NFC West: Jon Gruden

Jim HarbaughChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has reached the NFC title game in each of his three seasons, so why would the 49ers look elsewhere?

Coach Jim Harbaugh's situation in San Francisco has been one of the most talked-about stories in the league in recent weeks.

If a resolution on his contract isn't reached, it will likely hover over the franchise all season and would be a major story next January, when Harbaugh could leave the team, although Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated this week he is happy with all aspects of his job and doesn’t see any way he will leave the team before the end of his contract. Still, getting the contract done would ease a lot of issues.

We all know the backdrop: Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC title game in all three of his seasons as coach. He got them to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. He is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract that pays him $5 million per year. Harbaugh and the 49ers have been in discussion about a new deal for about a year, but are not close to an extension. Team owner Jed York recently told the Sacramento Bee he thinks contract talks will resume after the NFL draft in early May.

Things got interesting when the Cleveland Browns pursued a trade for Harbaugh. The 49ers were not interested, but that could change next year.

There have been rampant reports that Harbaugh has had trouble with some in the 49ers' front office, including general manager Trent Baalke. York, Harbaugh and Baalke have long downplayed the friction, indicating that they can coexist.

However, there is enough smoke here to think this situation go could south if a contract isn't agreed upon this year. Let's look at some issues that may be part of this story as it further develops:

The history: While it would be stunning to see the 49ers-Harbaugh marriage disintegrate after such a stellar start, similar breakups have happened before.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Ron HeflinJim Harbaugh would not be the first successful coach to leave during a team's prime. Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys after winning two Super Bowls because of fighting with owner Jerry Jones.
After winning two straight Super Bowls, Jimmy Johnson famously left the Cowboys in 1994 after fighting with owner Jerry Jones. Following the 1998 season, Mike Holmgren shocked the NFL when he left quarterback Brett Favre and a Green Bay Packers team in its prime after a seven-year run that included a Super Bowl win. Holmgren left for more power and much more money in Seattle. In 2002, the Raiders traded coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay for a massive amount of draft picks. The Raiders were burned as Gruden led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win against Oakland in his first season. In 2007, the Chargers sided with general manager A.J. Smith in his feud with coach Marty Schottenheimer even though the Chargers went 14-2 the season before.

If Harbaugh leaves the 49ers, it wouldn't be the first time a coach and team split despite success.

The highest-paid coaches: Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated he is not unhappy with his pay, but the man is underpaid considering his massive NFL success. Nine of the 32 NFL coaches in 2013 made at least $7 million. Only five of them had won a Super Bowl.

I'd think it has to bother Harbaugh that Chip Kelly earned $6.5 million in his first NFL season and NFC West rival Jeff Fisher made $7 million in St. Louis. Coaches' salaries are at a premium and, by NFL standards, Harbaugh is underpaid.

The best coaches without power: He is hypercompetitive and likes to be in control. So, Harbaugh probably isn't always thrilled to defer personnel decisions to Baalke. But I don't sense Harbaugh wanting to be the general manager and making every decision as he said. He is a coach.

I don't see this as a deal-breaker.

There are plenty of great NFL coaches who don't have total power, including Harbaugh's brother, John, in Baltimore. There's also Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Pete Carroll in Seattle. So, a lack of total power in the NFL really isn't a big deal anymore for coaches.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkWould Stanford coach David Shaw be a candidate to follow Jim Harbaugh again?
Where could Harbaugh land? Harbaugh's situation could cause teams to adjust their plans late in the season. I could see many owners prematurely firing a coach to get a shot at Harbaugh if he goes into January unsigned.

But right now, the list of teams that may be making a change next year and may make sense for Harbaugh isn't very long.

Miami and Dallas would be among the biggest suitors. Miami tried to hire Harbaugh before he went to San Francisco. The team has deep pockets, a need for good public relations, and the Dolphins have a good young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Dallas has big bucks and Tony Romo. Harbaugh could like both places.

Other possibilities could include both New York teams and Atlanta (coaching Matt Ryan would surely be intriguing). A potential long shot could be Oakland. Harbaugh was an assistant in Oakland and he could stay in the Bay Area. But the Raiders have to find a quarterback and ownership would have to be willing to shell out financially to make it work. Plus, the 49ers would need to get a haul from the Raiders to trade him to their Bay Area rival.

If I had to give odds on the early favorite, I'd look toward Miami.

Who could replace Harbaugh? It's only logical to think that San Francisco ownership, in the back of its mind, is thinking post-Harbaugh just in case.

The chance of getting draft picks for a coach the 49ers can't come to an agreement with could interest the team next offseason. Also, the idea of front-office peace could be at the forefront as well, especially if things go haywire the rest of this year.

The first place the 49ers would likely look to replace Harbaugh is on the current staff. Because the team has been so successful, I could see the 49ers having interest in staying close to home. Offensive and defensive coordinators Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, respectively, would likely be on the 49ers' list. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is a favorite of the front office. He was a candidate when Harbaugh was hired and his players love him.

Here's another name the 49ers could look at -- David Shaw. He replaced Harbaugh at Stanford. I'm sure he wouldn't be afraid to do it again.

Shaw has been steadfast in his desire to stay at Stanford. But if he were ever to leave for the NFL, this would likely be an appealing situation. He and his family could stay in their house and he'd go to a near perfect NFL situation with a franchise quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.

