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Buc-Naked Ambition

Gruden won't bare all, but he'll work harder than anyone

August 10, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. — Immodest as he is about his goals, Jon Gruden is a bit more shy when it comes to his body. He will not dance in a jockstrap down Dale Mabry Highway if his Tampa Bay Buccaneers repeat as Super Bowl champions, even though he told Playboy magazine he would.

"Ain't gonna happen, man," said Gruden, once named to People magazine's 50 most-beautiful-people list. "A little levity once in a while never hurt anybody."

It wasn't the first time Gruden's naked ambition got him into controversy during the off-season. In March, at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix, he made no effort to hide his displeasure that the Buccaneers hadn't pushed hard for free agents Emmitt Smith, Kyle Turley and Junior Seau. He sat with a few writers and vented his frustration about Tampa Bay General Manager Rich McKay's not making room for one of those standout players.

Even now, almost five months later, Gruden twists his face into that familiar scowl when he talks about how Smith could have helped the Buccaneers, who finished 27th in rushing last season.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday August 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football -- Former San Francisco 49ers coach George Seifert's surname was misspelled Siefert in a Sports chart Sunday on repeat Super Bowl champions.

The coach offers only a sarcastic apology for his interest in the former Dallas Cowboy star, who signed with Arizona on the last day of those owners' meetings.

"I mean, the guy is, what, the all-time leading rusher? Sorry for asking," Gruden said. "Am I interested in Emmitt? Yeah, I'm interested in Emmitt today. Every time I see him, I pray he has a long run. I love Emmitt Smith. And anybody in this business that doesn't probably is a dolt. I mean, the guy is a great football player and a great ambassador of the game. And he was an unrestricted free agent."

If there was a rift between Gruden and McKay, it appears to have healed. McKay, among the league's most respected team executives and co-chairman of the NFL's Competition Committee, said there was bound to be tension when a coach's desires ran headlong into the reality of the salary cap.

"You can get a lot of guys," McKay said. "There are consequences.... Yeah, you can get X and Y, but you're going to lose A, B, C, D and E. And this system, to me, is all about choices. We've always said we're going to stick to our core players and we're going to keep those players together."

The system has worked well so far. The Buccaneers are the only team to have made the playoffs each of the last four seasons. Before then, Tampa Bay had made only three postseason appearances in 19 years.

Gruden understands consistency. That's why he doesn't want to tinker with the formula that helped make his team so successful last season. He still gets up three hours before the crack of dawn, still goes over every last detail of his game plan. He'd sooner cut Warren Sapp than cut corners.

"If you do that, the football gods get you, man," he said. "They're sitting up there. I know Coach Halas, Woody Hayes, they're all up there watching football. That's what they're doing in heaven. You sleep in, you don't do a good job with the script, you don't research football, you overlook individual fundamental time with your players on the practice field, they'll strike you dead. It will catch up with you in a hurry."

Looking for ways to keep his edge, Gruden reached out during the off-season to friends in other sports -- baseball managers Tony La Russa and Lou Piniella -- and to Charles Brewer, a personal-injury attorney in Arizona who is in his 70s and has never lost a case. Gruden's agent, Bob LaMonte, set him up for golf with Brewer during the owners' meetings. Gruden was fascinated, amazed by the way Brewer has stayed motivated for so long.

After golf, Brewer gave Gruden a tour of his massive personal library and pointed out most of the volumes had bookmarks in them. The point being Brewer actually reads the books, knows the law, constantly studies his craft.

Gruden is the same way. He gets up every morning at 3:17 a.m. -- the alarm on his first clock, which played the Notre Dame fight song, was set for that ungodly hour and he never changed it -- and he's in the office by 4 working on his offensive script for the day.

He wants to pass on that work ethic to his three sons. He has lamented not spending enough time with them and says he hopes to change that. Jon II -- nicknamed Deuce -- and Michael are getting old enough to understand what their dad does, and he's planning to start taking them to practices. Three-year-old Jayson is too young for that, but he's more interested in football than his older brothers.

"[Jayson] puts my Buc helmet on that I have at the house," he said. "Whenever I'm watching film he's doing tackling drills on the floor. He calls it, 'Foo-ball.' He tackles himself."

Gruden seems perfectly at ease with fame. When he took over as coach of the Oakland Raiders in 1998, only devout NFL fans recognized his name from his days as Philadelphia's offensive coordinator. Five years later, he's the face -- the twisted, grimacing, just-bit-into-a-lime face -- of this country's most successful league.

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