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Jay Gruden: The Other Brother

Jay Gruden: The new man with the new approach.  

Had it been a public vote, he would have crushed his predecessor without the need for corny slogans like these.  The mere fact that he operates with a different brain than the one we've seen in action for the past decade is all Gruden would have required to appease most of the fan base.  Plus, because of his famous sibling, like a horror-film title, he is currently known as Chucky's Brother and that's just funny to me.  Imagine a little murderous puppet patrolling the sideline and scaring the hell out of everyone -- sounds like John Calipari actually.  

Yet, Gruden isn't (presumably) murderous, or a puppet, or even all that little.  He also isn't well known to most folks; only the association of his brother keeps him from being completely random.  Still, he has paid his dues in the coaching ranks, including working with his brother in Tampa, then winning championships in the Arena Football League, followed by his last stint in the United Football League with Odell Thurman's team, the Florida Tuskers.  In a way, he exists professionally within the rich tradition of the Bill Walsh coaching tree, stemmed from the branch of Jon Gruden who in Green Bay worked with Mike Holmgren who in San Francisco worked with Bill Walsh.  Jay Gruden has already used the words "west-coast offense"when describing his offensive philosophy, and that comes as music to my ears.

I was dubious of the hire at first.  I hadn't heard of the man, and the whole thing conjured up those horrifying memories of the Dave Shula years.  Like Shula and Gruden, Mike Brown is also the relative of a football great, and bringing in "legacy kids" such as these, made this most recent move more about Brown than about the team.  But after researching his career and listening to other legitimate football minds compliment him and his style, I'm now convinced that Gruden would have been hired by some NFL team very soon had Brown not inked him into the coordinators booth first.  His past indicates success everywhere he's been and it's nearly impossible not to label him as a bright, young, passionate guy who has surrounded himself with proven men along the way.  This hire is more than just giving some obscure family member of a more noteworthy coach a chance at the big time.  In short, he deserves this job for what he's done on his own accord and not because of his last name.

As for the job itself, it's a doozy.  The more important veterans to this Bengals offense are mightily unhappy, and totally fed up with the losing and disappointment.  In one corner of this dark dystopia you have the face-of-the-franchise quarterback remaining invisible somewhere in California and only sending out smoke signals that spell out trade demands and threats of retirement.

In another corner, exists two high-profile motormouth receivers that were key participants in the failed experiment of 2010.  The bigger one is free to test the market and has not looked back in the Bengals' direction since being relieved of his contract after Week 17.  He has given no indication that he intends to return to wearing stripes.  The smaller one is shackled in Cincinnati for one more season and on some days voices his displeasure with the only franchise he's ever known and on other days sounds supportive of his team and its appointed leadership -- an enigma wrapped in a conundrum if there ever was such a thing.  

Then, in a third area of gray uncertainty sits a feature-back who has not hesitated to softly expound on the problems of the Bengals offense.  He's been cooperative in his daily routine with the team, even though for the most part of 2010, he strongly disagreed with the approach taken by his former coordinator.  Despite his dissent, he went about his business like a professional, recognizing his place within the organization's hierarchy and biding his time for his release.  He is now officially a free agent but has been complimentary toward the developments of making Gruden the new offensive boss, and may be reconsidering fleeing the team that resuscitated his career three years ago.

Alas, even if all these aged footballers decide to collectively desert the team that has struggled for what seems like eons to gain a foothold among the league's elite, there remains a healthy stockpile of usable young talent to build a new machine from scratch.  What is most encouraging to hear from and about the new OC, is that he is unafraid to use multiple personnel packages that gets all of his players involved.  What doomed the previous play-caller was his insistence to force the ball to the proven veterans.  From the sound of it, Gruden intends to hold each player accountable and throw them into the fire to see what they've got.  There are far too many unique skill-sets on this team to ignore and keep dormant, and finally, the Bengals have employed a man who claims to see things that way as well.

While there are still plenty of organizational oddities that remain in place within the Cincinnati Bengals, hiring Jay Gruden seems like a sensible move that should generate grains of hope and excitement to the dwindling fan base which has endured spoonfuls of misery in the past year.  Gruden shares an intensity with his brother, albeit a more subdued version, and hopefully also an infectious enthusiasm that forces his players to rethink the game of football.  He has talked about committing to a scheme that emphasizes simplicity yet flexibility in its ability to use a plethora of players at its disposal.  The words "west-coast offense" suggests a series of short passes mixed in with a heavy dose of runs that encourage sustained drives, clock usage, and field-position advantages inherent to its essence.  No longer should Bengal fans need to murmur quick prayers that the ball in the air should land in the receiver's hands on the overused deep pass.  Now it's up to the players to get the ball quickly and make plays on their own terms rather than wait around for any kind of twisted divine intervention to take place.

Of course, Gruden may not be the savior we are all so eager to label him as.  He still must work within the backward confines of Paul Brown Stadium and listen to the man on top who remains convinced he has this running-a-football-team thing well in hand.  More than perhaps any other opening in the league, this job opportunity comes with significant hurdles and traps and is not cut out for the weak-of-heart nor the go-it-alone commando type of coaches.  Gruden must learn to tell his players no and his boss yes.  Failure to do this will either result in a player-revolt or a jaded owner, each equally harmful to a coach's career.  It's a tricky tight-rope walk to manage one's ego and aspirations to win without rocking the boat in the process.  Mike Brown doesn't need Gruden to win.  He just needs him to be good enough to convince the season-ticket holders that a healthy change of philosophy is well underway.  That by hiring Gruden, Brown is really "doing something about it".  

You and I, however, need Gruden to win.  We're beyond the smoke-screen of remaining competitive.  While finishing in the middle of the pack once placated our wrath enough to still tune in and really care, the human condition always demands more and better, and our patience is waning.  The right direction still remains a mystery to us who live in and around the Bengal universe.  We thought we knew, but it was all a sham.  It seems now that hiring Gruden might be a step in that direction, but, because we've been burned so many times before, we should remain steadfast in our skepticism.  I wish him the best and am encouraged by his appointment, but I'll take the wait-and-see approach until I am fully convinced.  God speed, Mr. Gruden.  I pray you know what you're in for.

Mojokong -- For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.