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Jon Gruden has some pretty snappy campers

Top college quarterbacks are among those who make the trip to Florida to talk to the coach-turned-analyst for a series of shows. Nobody prepares like Gruden.

March 10, 2012|Sam Farmer
  • Former NFL coach and 'Monday Night Football' analyst Jon Gruden takes Stanford's Andrew Luck through the paces of his quarterback camp.
Former NFL coach and 'Monday Night Football' analyst Jon Gruden… (Tim Casey for ESPN )

From Tampa, Fla.

The professor sits alone in his darkened office, hunkered over the glowing screen of his laptop. His granny glasses, the only sign that the onetime boy wonder has truly aged, hang precariously on the tip of his nose.

It's Sunday morning at 7 a.m., and former NFL coach Jon Gruden is waiting in his makeshift office for his star student of the day, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Every wall is lined floor to ceiling with videotapes, a Library of Congress-worthy collection of blitzes, protections, routes, goal-line plays, Hail Marys — everything, spanning at least five decades.

The ace prospect arrives in shorts and flip-flops, stepping through an obstacle course of cameras, cords and TV lights. ESPN will capture the study session from every conceivable angle (including cameras hidden in bookshelves), then slice it up for the network's many media platforms.

Luck is one of 10 quarterbacks who will fly to Tampa to spend a day with Gruden before the April draft, with the coach preparing a custom, in-depth film and grease-board session for each. Those are edited into 30-minute shows for each quarterback, plus an hourlong show that includes all the quarterbacks. The series kicks off with Luck on March 31.

The No. 1 draft pick-to-be takes a seat across from Gruden.

"I've got something for you," Gruden says, sliding a canvas rucksack across the glass table to him. "It's a sweatshirt, T-shirt, just some stuff."

Then, already knowing the answer, the ex-coach playfully asks: "Did you bring me something?"

"No," Luck says sheepishly, his cheeks briefly flushing Cardinal red.

In truth, last weekend's eight-hour give-and-take would leave both feeling enriched. This is the third year of "Gruden's QB Camp," which is shot in his hole-in-the-wall office in the back of a Tampa strip mall, and on the practice field at nearby University of South Florida. The first year featured interviews with Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen, and the shows were so popular with the network, viewers and the players that the roster has now grown to double digits.

This year's shows, in order, feature Luck, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, Houston's Case Keenum, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, Arizona's Nick Foles and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill.

"It's almost turned into a rite of passage for all these quarterbacks," Luck says. "I know I watched the shows, and all the guys on my team did. A year ago, when I said I was going to come back [to Stanford], the guys were like, 'Aw, but I wanted to see you on Gruden's camp.' Guys get into it. And, two, he's a great coach. You learn stuff. Every quarterback wants to learn more."

Gruden, 48, knows what he's doing. He spent 11 seasons as an NFL head coach, first with Oakland, then Tampa Bay, compiling a record of 100-85 and winning a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002 (by beating the Raiders team he built.) He was fired by the Buccaneers in 2009 but didn't leave Tampa, instead staying in town with his wife and three sons.

As speculation swirled that he would immediately resume his coaching career with another NFL or college team, Gruden shifted gears. He rented an office and formed the tongue-in-cheek FFCA — Fired Football Coaches of America — a hangout where his coaching brethren could come to watch film and talk football; he took a job as the assistant offensive line coach on his son's high school team, and he signed with ESPN as a "Monday Night Football" analyst, a job that reintroduced America to his made-for-TV observations and devilish "Chucky" squint.

In terms of preparation, Gruden is in "a different stratosphere," says "Monday Night Football" producer Jay Rothman.

"The beauty is, our team is his team, and he coaches us up like no other," Rothman says. "My whole staff has never been more prepared. It's ridiculous."

In October, Gruden signed a five-year extension to stay on the show through the 2017 season. Last month, ESPN announced he would be the lone analyst in the booth, with the network opting to reassign Ron Jaworski.

All the while, Gruden has maintained his workaholic ways, rising each morning in the wee hours and studying tape to such a minute degree it's as if he were preparing his own team to play.

"I want to organize the greatest cut-up library of all time," he explains before Luck arrives. "So if I ever do coach again, and I put in my offense, I'll be able to pick and choose from some of the greatest concepts that are around.

"So when I put in 'Twenty-two Z-In,' I can show you Joe Montana running it in 1988, then I'll show you Brett Favre running it in 1992. I'll show you Steve Young running it, Ty Detmer and Rodney Peete running it, Randall Cunningham, all the way up from Rich Gannon to Brad Johnson to Andrew Luck."

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