“I’ve met with several people – I won’t deny that,” Gruden said. “People – just about every year I talk about coming back to coach. I’m not in here every day at 4:30 or 4:00 in the morning watching pinball. You know? I’m preparing myself to come back. I am. Every day. I’m preparing to come back.
“It helps me in my broadcasting and I think if you lose that edge … you can’t come back unless you are totally wired with college football, personnel, schemes, the CBA, how people are practicing, trends, you know. You’ve got stay on top of this stuff.”
“I love ESPN,” Gruden said. “I mean I love what I’m doing. I’m with a great team – a great group of guys. I’m still real close to the game. I still stay in contact with a lot of players and coaches at the league at every level. I don’t know if [all the talk] is flattering or irritating. I don’t really pay attention to a lot of it. But I am – every year – preparing myself to coach. Sometimes I show up at camp and I show up in the offseason and people let me coach. I jump in drills and they still let me install plays and call plays at some places. I still have a lot of fun.”
There are three ways to interpret these revelations.
One, Gruden really does want to coach and not being able to is eating at him. He’s waiting for the perfect opportunity to arise. And it appears that wouldn’t be in the college game as he expresses concern that he wouldn’t be able to handle all of the rules and regulations leading to swift probation.
The second way to read the tea leaves? Gruden is actually cool on the prospect of returning to the sidelines but is floating otherwise as a means to an end when it comes to negotiating leverage. Let me suggest that, if this is the case, it’s a strategy destined to fail. The Monday Night Football analyst is the network’s highest-paid talent at $6.5 annual, according to Jim Miller.
It’s not inconceivable that he’d drive up his price by showing interest in leaving. But it hardly seems likely hot on the heels of widespread layoffs and an overall tightening of pursestrings in Bristol.
The third, and what I believe is the most plausible option, is that the ever-excitable Gruden was simply speaking candidly about something he loves. This line feels particularly instructive:
” I don’t want to start anything, but I say the same thing to everybody. There are very few passions in my life. The man upstairs, family and football.”
Call me naive but my read is that Gruden misses coaching and has the same interest in returning as he did last year and the year before that. That he finally put it out in public does not mean anything is in the works or will soon be in the works nor is it emblematic of some grand plan to bump his pay for television work.