Jon Gruden is an intense guy. You know this. The “Chucky” nickname, the cartoonishly straining look he got on the sidelines all the time, the way Sports Illustrated once had him pose for the cover with the heading, “He’s Obsessed” – it’s no secret. But perhaps a that intensity died down a bit when he decided he was fine with an extended stay on Monday Night Football. Maybe being away from the coaching grind for a few years left Gruden slightly less on edge.
Not so much. Kelefa Sanneh has a profile of Gruden in this week’s New Yorker, which details just how obsessive Gruden still is – and in the process, shows it’s going to be near-impossible for this guy not to return to coaching eventually. Gruden still gets up at 3:17 a.m. and breaks down film all day. He even says it himself: “In some ways, I can’t believe I’m not a coach.” His ESPN colleague Steve Young says it: while saying Gruden is happy now, he adds, “I suspect that in a few years maybe something comes up.” And something else Gruden says is telling, too, though not in the greatest way:
But Gruden abhors the “stats sluts” who try to replace the judgments of a trained eye with mathematical formulas. He says, “You know what I hate, man? Guys that you know haven’t seen the film: they just quote a bunch of statistical bullshit.” Of course, there’s something absurd about a man who loves data railing against “statistical bullshit.” As Gruden demonstrates every Monday night, it’s not possible to assess football without statistics. If anything, his voluminous appetite for game film suggests that football needs more and better statistics: a way to measure all the things that Gruden notices when he is watching and rewatching plays.
“Stats sluts.” New line, old concept. All those damn people trying to obsess over football and have fun with the game – that’s not gonna fly with ol’ Jon Gruden, oh no it won’t! It’s spoken like an insider with no time for outsiders, and right now, though Gruden’s life still revolves around football, he’s an outsider, explaining the game for millions of outsiders.
There are a ton of interesting details in Sanneh’s piece, most revolving around the maniacal way Gruden devours film in preparation for each game, and in some of the behind-the-scenes details of what goes into a broadcast (like Ron Jaworski trying to hype himself up to be convincing in saying something he doesn’t really believe). But among those 5,000-odd words Sanneh devoted to Gruden, none stood out like “stats sluts.” One reason: well, he said “stats sluts.” It sounds ridiculous and yet oddly poetic.
But the biggest: as Sanneh noted, Gruden takes his share of criticism for his MNF work. Mostly, it’s for over-praising players (something we doubt many of Gruden’s own former players would accuse him of doing during his coaching days) and saying “This guy” too much.
But that criticism isn’t, it seems, what really annoys Gruden. He didn’t talk about “this guy sluts,” after all – he talked about “stats sluts.” Those commoners daring to invade his territory. Only right now, Gruden’s not a coach. It’s not really his territory. He’s in the loop, but ultimately out of the game. And let us tell you something about this guy: we don’t think this guy will be able to stand that for much longer.