Is Jon Gruden the Philadelphia Eagles' Best Bet for a New Head Coach?

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Is Jon Gruden the Philadelphia Eagles' Best Bet for a New Head Coach?
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Over the last few weeks I've been profiling head coaching candidates with the understanding that Andy Reid will likely be fired at the end of the season. Most recently I've looked at Ray HortonVic Fangio, and Rick Dennison but you can see the entire list here. So with Big Red's last dance likely two days away, it's time to examine a similarly high-profile coach:

 

Jon Gruden - ESPN Monday Night Football Analyst

While a few former Super Bowl coaches have been mentioned as a possibility for the Eagles, Gruden's name has been most frequently connected to the organization. Considering his past, it's not exactly surprising.

Jon Gruden began coaching at the age of 23, when he was a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee. He then coached at Southeast Missouri State and the University of the Pacific before becoming an offensive assistant for the 49ers in 1990.

Gruden then returned to the college ranks in '91 as a receivers coach for Pittsburgh, followed by a job with the Packers in '92. During his tenure there he started as an offensive assistant before his promotion to receivers coach for the '93 and '94 campaigns. Afterward, Gruden was hired as the Eagles' offensive coordinator from 1995 through 1997 before venturing out to Oakland as a head coach.

In his first stint as a head honcho, Gruden posted a cumulative record of 38-26 with two postseason appearances in four seasons. After his firing in 2001, he ventured out to Tampa Bay, where he won the Super Bowl in his first season.

However, his stint there would not be nearly as successful afterward. He went on to post a 45-51 record with two playoff appearances that ended in first-round exits. After he was fired in 2008, Gruden has most notably spent the last few seasons with ESPN doing Monday Night Football.

To go a little deeper into what fans would be able to expect from Jon Gruden, here are some offensive numbers from his two head coaching stints.

Oakland

  League Rank Pts/G Yds/G 3rd Pct TO
1998 18 18 300.9 32 -8
1999 5 24.4 355.8 39 4
2000 6 29.9 361 43 17
2001 7 24.9 335.1 39 -1
Average 9 24.3 338.2 38.3 -4.5

Tampa Bay

  League Rank Pts/G Yds/G 3rd Pct TO
2002 24 21.6 312.6 36 17
2003 10 18.8 340.8 36 2
2004 22 18.8 310.2 38 -9
2005 23 18.8 294.8 39 7
2006 29 13.2 270.1 37 -12
2007 18 20.9 326.8 38 15
2008 14 22.6 341 38 4
Average 20 19.2 313.8 37.4 -10.5

Looking at the numbers, Gruden simply seems like an OK candidate. In Oakland he managed to run a premiere passing attack. His offense was regularly one of the top 10 units in the league and put up a solid 24.3 points per game, given the era.

The numbers from Tampa are worse across the board. In fact, they're not much improved from this year's version of the Eagles.

  League Rank Pts/G Yds/G 3rd Pct TO
Gruden 20 19.2 313.8 37.4 -10.5
Eagles 12 18.2 356.5 38 -23

Of course, personnel matters quite a bit, and the differences in the teams and even the league at each time make the numbers hard to compare. So this isn't to say that Gruden is a bad coach or would make a bad hire for another team. He has a fantastic understanding of the game and his fiery personality would be beneficial to a young team like the Eagles. However, I'm simply not enthusiastic about Gruden being hired as the next head coach as if there is indication that he can be a savior of sorts.

Part of my objection arises from the glorification of his Super Bowl season. In short, Gruden won the Super Bowl with Tony Dungy's team, though he did help the offense become more consistent.

Still, no one can deny that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 2002 won the Super Bowl because of their defense. During the course of the season they allowed an astounding average of 12.2 points a game. The unit also had five interceptions off of Rich Gannon in the Super Bowl—three of which were returned for touchdowns.

Dungy was the one who assembled all of those stars in Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice and Ronde Barber. Even Monte Kiffin, Dungy's defensive coordinator, was on hand to help Gruden along. Obviously Gruden provided the team with direction and fire, but the house was practically built when he got there, and he never regained quite the same success.

Now, if Gruden were to be brought in to Philadelphia, he would be an interesting fit. Part of this has to do with Nick Foles. Gruden is known for running various QB camps with top-shelf high school and college players, but he's also been known to prefer veteran quarterbacks under center. Therefore, what would the Eagles do with Nick Foles? At this point his trade value is limited and Vick will be out of town. In that case Gruden may put the Eagles in position to grab a player like Alex Smith or Kyle Orton.

He would also likely bring a strong running game back to Philadelphia. During his early years in Tampa, Gruden successfully balanced the talents of Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott to create a solid rushing duo. This would likely mean a highly anticipated committee approach with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles would get the chance to have Monte Kiffin at defensive coordinator. Kiffin has been at USC for the last few years and rumors have swirled that he would like to reunite with Gruden. This would be beneficial in the way that the Eagles get one of the best minds in the game to shape a talented young core without making too many changes in transitioning to the Tampa 2 scheme.

Would you hire Jon Gruden if you ran the Eagles?

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One player in particular who would benefit from Kiffin is the athletic Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks has the right size and ability to fill the role of Derrick Brooks in the Tampa 2 cover scheme. He does a good job in coverage and has some wheels to go with his high motor. Don't forget that Brooks will likely be in the Canton some day when considering this option. 

Overall, Gruden is a slightly above-average candidate despite all of the fanfare. I think that while he could be moderately successful, the birds would benefit more from taking a chance on one of the many talented coordinators out there right now. For example, his brother Jay, who is the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals

Nevertheless, keep an eye on the reports regarding Jon Gruden's relationship with ESPN in the next few weeks. He may just be the next head honcho.

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