“I’m ready I guess.”
Jay Gruden was self-deprecating already.
The previous offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals stood in Daniel Snyder’s corner office at Redskins Park and answered the owner’s question. Three flat-screen televisions flashed football highlights.
Joey and Jack Gruden, the next line of a football family, shook hands with Snyder. J.J. Gruden was away at college. The boys wore ties to match their father, who chose a navy pinstriped suit, oxblood shoes and a white oxford shirt. His burgundy tie was adorned with white dots.
Three hours earlier he wore a gray Redskins sweatshirt and jeans to his first lunch at the facility’s dining hall, where they served chowder. When he was finished eating, Gruden walked out and stopped in an adjacent hallway. He paused to read the ‘60s section of a historic photo mural, eyeing pictures of Sam Huff and Bobby Mitchell.
“One word: Lombardi,” was written in plus-size print.
Gruden would soon be introduced as the 29th head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Back in Snyder’s office, he joked with Jack about his grades. He made small talk with his new boss while Sherry Gruden and Tanya Snyder exchanged pleasantries.
Pierre Garçon’s face flashed on ESPN. The receiver with the big dimples smiled and answered a question.
Sherry and the boys toured a high school in Ashburn and met the football coach. It was an exciting day.
Gruden exited into the hallway, taking his first steps toward turning around a football team.
Executive Vice President/General Manager Bruce Allen met Gruden near the coach’s quarters, right under the painting of John Riggins dragging Miami Dolphins defensive back Don McNeal. Earlier in the day, Gruden ascended the stairs from lunch and requested directions to his office.
Gruden adjusted his necktie and chuckled with Allen as the two prepared to enter the auditorium and explain Gruden’s appointment as head coach.
XLR cables sprouted from mult boxes. Blue, black, red and white wires coiled around the carpet and connected to cameras connected to coiffed assignment reporters.
Seven photographers readied to shoot stills while 16 video cameras pointed at the doors at the back right corner of the room.
Gruden emerged ahead of Allen and Senior Vice President of Communications Tony Wyllie, who welcomed the crowd and asked that they silence their cell phones.
“We were looking for a new leader, somebody who can inspire our football team,” Allen said.
“We knew it was more than just X’s and O’s. It was about finding the right person to build the team chemistry that we needed. We needed someone who would be a good teammate to the coaches, the organization and the players in the locker room, and through this search, we kept looking for that leader and teacher.
“I really come back to one of the greatest quotes I know in sports or life that former Washington Redskins coach Marv Levy, who is in the Hall of Fame, who said, ‘Where would you rather be than right here, right now?’
“And that quote really is what we are looking for – someone who had the fire in his belly to come and lead the Washington Redskins this season. I’d like to introduce to everybody the new head coach of the Washington Redskins, Mr. Jay Gruden.”
Applause and a press conference.
Gruden answered questions. He was focused on Cincinnati last year. He wasn’t sure what happened in Washington.
“We’re going to forget about the past and look forward to the future every day,” the head coach said.
After about 17 minutes of questions, Gruden handled a Redskins helmet and posed for pictures with Allen in front of a squirming bubble of camera people. Allen broke off to provide individual answers, and the bubble surrounded him.
Three men waited for Gruden in a radio studio. The coach slipped on a pair of headphones stuck with a piece of white tape reading “H3” in black marker.
Gruden cracked a joke and showed a grin that could gape or spread as a subtle horizontal crease in his cheeks.
Chris Cooley held the bottom of his left foot in his right hand and asked Gruden how he would go about getting to know his players. Would he let them wear ‘80s rocker shorts like Jim Zorn did? Would he maintain a stricter workplace like Joe Gibbs?
Gruden said he would accept players as they are, “but you have to have rules.”
Making his way to the team’s television studio, Gruden bumped into running back Chris Thompson.
“Florida State,” the coach knew.
“You healthy? Good.”
Comcast Sports Net anchor Chick Hernandez sat in a director’s chair.
“Holly Lolly,” Hernandez said, testing the microphones as Gruden sat in an identical chair and tested his mic.
“Test. Test. One, two, three.”
The broadcast went live. Hernandez asked Gruden about a hectic 48 hours.
The wave in the newly minted head coach’s brown hair was unperturbed.
He said the past two days had been hectic. He auditioned with the Titans, hopped on a flight in Nashville and joined Allen for a pre-interview dinner that would be leaked on Twitter.
Hernandez asked how Gruden responded to the job offer.
“It’s unbelievable really. I just didn’t expect it,” the coach said.
“I had a pen in my pocket. I was ready to go.”
His first phone call after accepting went to mom and dad, Jim and Kathy Gruden.
How does he plan to turn this team around?
“I don’t do it,” Gruden said.
“We do it. The coaches do it. Daniel Snyder does it… Together we can do anything.”
His Ohio accent is strong, the I-s drawn out. He’s fond of the word, “Alls,” as in, “Alls they want to do is win.”
When he addressed askers, he opened his eyes and made them feel heard.
Gruden told Hernandez he wanted to play quarterback as long as he could. He never made it to the NFL. He won four titles as a player and two as a coach in the Arena Football League.
After he finished playing, he coached.
“You want control,” Gruden said.
After a six-and-a-half minute live segment, Gruden joked he thought he’d go to bed shortly.
The auditorium still had work for Gruden, who looked like a TV man standing next to the anchors lining up for their live shots.
Rick “Doc” Walker, who called ArenaBowl VII when Gruden won the game’s MVP award for the Tampa Bay Storm, grabbed Gruden’s neck affectionately.
“I can’t wait to see it,” Walker said to Gruden.
The coach did two more interviews with two local news stations, then took a break to learn how to work the landline in his office. Sherry, Jack and Joey Gruden piled into the wood-furnished room.
“Good job!” Sherry said.
Gruden wasn’t finished.
Three reporters talked into cameras at the top of the room. One more stood in the middle, and another at the base.
Gruden still had media obligations to satisfy.
He was ready.
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