When you become the youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl, you have an excellent excuse to kick back with some beers for pretty much the rest of your life.
That may explain Jon Gruden’s partnership with Corona, which lets fans call into the toll-free Gruden Hotline (1-855-9-GRUDEN) to get “top-secret, highly useful information” and enter a sweepstakes for a chance to meet the man himself at his legendary Florida QB camp. Oh and if you press 2, you get your very own Gruden-styled “game day nickname.” (Mine was “The Sand Castler,” a moniker I’m still trying to figure out, but I think I like.)
But first, check out what the coach-turned-commentator has to say about all things football and more, including team moves, what he’d change about the game, rookies to watch, whether lineman deserve more respect… and where to get the best stadium food. Oh and beer, of course.
“If I were commissioner, I’d probably get rid of instant replay first. I’d eliminate all the challenges… let these guys on the field handle it. Speed up the game.”
As a former Raiders coach, how do you feel about the move to Vegas?
That’s a touchy subject with me. I’m one of the old Oakland Raiders and I’m real sensitive. I know they need this new environment to thrive and compete with the Cowboys and the Chiefs and a lot of t other teams that have better stadium venues that create better economics for the brand. So, I’m excited for the Raiders in that regard, but I’m very sad though because some of the greatest days of my life were in Oakland and Alameda. Hopefully they can push it to the top and give their fans something to remember this year.
What about the Rams and Chargers moving to LA? Do you think football will work there this time?
I just don’t know what’s going on in California. I started my career there with the 49ers—they tore down Candlestick Park. I got my first win as an Oakland Raider and they’re moving to Las Vegas. We won a Super Bowl in San Diego and they’re moving out of San Diego! I think it’s a great opportunity, certainly, but I’m more of a traditionalist. I’m still biased for the old-fashioned venues like Candlestick Park.
What should people expect from the Gruden hotline?
When Corona asked me to be their partner I was really excited because it combines two of my favorite things in life, football and cold beer. And the cool thing is you can call and get some fun advice. And you could win a sweepstakes and come to Gruden’s QB camp and be my guest—watch some behind-the-scenes stuff that we do with these young quarterbacks that are coming out. And I might even bring you back to Tampa, to the headquarters of the Fired Football Coaches Association for a couple of hours on the platform. We’re going to have a lot of fun.
If you could be emperor of the NFL for one day, what would you do?
Boy, that’s a great question. I wish it would be that easy. I’d probably get rid of instant replay first. I’d eliminate all the challenges… let these guys on the field handle it. Speed up the game. And I would certainly change the collective bargaining agreement. I would never banish these players from our facility. I would welcome them with open arms every day of the week, 24 hours a day. That is going to catch up with us, if we continue to close our doors and make these guys go away. You have to have an open-door policy and try to help everybody improve and realize all of their talents.
What do you think of the international games and Thursday Night Football?
We broadcast a game on Monday Night Football in Mexico City last year—Raiders against the Texans—and it was awesome. The game in London is one that requires a bye week and some scheduling issues, but making football a global brand is a great endeavor. Thursday night football I was never a fan of as a coach. I thought it gave too little time to prepare, especially for the visiting team. But I’m for football on every night, every day, every continent, all the time. I just can’t stand those crazy uniforms they wear on Thursday night, I would go away from those.
Get this man a cold one! Gruden in his coaching days. Getty Images/Rex Brown/Contributor
Football is number one in the U.S. right now. How do they keep it that way?
We have to start at the grassroots level. I think a lot of people out there have some fear of playing football these days. I think there’s a lot of competition too—lacrosse is coming on, a lot of kids are playing soccer now. You have to go back at the elementary level and encourage kids to play and get the benefits of playing football. You learn teamwork and sportsmanship. You learn a lot about mental and physical toughness. You learn some great gifts that you can’t get in any other sport. You’ve got to encourage coaches to coach. And not worry about winning the Super Bowl when you’re in the 9- and 10-year-old level of football like some places do these days. Have some fun, go out and play. We’ve got to get these kids back out on the field. Too many fields are just vacant right now.
You started the Fired Football Coaches Association to work with kids. What’s the most rewarding part of that?
Number one, just encouraging kids to be on a team. Not worrying about being a first-round draft choice, not worrying about being a Division 1 scholarship player or being in the elite 11. Just encouraging kids to hustle and give their best effort and try to improve every day. Those are things that I’m selling! That’s really had a lot to do with any success that I’ve had. My brother Jay, my brother Jim, my dad would tell you the same thing. This game is a great teacher and I’m just encouraging kids to play and I’m trying to thank the coaches for coaching because they are really giving these young men some valuable lessons.
