Jon Gruden’s return to coaching after nearly a decade in broadcasting hasn’t been entirely easy, the new Oakland Raiders coach said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine.
The challenge hasn’t been building his coaching staff or the process of creating his offensive playbook. Instead, Gruden's biggest issue has been the fact that nearly two months after he was introduced as the Raiders coach, he hasn’t been able to meet with his players.
NFL rules prohibit contact between coaches and players during the offseason, which stretches from early January (for non-playoff teams) until April 9. Gruden has seen some players in the Raiders’ facility in Alameda, Calif., but rules bar them from talking about football.
“I always complained about that since the new (collective bargaining agreement) came into place. A lot of players would come to see me in Tampa to get their football fix,” Gruden said, “So you're not allowed to have contact with these guys, and what's most discouraging to me is we've got to make some decisions on our roster, on salaries, on players and their futures and you can't even meet them. I don't know these guys. I've never coached them, I've never met half of them. So that's been very, very difficult for me, and I've been emotional about it at times.”
Gruden may have a slight advantage on other newly-hired head coaches in that in his job as a color analyst for Monday Night Football he visited with other teams, coaches and players in recent years. He also hosted QB Camp for ESPN, which allowed him extensive time with his current quarterback, Derek Carr, in the lead-up to the 2014 draft.
For now, most of his impressions about the players on his current roster come strictly from those prior meetings, what he saw when he called Raiders games or studied Oakland film.
That includes 31-year-old running back Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 891 yards and seven touchdowns for Oakland last season. The veteran had a 95-yard performance in a Monday Night Football game against the Philadelphia Eagles that Gruden called on Dec. 25.
“Looking at the film and a game I broadcast on Christmas night, there's no question he's still a beast that's hard to bring down,” Gruden said. “One of the reasons I'm excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch, but we'll see what happens. We've got to take a look the entire roster, but I'm counting on him being a big part of our football team.”