After graduating with a degree in communications, Gruden started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee during the 1986 season. He found his way as the quarterbacks coach at Southeast Missouri State for two years. He then made a smooth transition to University of Pacific in 1989 as offensive assistant. He became the wide-receivers coach for the University of Pittsburgh in 1991.
In 1990, Gruden's father Jim set up an interview with Mike Holmgren who was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Gruden impressed Holmgren with his knowledge of the game for such a young man. Holmgren hired Gruden as one of the first quality control coaches in the NFL.
He quickly ascended through the ranks of NFL coaching by learning the famous West Coast offense pioneered by longtime NFL coach Bill Walsh. When Holmgren left the 49ers to become head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1992, he took the promising young Gruden with him to become the team's wide receivers coach. After three seasons in Green Bay, Gruden moved on to become the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles under former Packers assistant coach Ray Rhodes. Gruden then was chosen by the legendary owner and general manager of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, to be the Raiders' new head coach for the 1998 season.
Gruden resuscitated the moribund Raiders. After uniting with journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon, a mobile and cerebral veteran, the Raiders catapulted into the top of the AFC and made the playoffs three straight seasons. Under Gruden, the Raiders posted consecutive 8-8 seasons in 1998 and 1999, and climbed out of last place in the AFC West. Oakland finished 12-4 in the 2000 season, the team's most successful in a decade and won their first division title since 1990, and advanced to the AFC Championship, where they lost 16-3 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens when Gannon was hurt early in the game on an ill-timed snap. Ravens tackle Tony Siragusa was later fined $10,000 for a late hit on Gannon that aggravated the shoulder injury and drove him from the game.
The Raiders acquired all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice prior to the 2001 season. They finished 10-6 and won a second straight AFC West title but lost their divisional-round playoff game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, in a controversial game that became known as the "Tuck Rule Game." The game was played in a heavy snowstorm, and late in the fourth quarter an apparent fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was recovered by Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert. The recovery would have led to a Raiders victory; however, the play was reviewed and determined to be an incomplete pass (it was ruled that Brady had pump faked and had not yet "tucked" the ball into his body, which, by rule, cannot result in a fumble - though this explanation was not given on the field, but after the NFL season had ended). The Patriots retained possession of the ball, and drove for a game-tying field goal. The game went into overtime and the Patriots won, 16-13.
After compiling a 40-28 win-loss record in four seasons with the Raiders, Gruden replaced the fired Tony Dungy as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, via a high-stakes trade that included Tampa Bay's 2002 and 2003 first- and second-round draft picks and $8 million in cash. The trade took place for a number of reasons, including Davis' desire for a more vertical passing attack rather than Gruden's horizontal pass attack, the fact that Gruden's contract would expire a year after the trade, and Davis' uncertainty over whether Gruden was worth as much money as his next contract was sure to pay him. Gruden signed a five-year contract with the Buccaneers worth $17.5 million.
The Bucs' search had taken more than two months, and had proven to be a major embarrassment to the Buccaneer organization. Tampa Bay had expressed an interest in Gruden, but Davis had originally refused to release him from his contract. The team subsequently interviewed several other coaches and believed a deal was in place with Bill Parcells, before Parcells backed out, reportedly because his choice for General Manager, Mike Tannenbaum, told him not to accept the job because of the salary cap difficulties that Tampa was about to endure. With the franchise's search floundering, the coach they wanted having only one year remaining on his deal, and the immediate hire of Dungy by the Indianapolis Colts, many fans and sports commentators began to openly question if the Bucs had made the right move by dismissing Dungy. Only a big splash hire could quiet the storm, and this may have been the primary motivation for the Bucs to give up as much as they did to acquire Gruden.
Immediately after arriving in Tampa, Gruden significantly retooled the offense with the addition of numerous free agents. His determination to fix the under performing offense so often maligned during Dungy's tenure inspired the Bucs defense to another #1 ranking, which helped the team to a 15-4 season and a win over Gruden's old team in Super Bowl XXXVII. Despite the Super Bowl win, there were many, including players on the Buccaneers like Warren Sapp, who attributed Gruden's win primarily to the defense that coach Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had created during Dungy's tenure with the Bucs. Gruden publicly and graciously thanked Dungy for his contributions upon accepting the Lombardi Trophy at the Super Bowl XXXVII postgame ceremony.
