One of the things that makes Jon Gruden such a great broadcaster is that he has a tremendous amount of passion. The kind of passion that comes from a guy who is still a head coach.
The kind of passion that, by all appearances, inevitably will make him a head coach again.
Gruden shares some of that passion with Bryant Gumbel in a profile to debut tonight on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel (9:00 p.m. ET). Gruden also addresses whether he has turned down offers to get back into coaching.
“Yeah, I’ve had opportunities to come back,” Gruden said, both at the pro and college levels.
So why hasn’t he? “I don’t know,” Gruden told Gumbel. “I’m trying to figure out — I’m trying to figure out where I’m going. If the right opportunity presents itself, I will come back.”
That mindset speaks to the deeper tension that is keeping Gruden from becoming the best broadcaster he can be. Though he predictably has denied it, Gruden suffers from the same affliction as any coach who chooses broadcasting as a bridge to his next job. Coaches in that sort of professional limbo pull punches, choose words carefully, and (as in Gruden’s case) opt for superlatives over expletives when assessing any franchise, owner, coach, G.M., or player.
After all, the “right opportunity” may never present itself if Gruden burns bridges.
ESPN isn’t making it any easier for Gruden, narrowing the Monday night booth from three men to two and setting Gruden up to be in the star, quietly hopeful that he’ll become the guy we see when he’s breaking down film at the world headquarters of the Fired Football Coaches Association.
Ultimately, that’s what Gruden has to decide. Does he want to jump back into the fray of full-blown stress and grinding and accountability along with 31 other coaches in the hopes of getting a second Lombardi Trophy, or does Gruden want to become the next John Madden?
For now, Gruden is delaying that decision as long as he can. ESPN likely hopes that, via the passage of time and the unfolding of circumstance, that decision will make itself.
Until then, Gruden will remain perched on the middle of the fence as a very good broadcaster and very good coach but not nearly as good as he could be if he would pick one over the other.