In what would be his last assignment for ESPN, Jon Gruden walked into Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday to serve as the color commentator for the Chiefs’ 22-21 Wild Card loss to the Tennessee Titans.
And with news of his looming transition to coach the rival Oakland Raiders leaked but not official, let’s just say he wasn’t welcomed with open arms.
“I walked into Arrowhead Stadium earlier in the season twice, for the Chiefs-Broncos game and the Chiefs-(Washington) game, and the fans were really nice to me,” Gruden began with a laugh Tuesday, during his introductory news conference in Oakland. “And when I walked into the stadium the other day, it was like 1999 all over again. I love the AFC West.”
So much so, apparently, that Gruden, 54, even mentioned Chiefs’ fans passion during Saturday’s broadcast.
“These Chiefs fans have been on my case since I got here,” Gruden said. “What a great place for a big game.”
Gruden will see plenty more of Arrowhead after signing a contract that ESPN reported will pay him $100 million over 10 years.
Since he was fired from Tampa Bay in 2008, Gruden — who won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002 and owns a 95-81 record as a head coach — has served in a cushy job as analyst for ESPN, where his “Gruden’s QB Camp” pre-draft series has become a hit.
But over the last six or seven years, Gruden said, he has had consistent dialogue about the state of the Raiders with owner Mark Davis. A few weeks ago, Davis asked him if he intended to coach again anytime soon.
After flirting with multiple college and pro offers over the last several years, this time he said yes.
“In my heart,” Gruden said, “I feel this is the thing to do. I’m all in. You only live one time.”
Gruden said he returned to the NFL for four reasons. First, he loves football. Second, he loves Oakland, the city where he went 38-26 in four years as head coach from 1998-2001 and his son Deuce was born. Third, he loves the Raiders, and fourth, he loves to win.
What’s more, Gruden added, as much he liked being a Raider, he didn’t like how his tenure in Oakland ended, with the Raiders’ 16-13 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional round — otherwise known as the infamous Tuck Rule Game.
“I really miss the Raiders — for my career (there) to end on that night, it still ticks me off,” said Gruden, who was traded to Tampa Bay that offseason for two first-round and two second-round picks. “I feel a lot of unfinished business and loyalty and responsibility to get the Raiders going again. I’m going to do everything I can to help this team get right again.”
And while 10 years in the broadcast booth has mellowed the famously intense Gruden some, it’s unlikely his scowl has completely vanished from his arsenal. He still pores over details and is ready to go back to the long workdays that come with being an NFL coach.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Gruden said.