Gruden appears at Muschamp's prep coaches clinic


Jon Gruden, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current ESPN analyst, talks with high school football coaches during the Will Muschamp Coaches Clinic at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 12:36 a.m.

Speaking at Will Muschamp’s high school football coaches’ clinic Friday, Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis told the audience to make sure they asked Jon Gruden about the NFL’s tuck rule when Gruden spoke to the coaches Saturday.

“He’ll get a kick out of that,” Weis said with a wry smile.

Gruden was asked about it by the media after his presentation Saturday, and he didn’t get a kick out of it. He was sort of kicking about it instead.

“If you go back and watch that game, that’s the worst call in NFL history,” Gruden said with a sour expression. “They all know it’s a fumble. You see coach (Bill) Belichick and Coach Weis and their fans leaving the stadium. They knew that game was over.”

That game was the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff between Gruden’s Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. With Oakland leading by three with only seconds remaining, New England quarterback Tom Brady went to throw a pass, then brought his arm back down. As he did, the ball was knocked loose by Raiders’ defensive back Charles Woodson and recovered by Oakland.

Everyone thought the game was over. Players headed toward the locker rooms; the fans made their way to the exits.

But the officials reviewed the play and eventually invoked a rule that many really knew nothing about at the time — the tuck rule that states when a quarterback loses possession when trying to tuck the ball after attempting a pass, it is an incomplete pass, not a fumble.

Adam Vinatieri came on and kicked a tying field goal to send the game to overtime. Then he made the winning field goal in OT to give the Patriots an improbable victory. And give Gruden a serious case of heartburn that still lingers.

Knowing that, Weis thought he would stick the needle to Gruden a little bit at the coaches’ clinic by getting the coaches to ask Gruden about it.

Little did Weis know that he’d end up walking out of the UF locker room Saturday at the precise moment Gruden was reacting to the question in the south end zone. But that’s what happened.

So Weis jumped right in.

“There are discussions they might want to change that (rule),” Weis said to Gruden. “Don’t you really like that rule?”

Gruden, who later coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title, shook his head.

“Coach Belichick used his last timeout because Tom Brady and Weis were in the locker room packing their crap to go home,” Gruden said.

Said Weis: “I said, ‘Tommy, you’re not going to believe this, but they’re going to call it an incomplete pass.’ He said, ‘No, way.’ I said, ‘Tommy, just trust me.’”

Who would have thought that nine years later Gruden and Weis would be talking about that famous game on a spring Saturday in Gainesville, in the south end zone of Florida Field?

The opportunity presented itself when Gruden accepted Muschamp’s invitation to talk at his high school coaches’ clinic when the two met before the Outback Bowl back in December. The Weis side was added when Muschamp hired the highly successful offensive coordinator in January.

Speaking at the clinic, and then addressing the Gator team before an afternoon scrimmage Saturday, Gruden just added to the NFL presence that permeates Muschamp’s program.

Gruden had nothing but good things to say about Muschamp, Weis and the Gators.

“I know about the Gator program and their expectations and standards,” Gruden said. “I’ve always been impressed with Coach Muschamp. I competed against him when he was with the Dolphins.

“I’ve studied college football hard the past two years, and what he did at Texas as a defensive coordinator is on the cutting edge in college football. To add the battery of him and Charlie Weis together, I believe gives Florida as good a one-two combination as there is in the game.”

Gruden obviously has a lot of respect for Weis, whom he coached against in the NFL.

“He’s got a track record,” said Gruden, who is now a color analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. “He’s gotten results wherever he’s been — the Jets, Patriots, Notre Dame.

“Look at their offenses. Look at what Matt Cassel did for the Chiefs last season, they went to the playoffs. The guy knows how to run the ball. He can make adjustments, he can empty the backfield, he can use the no-back set, he can put three backs in the backfield.

“He’s got a tremendous relationship with the quarterback he works with. Whoever takes the snaps for the Gators will be as well-prepared as any guy in football.”

That guy might be John Brantley, who is hoping to have a breakthrough season under Weis after losing playing time (and some confidence) in Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense last fall.

“We’ll find out,” Gruden said. “You can’t play the position without confidence. It’s obvious that in the spring, if there is a lack of confidence, it needs to be repaired or restored.

“The bottom line is whoever plays quarterback has to perform and do a lot of things. He’s got to make great decisions, he’s got to see a lot, he’s got to manage a pro-style offense. If Brantley is capable of doing that, he’s going to have success.”

Gruden said the Gators as a whole will have to adapt to the pro style that comes with Muschamp’s staff, which has many years of NFL experience.

“They better adapt. They should,” he said. “I think it would be a tremendous charge to come to a meeting room where you have this type of background. All the guys want to be in the NFL. Let’s not kid ourselves.

“That’s why they play this game, that’s why they came to this school. They want to play in the National Football League. I think it would be a tremendous motivator for these going. They’re going to get treated and coached like an NFL player, and that’s important to some of these guys.”

Gruden said the Gators should be a fun team to follow this season.

“It will be,” he said. “It was an 8-5 team that struggled offensively last year. They played three different quarterbacks looking for an identity.

“It’s going to be interesting. Transition is always interesting. It’s going to take some time. This spring is very important.

“If they handle this system change ... I know they have skill, and I know they’ll be well-coached and ready to go.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top