For all the media plaudits and fan appreciation that Jon Gruden receives, Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick avoids it. When their teams clash on Sunday, you’ll see two apparently polar opposite leaders, stare across the field at each other. Yet, for their palpable difference in approach, and underlying theme exists. From afar, they share that single-minded, driven pursuit of victory. These two are more similar than many will give them credit for.
The Red Light Special
If you’ve seen Bill Belichick stand behind the podium, you’ve witnessed root canal-level of discomfort. If the league did not mandate those moments, Belichick would be in his office, far from camera shot. Yet, through the endless diet of bland quotes, you can see the mind at play. Like visiting in-laws that you cannot stand Belichick powers through.
However, his cold, aloof demeanor appears strictly for those monotonous press conference. For example, watch the NFL Network roundtables. Belichick shows a sly, almost slick sense of humor. The wry smile belies someone that could have a sense. Meanwhile, Jon Gruden doesn’t hide his humor or opinion, funny or otherwise. If Belichick is the smooth, king of the one-liner, Gruden will laugh just before delivering the punchline. As a result, their interactions within the camera view can’t be missed.
Granted, the NFL is a cutthroat business. The yearly draft tells players that teams are perennially seeking their replacements. Jobs, especially starting ones are not usually set in stone. In the spring of 2001, the Patriots inked Drew Bledsoe to a ten-year deal. Six months later, Jets’ LB Mo Lewis destroyed him on a sideline hit, forcing a sixth-rounder to take the reins. After winning the Super Bowl with Tom Brady at the helm, Belichick and the Patriots traded Bledsoe to Buffalo. Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour, and Rob Gronkowski played starring roles in Super Bowl wins. Yet, they all ended somewhere else. Tom Brady calls Tampa home. All of that said, proves a singular point: talent fades, but the machine moves on.
Fans may not understand that, but that those transactions pave the way for later successes. Likewise, Jon Gruden’s trading of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper garnered draft picks. With those, the hopeful infusion of talent could see the Raiders climb back to a semblance of winning. Bidding long-term players is simultaneously difficult but ultimately necessary. Memories, much like players age. Yet, only one will lose.
Students of the Game
Gruden and Belichick also share an apprentice kinship of sorts. Each climbed the ladder, under the tutelage of championship coaches. Belichick, after working Ted Marchibroda found his way to New York. There, many credit him for being the architect of the Giants defense, winning two Super Bowls.
Meanwhile, Gruden toiled in San Francisco and Green Bay, for Seifert and Holmgren, before taking the coordinator job in Philadelphia. Both understand that their path to the head seat was a climb. From offensive and assistant special teams coach, respectively to front and center. Along the way, each enjoyed the ability to learn the game from various voices, in order to craft their own approach.
January 19, 2002
You will read endless articles about the Tuck Rule game this week. However, this paragraph will be the only written content devoted to it. Why? In all honesty, each coach probably stopped caring about that game. Now, Gruden may publicly lament the officials during that snow Saturday night. However, that Super Bowl win softened the soreness of that game. If you’re honest, if Zack Crockett gains one yard on 3rd and 1, with 2:24, the Raiders win the same. The Tuck Rule becomes a non-factor. Guaranteed that, the moment after the Tuck Rule, Belichick erased the thought. Sunday’s game bears no resemblance or contains any correlation to that game.
Jon Gruden wants what Bill Belichick has: multiple Super Bowl rings and the universal respect afforded to them. Bill Belichick wants what Bill Belichick has, more championships than anyone in the modern era.