By Tony Grossi
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Browns’ coaching job is a great fit for Jon Gruden, but he doesn’t know if he wants to return to coaching just yet.
That’s the opinion of one of Gruden’s closest friends — his father.
Jim Gruden, 73, said he hasn’t talked to Jon, the middle of his three sons, directly about the Browns’ job opening. But the topic may come up when they play golf on Friday.
“One day he’s up (about returning to coaching) and one day he’s thinking something else,” Jim Gruden said, speaking from his home in Tampa, Fla. “I tell him, ’You’re a big boy now, just do what makes you happy.’ He really has a good deal (with ESPN) and my understanding is he’s pretty well thought of on television. He’s getting paid one more year by the Buccaneers.
“As far as what he’s thinking, he’s got a problem because his son’s (going to be) a senior in high school, playing quarterback and linebacker. He loves watching him play. He helps coach the team. And I just don’t know where he is right now. I don’t know what he’s thinking.”
Jim Gruden, a native of Ohio who attended Orange High School and lived in Solon, was a big Browns fan. Like most fathers of the Paul Brown era, he passed that passion on to his sons. He remembers Jon wearing a No. 44 Browns jersey of his favorite player, Leroy Kelly, and “sliding around in the mud and bringing the mud inside the house.”
Besides the opportunity to coach the team he grew up rooting for, Gruden also has a long relationship with Browns President Mike Holmgren.
Jim Gruden was a 49ers college scout when Holmgren was the team’s offensive coordinator. Holmgren hired Jon for what later was termed “quality control coach.” One of Jon’s first projects for Holmgren was to devise a program to store Holmgren’s offensive playbook on computer.
“Jon didn’t know anything about computers, but he hired some guy from Silicon Valley to teach him all about them,” Jim said. “When Mike came back from vacation, Jon had the whole offense on computer disks and set up a program that a lot of teams started to use.
“When Mike got the (head coach) job in Green Bay, Jon was at University of Pittsburgh and Mike called him and said, ’Make sure you bring those disks with you.’ They have a great relationship.
“There’s a lot of things there that are perfect for him. It starts with the front office. You’ve got to be careful in this league anymore to look at the way the front office is operating. You’ve got a guy like Mike, who really is the one that brought Jon into the league. He thinks as highly of Mike Holmgren as anybody.
“Yes, the Cleveland Browns are a great fit. That was his favorite team as a kid and he knows it was his dad’s favorite team, too. But whether he wants to get back into the rat race, I don’t know. Because it is a rat race. A lot of hours and every year in the fishbowl. He did that for 11 years as a head coach, and three more as an assistant in Philadelphia.”
Jim Gruden said his son still has the coaching bug.
“He’s been doing all these games for ESPN,” Jim said. “He has a little office about a mile from his house and he goes in at about 3:30 every morning and watches film, just like he did when he was coaching.”
Efforts to reach Gruden through ESPN have been unsuccessful. Gruden’s next assignment is on ESPN’s radio coverage of the BCS Championship game on Monday.
Holmgren said this week that he has not contacted Gruden about the Browns’ job. The Browns are not commenting on any potential candidate.
Gruden has been a head coach in Oakland and Tampa, but he espouses the style of offense necessary to win in the Midwest when the weather turns bad.
“He’s gonna run the ball, if that’s what you mean,” his dad said. “But you’ve got to have a great quarterback, too. You’re not gonna win without one. You’ve got (Ben) Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, (Joe) Flacco in Baltimore. He really likes your quarterback, I know that.”
Gruden spent a lot of time with Colt McCoy prior to the 2010 draft for a popular ESPN series called “Gruden’s QB Camp.” Holmgren consulted Gruden before the Browns drafted McCoy in the third round.