It starts early this year.
After attending the Bengals 38-31 win in Washington last week, ESPN’s John Clayton told mom that he was done with his segment and came away raving about Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
“If that game did not put him over the top to be the leading assistant coach candidate to be a head coach then I don’t know what needs to happen,” Clayton told us Wednesday on “Bengals Game Plan.” “The job that he’s done with Andy Dalton over his first 19 games has been absolutely amazing. You can credit Dalton because this guy has ice in his veins and was a Pro Bowl quarterback after year one, but I think when you look and see the creativity that Jay Gruden has – just look at Cleveland. It’s a team that has a young quarterback and young receivers and look how far ahead the offense is in Cincinnati compared to Cleveland. That’s not a knock on Pat Shurmur who does a very good job with young quarterbacks, but looking at what Jay Gruden has done with the creativity of this offense and what he’s done to develop Andy Dalton – there’s no question in my mind that he’s going to get a head coaching job next year.”
Last year, the “Jay Gruden should be a head coach” stories started in late October, but despite reports that the Jaguars and Rams were considering him for their coaching vacancies at the end of the season, Gruden elected not to go through the interview process and signed a three-year extension to remain the Bengals offensive coordinator.
“I didn’t have a good coat and tie,” Jay deadpanned when I asked him why he elected not to interview.
That’s typical of the 45-year-old coach who has a humorous response to most questions, but Gruden’s decision to stay in Cincinnati was not a joking matter.
“Number one, they were just rumors,” Gruden told me. “And number two, I had just got here and it was my first year as an NFL offensive coordinator and quite frankly, I didn’t feel like I was ready to be a head coach. I didn’t want to do a disservice to an organization to go through the interview process and not be ready myself. I felt a sense of loyalty here that these guys gave me an opportunity here when they really didn’t have to. They went out on a limb to hire me and I’d like to see this thing through and see this team win a Super Bowl. I think we have the talent and it’s a great city. I love it here, and my family loves it here.”
The Bengals reportedly gave Gruden $3.6 million reasons to stay, but his brother Jon, the former Tampa Bay head coach and current analyst for Monday Night Football, says that Jay’s career decisions are not be based on money.
“I got a feeling that Jay would coach if you gave him absolutely nothing,” said Jon Gruden. “If you gave him one square meal a day, he’d be there. He loves it man.”
The Bengals offense under Gruden’s direction is off to a great start in 2012, ranking 8th in the NFL in points and total yards through three weeks. Six of the team’s nine touchdowns have come on plays of 40-or-more yards and seven different players have reached the end zone.
“That’s the thought of putting in an offense,” said Gruden. “You want everybody to be involved. You don’t want to come in and talk to A.J. Green the whole time – you want Gresham, Hawkins, Binns, Tate, and all of those guys to be involved and Green-Ellis in the running game. Coverage is going to dictate where the ball goes and Andy is the one with the ball in his hands. It’s just a matter of everybody being in the right spot at the right time.”
But calling the right play at the right time is crucial too, such as Mohamed Sanu’s game-opening 73-yard touchdown pass to Green. Gruden knew that Sanu had thrown a few passes out of the “Wildcat” formation at Rutgers (including a 51-yard TD at Nippert Stadium in 2010 on the first play from scrimmage against UC ), but the primary reason why he felt it would work against Washington was information learned from being on the same United Football League coaching staff at Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
“I had a pretty good understanding from being with Coach Haslett that anytime that a team went ‘Wildcat’ with a receiver or running back that he would play Cover 0 and bring the safety out of the middle of the field,” said Gruden. “I always wanted to design a play where we line up in ‘Wildcat’ and got A.J. in the slot and just threw him the post, but you have to have the player to throw it. Surely Green-Ellis couldn’t do that. But talking to Mohamed Sanu a couple of weeks ago, I said, ‘Hey throw me the ball 25 yards away.’ He had a decent throwing motion and had a lot of spin on it so we put it in. I said ‘This is going to be the first play of the game against Washington. They’re going to bring the safety down and A.J. will be by himself.’ It worked out that way. Mo put it right on him – it was a great way to start the game.”
And while Gruden is willing to accept some credit for that call, he quickly points out that he also called the play that led to an end zone interception by Andy Dalton less than four minutes later.
“That interception was as bad a call by me as the ‘Wildcat’ was good so I think it evened out,” said Gruden. “It was 7-7 so it worked out both ways.”
Gruden’s quick wit will serve him well with media and fans if he becomes an NFL head coach, but don’t let the one-liners fool you; he is a dedicated student of the game.
“He’s been serious about football his whole life,” said Jon Gruden. “He was a four-year starter at Louisville for Howard Schnellenberger – one of the toughest, hardest-nosed coaches ever to coach at any level. He’s an Arena League Football Hall-of-Fame player. He got his brains beat in for eight or nine years in Arena ball. He beat Kurt Warner in an Arena Bowl championship game and won a couple of championships as a head coach in Arena Football. He loves the game.”
Perhaps John Clayton is right and Jay will get a head coaching job in the near future. But Gruden isn’t campaigning for another job, and as the son of a former college and NFL assistant coach, Jay places a high value on loyalty in the coaching profession.
“That’s one thing that my dad instilled in my brothers and me growing up,” Gruden told me. “He was a very loyal guy himself and that means a lot in this business.”
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