Last week Cindy Gruden flew out from Florida for the coronation (there’s no other word for it) of her husband, Jon Gruden, as the once and future coach of the Oakland Raiders. She thinks it is the first time she’s been back since they left in 2002.
She noticed a few things. Traffic is worse. Housing prices are way up. And there are changes in elevation.
“We’re just glad to have hills again,” she said by phone from Tampa. “It’s so flat here. And don’t get me started on the bugs.”
Twenty years ago, when Jon was hired as the youngest (34) coach in the NFL, they had two boys under the age of five, Jon II (called Deuce) and Michael. A third, Jayson, was born in Oakland.
Back then dad was a head coach and mom was coping with the fact that her boys had inherited her husband’s high-energy gene.
“My God, they didn’t sleep for 12 years,” she said. “I was like, ‘Why did I have this man’s kids?’ Now I’m out of the fog and it’s awesome.”
She and Jon are now in their 50s. Michael is a marketing major at the University of Tennessee. Jayson will finish his junior year in Florida and then transfer to an East Bay high school to graduate.
And 23-year-old Deuce, with a torso like an inverted pyramid, is his own story. Last June the 5-6, 183-pound weightlifter won a gold medal at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
The family flew to Belarus to see Deuce bench-press 402 pounds and deadlift 633 pounds.
“He’s a brick,” Cindy says. “Just insane. And if he should miss a workout, it is the end of the world.”
A strength coach with Jon’s brother Jay Gruden at Washington, Deuce will be an assistant with the Raiders.
So, with the boys settled, it seems a perfect time for a last hurrah with the team Jon was born to coach.
Which is good, because Cindy says if you think you were tired of the Gruden coaching rumors — so prevalent they were called “Grumors” — you should have been at her house.
“Every year teams would call him and ask if he was interested,” she says. “Every year. I’d prepare to go to that city and then he’d turn them down. In my mind I’ve lived in 30 places in nine years.”
The Raiders job makes sense for more than one reason. There’s the obvious — he’s a perfect fit for the ... ahem ... culture.
“Those Raider fans, that Black Hole, they are his kind of people,” she said.
Also, there’s a new stadium. Did you notice that nothing happened until there was a groundbreaking in Las Vegas?
“Getting the stadium issue solved was part of it,” Cindy says.
But, and Jon mentioned it last week, there’s unfinished business. When you’re an NFL coach, getting fired isn’t so much a hazard of the job as an inevitability.
In some ways it happened twice to the Grudens. Jon says he wasn’t happy with the way he left the Raiders; unceremoniously swapped for draft choices by the late owner Al Davis.
Jon won a Super Bowl and three division titles at Tampa, but then was unexpectedly fired in 2008, along with general manager Bruce Allen.
“They were both evaluated (by ownership) and all was fine,” Cindy said. “They had just had their contracts renewed. And then, two or three weeks after all the teams had hired their coaches, they decided to let them go. It was shocking, a huge transition. We were in mourning, really.”
Jon surely wants to go back and do this on his own terms. The 10-year, $100 million Raiders contract has raised eyebrows, but before we hyperventilate, let’s remember that Gruden’s QB, Derek Carr, is making $125 million over FIVE years.
Granted, 10 years is a long time. But I doubt anyone, from the Grudens to owner Mark Davis, can say with a straight face he’s going to hold the job for a decade.
For now, the coach is fired up. He’s hitting all the Chucky buttons: the snarl, the crack of determination in his voice and the sly wink of humor.
But if you really want to take the temperature of the franchise, look to the crowd of 30-40 former Raiders — like Rich Gannon, Charles Woodson, Tim Brown and Howie Long — who flew in from all over the country to support him. That was impressive.
Now Jon has to face questions about whether he can maintain those crazy coaching hours. Cindy, accustomed to her husband bounding out of bed in the darkness before dawn, isn’t seeing the problem.
“He works all the time anyway,” she said. “He’ll say, ‘I’m going to go to the office and watch some film.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, why don’t you go?’ When you love something, it is not like work.”
At this point it is all details. Since it will only be two years before the move to Las Vegas, should the Grudens rent or buy? Which school should Jayson attend? There’s a whole new group of wives of coaches and players to meet.
There’s only one certainty. In early September the Raiders will kick off the first game of the regular season with Jon Gruden as head coach.
“Yep,” says Cindy. “Here we go.”
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius.