While Gruden has been arguably the hottest free agent coach on the market for the better part of a decade, I’ve always wondered why that was the case. For some reason, countless observers seem to regard him as an all-time great coach who retired too soon. Given all the evidence about his coaching tenure, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
During his time as an ESPN analyst, Gruden has clearly shown a deep knowledge of football. He knows the game and seems to love it. But that doesn’t exactly separate him from any other coaches out there. During his time as a broadcaster, people have forgotten that he was never really much more than an average head coach.
Gruden’s career regular season record in 11 seasons is 95-81, with a 5-4 mark in the postseason. He went 38-26 with the Raiders (2-2 in the playoffs), and 57-55 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2 in the playoffs). After winning Super Bowl XXXVII with the Bucs in his first year with the franchise, Gruden’s teams were a colossal disappointment over the next six seasons. He went 12-4 in his first year and won three playoff games. After that his Bucs teams went 43-51 and 0-2 in the postseason. And those teams had a ton of talent.
Gruden’s career winning percentage of .540 suggests he’s an average football coach. Guys like Chuck Pagano (.552) Dennis Green (.546), Jim Mora (.541), Brian Billick (.556), Jim Caldwell (.554), Wade Phillips (.562), Ron Rivera (.576) and Mike Smith (.589) all have better marks than him. None of those guys is knocking down the doors of the Hall of Fame as a head coach.
Heck, pretty much everyone agrees Marvin Lewis should have been fired by the Cincinnati Bengals years ago and his career winning percentage (.534) was on par with Gruden’s entering this season, and is still within shouting distance even after it (.527).
Gruden’s defenders will point out his Super Bowl win as evidence of his elite coaching skills. The narrative behind that story goes that Tony Dungy was a solid coach who got Tampa’s defense to an elite level, but the offense was terrible. So the Bucs brought in Gruden, he turned the offense around and they won a Super Bowl. But that story is nothing but fiction.
Yes, Tampa’s defense was elite and it stayed elite, but the team’s offense actually regressed when Gruden took over.
This Twitter thread from Adam Harstad explains it succinctly. And yes, the numbers check out:
Those points are hard to argue, especially considering Gruden wound up facing his former Raiders team in the Super Bowl, and he knew the opposing personnel, offensive and defensive schemes intimately.
It’s also worth noting that Gruden’s offense is insanely complicated, which may not fit with today’s players. The simplification of college offenses has begun to bleed into the NFL, which could make for a difficult adjustment, considering he hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2008.
Gruden was never known as a “players’ coach” and even had regular spats with his top guys. That kind of combativeness only works in the NFL when you’re winning. Start losing and it spells disaster.
Now, does this mean Gruden can’t be successful? Of course not. A lot can change in a decade, maybe he’s a different coach now that he was then. But there is zero evidence to support the narrative that he is the top coaching candidate available. There’s also no reason to believe he should get a massive salary and an ownership stake from his new team.