ESPN’s Jon Gruden predicts who will be this season’s elite teams in an NFL where parity means that every team has a chance.When it is suggested to Jon Gruden that football fans have seen as much of him since last season ended as they did during it, he allows himself a laugh. Since March, he has, in no particular order, pored over film as part of his homework for the NFL draft, for which he provided commentary on ESPN; pored over even more film in the run-up to his annual ESPN Gruden’s QB Camp, in which he analyzes the draft’s quarterback prospects in a manner equal parts critical and constructive; congregated with the coaching staffs at the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee, in order to remain current on drills and techniques; and tended to what he dryly calls his “vast responsibilities” as the president of the Fired Football Coaches Association, which he founded in 2009 after being relieved of his coaching gig with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It’s never-ending,” he says, less wearily than appreciatively. “Do I give myself a little bit of a breather? My wife doesn’t think so.”
Gruden, by his own admission, can’t get enough of the game. Owner of a 100–85 record in 11 seasons coaching the Oakland Raiders and the Buccaneers — and a Super Bowl winner with the Bucs following the 2002 season — he has spent the last three seasons in one of the prestige seats in sports media: the analyst chair on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. This year, he’ll be doing it as part of a less-crowded broadcast team, following Ron Jaworski’s reassignment.
“Obviously going to a two-man booth will present different challenges,” Gruden admits, stressing that he’ll miss working with and ribbing Jaworski. “I’m just going to rely on my preparation. I’m going to try not to talk too much and let the players and fans speak loudly.”
As for that preparation, Gruden prefaces his 2012 predictions by warning of the perils of overreacting to moves made in February and March. At the same time, he points to a trio of transactions that, in his mind, will have a profound impact in the months ahead: the signing of Peyton Manning, who missed the 2011 campaign with a neck injury, by the Denver Broncos; the Buffalo Bills’ surprise poaching of pass-rush behemoth Mario Williams from the Houston Texans; and the New York Jets’ trade for an obscure small-town kid named Tim Tebow.