an opportunity to interview Pryor because agent Drew Rosenhaus wouldn’t let Pryor answer questions about whatever it is that happened at Ohio State. So instead the session started with Gruden giving Pryor an open platform to say whatever he felt like saying about the situation at Ohio State, which amounted to a string of nonsensical buzzwords and talking points that Pryor was able to utter without fear of any meaningful follow up.
In other words, “We won’t interview Pryor because we can’t ask Pryor about Ohio State. But we’ll let Pryor say whatever he wants about Ohio State, without pressing him for details or explanations as to the things he says about Ohio State.”
Then came the moment that caused me to press pause on the remote and delete the entire show from my DVR. “You’d have been a top-flight Heisman Trophy candidate,” Gruden said regarding Pryor’s decision to leave Ohio State.
He would have been a top-flight Heisman Trophy candidate? After sitting out the first five games due to the tats-for-gear controversy that ultimately brought down head coach Jim Tressel?
For me, something happened in that moment. At that point, Gruden became not just a guy who desperately wants to say only good things about the people he covers so that he’ll have no burned bridges when he chooses to return to coaching. At that point, Gruden became a caricature of a guy who desperately wants to say only good things about the people he covers so that he’ll have no burned bridges when he chooses to return to coaching.
It’s gotten to the point where his fundamental lack of authenticity possibly could hurt his efforts to return to coaching significantly more than anything bad he could have ever said about any player, coach, G.M., or owner. And the saddest part is that Gruden, a talented and capable broadcaster, could be a cross-pollination of Madden and Cosell if only Gruden would be honest with himself and his audience. Instead, he’s dangerously close to becoming a laughingstock.
It’s safe to say that, if/when he reads this, he’ll be pissed off. (We know this because we’ve been told that other things we’ve written about him have pissed him off.) The reality is that I’m trying to do for the guy that which no one else at ESPN is able or willing to do.
Put simply, the man who loves to talk about how little he sleeps really needs a wake-up call.