His mantra for the 2002 season was "Pound the Rock", a reference to never giving up. Gruden even went as far as to display a large chunk of granite in the locker room, a tactic mimicked by the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Their slogan, "Keep choppin' wood", was tainted when punter Chris Hanson injured his leg on an axe brought in to accompany a large log.) Upon returning to Tampa after winning Super Bowl XXXVII, he led a capacity crowd at Raymond James Stadium in chanting the phrase. However, it seemingly disappeared from the lexicon the following year, and was not aggressively marketed or displayed on stadium video boards.
In the two years following Gruden's Super Bowl win, the Bucs went 7-9 and 5-11 respectively, implying to many Dungy supporters that Gruden had simply taken over a strong team and then driven it into the ground. However, the high draft picks sacrificed by the team to acquire Gruden, along with salary cap issues and failed draft choices foisted upon him by the now-departed Rich McKay (with whom Gruden had had an acrimonious relationship) limited Gruden's ability to field the teams he wanted after that successful Super Bowl-winning season. With no emerging talent in the fold and no money to afford replacements, the team was decimated by injuries to many of the Super Bowl stars, including Joe Jurevicius, Mike Alstott, Greg Spires, Shelton Quarles, Ken Dilger and Brian Kelly, as well as acrimony with highly-paid veterans such as Sapp, Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell.
When former Raiders general manager Bruce Allen joined the Bucs in 2004, Gruden finally had the general manager/head coach partnership he desired, and their past two drafts have yielded a number of impact players, including 2005 Offensive NFL Rookie of the Year Award winner Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. 2005 also marked a return to the playoffs, as the Bucs' posted a surprising 11-5 record, despite the loss of starting quarterback Brian Griese and some controversial coaching decisions, including a two-point conversion in the final seconds to defeat the Washington Redskins, who would later return to Tampa and eliminate the Bucs from the wild-card round of the playoffs.
In 2006, Gruden led the Buccaneers to a 4-12 season. It was his worst record as a head coach and the first time a Tampa Bay team had not won more than 4 games since 1991.
In an interview with Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune on March 28, 2007 Bucs executive vice president Joel Glazer discussed the state of the Bucs. During the interview, Joel Glazer defended Gruden's performance, citing lost draft picks, injuries, and salary cap issues. However, he also said "Mediocrity will never be standard for the Buccaneers, but we have to move on.
In 2007, the team finally cleared itself of salary cap constraints and united Gruden with a mobile West Coast quarterback in former Pro Bowler and Grey Cup winner Jeff Garcia. The team posted a 9-7 record with five division wins (after resting starters for the final 2 games), despite suffering major injuries, several season-ending, to critical players like Luke Petitgout, Carnell Williams, Mike Alstott, Alex Smith, Brian Kelly, Barrett Ruud, Michael Clayton, Patrick Chukwurah, Gaines Adams and starting kick and punt returner Mark Jones. Despite this adversity, however, Gruden has declared "The future is so bright around here I have to wear shades. On January 22, Gruden was rewarded with a contract extension through the 2011 season.
|Oakland Raiders||2000||12||4||0|| Won Divisional 27-0 (Miami Dolphins)|
Lost Conference Championship 16-3 (Baltimore Ravens)
|Oakland Raiders||2001||10||6||0|| Won Wild Card 38-24 (New York Jets)|
Lost Divisional 16-13 OT (New England Patriots)
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2002||12||4||0|| Won the NFC South Division.|
Won Divisional 31-6 (San Francisco 49ers)
Won Conference Championship 27-10 (Philadelphia Eagles)
Won Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21 (Oakland Raiders)
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2003||7||9||0|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2004||5||11||0|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2005||11||5||0|| Won the NFC South Division.|
Lost Wild Card 17-10 (Washington Redskins)
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2006||4||12||0|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2007||9||7||0|| Won the NFC South Division.|
Lost Wild Card 24-14 (New York Giants)
Gruden and his wife, Cindy, have three sons, Jon II (Deuce), Michael, and Jayson, all of whom attend Independence Day School (IDS) in Tampa. Gruden's younger brother Jay, is a former starting quarterback and current head coach of the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League. Jay has also served as an offensive assistant on the Buccaneers staff, and won multiple championships as the starting quarterback of the AFL's Tampa Bay Storm.
Jon and Jay have both been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Jon's arrest came in Pleasanton, California on October 11, 1998, when he was detailed with a 0.10 blood alcohol level while he was head coach of the Raiders. He ultimately plead no contest to a lesser charge of alcohol-related reckless driving, paid a $750 file and served no jail time. Jay was arrested in Tampa on September 16, 2005, also with a blood alcohol level of 0.10. A third brother, Jim Jr., works as a radiologist in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Mayo Clinic.