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.