He was supposed to be the next Arkansas football coach, they said. “He,” the winner of a Super Bowl and arguably the most recognized professional coaching face and name in the country, was supposed to be the next head Razorback football coach.
“He” is, of course, Jon Gruden. And “they,” of course, are rarely right.
The aforementioned was back after the Motorcycle Crash Heard Around the World. Such nonsensical rumors were bandied again, albeit with far less fervor and seriousness, again in 2017. Two times Gruden was tabbed by a certain segment of the Razorbacks fan base to take the reins of the University of Arkansas football program. Once, following in the footsteps of Bobby Petrino and the other to come after Bret Bielema on the heels of an apparent rejection of the Tennessee job. The latter rumblings were even less justified than the previous.
Neither happened. Obviously. Neither was ever really going to happen. No one in their right mind actually thought it had much of a chance.
Gruden Speaks at Little Rock Touchdown Club
Gruden, though, was not then, nor has ever been, the type to stifle such talk. He’s still one of the most famous professional coaching faces the sport has known in the last 50 years. Or, really, ever – considering football’s prime seat in the public consciousness of the American sports fan nowadays. He spent about eight years at the most famous American sports network, too, analyzing both the professional and college game before returning to coach in 2018.
Controversy, which was never far in Gruden’s rearview, became too much in 2021. But since when has controversy stopped someone from fame. Or better yet, infamy?
The truth is Gruden is still respected – highly respected – as a football mind. When he talks the game and the game itself, people listen. As such, his words this week at the Little Rock Touchdown Club, where he was the guest speaker, carried loads of weight. Both nationally and locally as it was the coach’s first public appearance since his October 2021 resignation from the Raiders and subsequent fallout regarding his comments in emails, comments that were both anti-gay and racist.
To the point of this particular web site were his words about Arkansas icon Frank Broyles and, well, a particular former Texas quarterback.
Gruden praised Broyles, the long-time Arkansas coach and athletic director, for changing his approach to the way he coached.
“Frank Broyles came in to do the clinic speech for Johnny Majors, and I had to entertain Frank for about an hour before his speech,” Gruden said. “He said, ‘Son, what you see on film is what you coach. You’re not coaching 64 Stay Meyer worth a damn.’ And that philosophy stayed with me forever. Everywhere I went as a coach, I told our coaching staff, what people see on film is what we coach. And God bless Frank Broyles.”
Hating on Texas Football
The former Tampa Bay, Oakland and Las Vegas coach still knows how to play to a crowd. Broyles is royalty in the Natural State. And the Longhorns? Well, around Razorbacks Country, they’re a disgrace. Gruden coached former Texas quarterback Chris Simms for a stint with the Buccaneers. Texas was years from getting admitted into the SEC when Simms was in Austin, but a Longhorn is a Longhorn, as the phrase goes. A clip was played of Simms struggling to make a play-call for Gruden and Co. when he was in the NFL.
Then Gruden delighted the crowd by connecting Simms’ struggles and Texas’ of late – “Now you see why the University of Texas is having so many problems with their football team. Just sarcastic there, but [still],” he said.
Last year, Arkansas beat the Longhorns fairly handily in the second game of the season. It confirmed to Texas football fans that despite having a new coach, the Longhorns were not “back” as they forever feel they are on the cusp of being (whatever in the world “back” means; they’ve been about the same as Arkansas for the better part of the last decade).
Some of the Simms-and-Gruden rough stuff dates back from those days, though some is from October when Simms, now an NBC Sports analyst, said outright Gruden was “stupid” for doing what he did regarding the emails.
“The first thing that I just want to say is I just can’t believe how stupid he is,” Simms said. “I really can’t. I’m just shocked. Let alone, of course, some of the evil thoughts of it.”
Simms went on, sentences later, to say Gruden is intelligent, even suggesting the coach was one of the smartest minds in the sport. The caveat was that he meant on-the-field. It came up again last week when Gruden was in the news for leaving Las Vegas when Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady appeared like they, perhaps, wanted to play for the Raiders.
“He (Gruden) wasn’t going to have excuses to get out of that one, in case things didn’t work,” Simms said. “He couldn’t blame Tom Brady if the offense didn’t work. He would lose control a little bit, too, because Brady was going to be able to talk to (Raiders owner) Mark Davis.”
No, Gruden didn’t stick in Vegas. He wasn’t coming to Arkansas. But because of his flirtation and the seemingly leave-while-ahead status Gruden’s carried, and if what Simms said is even half-true, Gruden can keep his unofficial mantle as One Of The Most Brilliant Football Minds. And even now, after watching him work the crowd in Little Rock, after hearing him bless the name of Frank Broyles and half-besmirch that of Chris Simms, Arkansas fans will largely agree with that designation.
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…