Many parents are concerned about injuries.
There are concerns about just about everything that you can do today. You’re not going to just deny that football is a collision game, but look, there are people who like NASCAR, people who like to jump out of airplanes, people who like rugby. There are a lot of concussions in women’s soccer if you do the math and do the research. Hockey is an aggressive game, boxing, cage fighting—I watched two women cage fight the other day. You know, there are certain professions and certain games that are a little more risky than others. But I think the benefits far outweigh any concerns that anybody has.
Which rookie has the ability to play at a high level this year? Please say Mitch Trubitsky, I’m a Bears fan.
Right away you look at Kizer on the Cleveland Browns because he’s going to be an opening day starter. He’ll get the opportunities. I think Trubitsky will get a chance in Chicago after his pre-season. And Deshaun Watson is going to get a chance quickly in Houston based on his pre-season. Those are the three guys. A sleeper of mine is Nate Peterman out of Pittsburgh who signed with the Buffalo Bills, I think he was a fifth-round pick. I really like him. My favorite quarterback of this year’s class was Pat Mahomes out of Texas Tech, but I think Andy Reid is going to put him in the old red shirt mode for a year if Alex Smith stays healthy. He’s got special talents.
Can you name a player poised to make a big leap from last season to this one?
You’re tough, man—you should call the Gruden Hotline—you might get that information there. I’m going to go with Jameis Winston right here in my hometown. I have him as an MVP candidate. He’s got to clean up some of his decision-making, he gets a little reckless, a little Brett Favre-like at times, but that’s not always bad. This guy’s a great talent coming into his own.
“Let me tell you, if being a left tackle or center or right guard is not skilled, I don’t know, man, I think people need to have their head examined. You think Prescott and Zeke Elliot have that kind of success anywhere else? That offensive line could make you and I productive, no disrespect to Elliot and Prescott.”
Who do you see poised for a big year team-wise, and who do you think might fall off?
Tampa Bay is on the rise. I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to make another run… quietly. Everybody talks about New England, rightfully so, but I think the Steelers are a team on the rise. And if Bill O’Brien can get the young quarterback going in Houston, that defense is good enough to take the Texans a long way. JJ Watt comes back—they were number one in defense last year without Watt. That can be a scary place.
We talk a lot about QBs, running backs, and receivers, but analysts say games are won and lost in the trenches. Should linemen get more recognition?
You know, I’m glad you said that. Let me tell you, if being a left tackle or center or right guard is not skilled, I don’t know man, I think people need to have their head examined. These lineman go to the line of scrimmage, they don’t know the play often times until the ball is snapped because the quarterback is changing the play repeatedly. They don’t know who they are going to block or what defense they’re going to see. They have to move their feet and knock people off the ball and absorb a lot of punishment for 65 to 75 plays. A lot of these guys at the “skill position” level only play 30 to 40 snaps a game. These linemen play every play and they block for PATs and field goals. So absolutely, the offensive line is the key to everything. You think Prescott and Zeke Elliot have that kind of success anywhere else? That offensive line could make you and I productive, no disrespect to Elliot and Prescott.
Do you have any signature foods that are your favorite at the stadiums?
You have to try the Corona or Corona Light and couple of those cheesesteaks in Philly. Those cheesesteaks are pretty good. And the bratwurst in Wisconsin, you get bratwurst and the right kind of mustard, it is phenomenal. Those two. Now that it’s lunchtime you’ve really got me going. And the stadium mustard they have Cleveland. That stadium mustard is something else too.
A friend wanted me to ask where you think the best pizza in the country is.
You’ve got to go to Chicago. New York City or Chicago are the best I’ve had. Two different kinds of pizza. You know there’s a mystery about the water in NYC. They say the water makes the pizza absolutely spectacular—I agree with that. And I like the Chicago deep dish, don’t you? Can you imagine having a bucket full of cold Coronas and having a couple of those pizzas from New York and Chicago and watching some football games with your buddies?
Sounds like a good time to me.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s do that. Next time we get together, let’s do that.
It’s a plan—I’ll bring the Corona and the Lou Malnati’s too.
Bring the limes, man. Don’t forget the limes.
There are online retailers offering 4-foot-Bobbleheads of Coach Gruden. Be honest: Do you carpool with them?
Yeah, I’ve got one here at the FFCA. I had two of them, but my brother took one of them back to D.C. with him so he can talk to me when I’m not around.
So he can make you nod “yes” over and over to whatever he says.
Ha ha, that’s right, I guess he can!