ALAMEDA — Even though the new Raiders coach has been away from the sidelines for 10 years, Jerry Rice doesn’t see any problems with Jon Gruden relating with today’s players simply because his motivational skill has always been one of his strongest suits as a coach.
Rice was 39, had already played 16 years in the NFL with the 49ers, set numerous league records and appeared at the end of his Hall of Fame career when he got a call from Gruden in early 2001.
“Jon was the reason I came here (to Oakland),” Rice said Tuesday following Gruden’s official introduction as the Raiders’ new coach. “He called me up and said, ‘Jerry, you still want to play football?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ He said, ‘You still got 80 catches in you?’ and I said, ‘Yes I do.’ So he gave me an opportunity to continue playing the game I love.”
Even though Rice wound up spending three seasons with the Raiders, he only spent one of them actually playing under Gruden. But it was the first one away from the 49ers and a memorable one — 83 catches, 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns. It was his best season in three years, and he backed it up the following year after Gruden left to coach Tampa Bay.
If not for Gruden, though, Rice isn’t sure any of it would have happened. The coach pushed him — hard.
“I think he has a character like Bill Walsh — he can be your best friend or your worst enemy. He’s going to keep you on your toes, and maybe the current players, that was something they were lacking this year,” Rice said. “Sometimes with all the talk, you fall into listening to all the talk. But you need a coach that’s going to keep you focused, and Jon Gruden is that type of coach.”
On that count, Rice issued a warning to players with sensitive egos.
“I hope these players are ready, because they’re going to get Chucky,” he said. “They’re going to get him, and how they deal with that could tell the whole story. But Chucky’s going to come out. And either you buy in or you’re not going to be part of it.”
Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson came to the Raiders as a celebrated rookie but admitted he instantly related to Gruden’s style of motivation, which he thinks will still play well in today’s locker rooms.
“I just think it’s the way he interacts and talks to you,” Woodson said. “He has little ways of taking a jab, but not disrespectfully. Whenever you saw him, you saw that scowl on his face and it was intense, but he just knew how to talk to you in a way that motivated you. The guys here on the team now, they’re going to get a chance to experience that.”
But Woodson, too, issued a warning.
“If you don’t respond, you’ve gotta go,” he said. “That’s going to be the bottom line. I don’t think Gruden’s going to come in here favoring or babying anybody. He’s going to try to hit the ground running, and if you’re not ready to jump on that train, there’ll be another team for you or something else to do. It’s got to be all in or nothing.”