There is plenty to unfold in this situation in the next several months. Harbaugh and the 49ers could end it all by coming to a contract extension. But as we have realized early this offseason, it's not that simple.
Candlestick Park StadiumHoberman Collection/UIG/Getty ImagesOn Monday night, San Francisco 49ers fans will empty out of Candlestick Park for likely the final time.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The odds are strong that Monday night will see the final game at Candlestick Park when the San Francisco 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons.

Barring a complete breakdown by first-place Seattle, the best the 49ers can do as a playoff seed is No. 5. In that scenario, the only way there could be another game at Candlestick – the 49ers move to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2014 – is if they host the No. 6 seed in the NFC Championship Game.

Don’t count on it. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since 1990, a No. 5 seed has never hosted the No. 6 seed in a title game. So prepare to say goodbye to Candlestick on Monday night.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some remembrances of the historic but uncomfortable hunk of cement by the bay, as compiled by ESPN:

[+] EnlargeChris Berman
ESPNChris Berman reported from the field after "The Catch" game in 1982 at Candlestick Park.
“It was not the greatest-played game, but you couldn't have had more exciting a game. … The ball looks like it’s going into the stands and Dwight Clark leapt like a basketball player, made the catch. But the game wasn’t over. There was still a minute to go almost. … It caught even the city by surprise. It was fresh and it was fun, and who knew what they were building at the time. The whole thing sends shivers down my spine, that I was fortunate enough to be there and see it. It’s an iconic game in pro football history, let alone Candlestick. That’s what Candlestick will be remembered for more than anything else: that play, that game, even though there were some unbelievably great games, all the playoff games the 49ers have had there.”

-- ESPN's Chris Berman, who covered “The Catch” from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game

“I have a plethora of memories, phenomenal memories of championship games won and lost, Monday night games, big games, December games, games that decided the home-field advantage almost every year it seemed like. The locker room dripping down from condensation. The high tide would come in and you’d get that smell on the field, really soggy when it started to rain. The infield, when the Giants were playing there, with crushed rock, you’d get skinned up all through September and early October. The wind, obviously, early in the season, was always a factor. The stadium needs to close. She’s gone as far as she can go, it needs to be done. But for me, obviously it’s hard to see her go, it’s hard to see it end, and I’ll always miss playing at Candlestick Park. I missed it the second I left the 49ers, and I still miss being in that park. It will be fun to be there Monday night and see the last game.”

-- ESPN NFL analyst and Hall of Fame 49ers quarterback Steve Young

“When the 49ers beat the Giants on 'Monday Night Football' at Candlestick in 1990, I had this old, beat-up car, a Delta ’88. I bought it for $500. It was the worst car you’ve ever seen. The players all made fun of me. They called me ‘Uncle Buck.’ This Giants game is huge, and before we leave for the stadium from the team hotel Charles Haley says to me, ‘I need to ride over with you in that car to the stadium. I’ve got to get in the right state of mind.’ I told him my car might not make it – it was that bad a car. He insisted on riding with me. So he didn’t take the team bus. It’s the biggest game in my life, and my car’s going to break down on the way to the stadium. I don’t have a parking pass or anything. So Haley is out the window yelling at security to let us in. I am a nervous wreck. I think Mike Holmgren and George Seifert are going to fire me – my coaching career is over. Even when we got to the stadium, I was scared to go in the locker room. Fortunately, we won 7-3 and Haley played his tail off.”

-- ESPN MNF analyst and Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden, who started his NFL coaching career as a 49ers assistant in 1990

[+] EnlargeSteve Young
George Rose/Getty Images"I'll always miss playing at Candlestick Park," Steve Young said. "I missed it the second I left the 49ers."
“My first NFL start was at Candlestick against Steve Young’s 1994 49ers team -- and I was pathetic. But it was going home to the Bay Area, close to where I grew up, buying 75 tickets for family and friends. At the time, you try not to get caught up in the nostalgia, the history and who you are playing because they were just awesome. Though I didn’t play well, it’s still a great memory that I was able to have my first NFL start there.”

-- ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, a Northern California native and resident who played his first NFL game with Tampa Bay at Candlestick in 1994

“I remember going onto the field at Candlestick and warming up. I would go to every corner of the field and throw the football because the wind was different in every area of the stadium. You think it would go right, and it would go left. Some areas you think it would knock the ball down, it would take the ball up. You wanted to know what the wind was going to do to the football, and I always felt that was to the quarterback’s advantage, knowing the wind current in Candlestick Park.”

--ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski, who played at Candlestick as a member of the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles

“The Eagles played the 49ers the last game in the final week of the 1993 season on 'Monday Night Football.' So we play the game and it ends up tied. They played a full 15 minutes of overtime, and with four seconds left Philadelphia was going to try a field goal. The kicker hooks it. He’s going to miss the field goal but the defender came in and roughed the kicker. So the game is over, the overtime period is over, but with a foul on the last play of a period, you extend the period. The Eagles re-kicked and won the game 37-34. It was the longest regular-season game in NFL history -- a full game, a full overtime, plus one play.”

--MNF rules consultant and former NFL official Gerry Austin, who refereed the longest regular-season game in NFL history at Candlestick on Jan. 3, 1994

Video: Gruden, Tirico check in from 'MNF'

November, 19, 2012

ESPN's Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico have been camped out in the San Francisco Bay Area advancing the 49ers' appearance on "Monday Night Football" in Week 11.

They offer their thoughts in the accompanying video.

Gruden focuses on both teams' defenses.

Meanwhile, Tirico's podcast also previews the game. He speaks with Gruden, Merrill Hoge and Robbie Gould.

Sizing up Russell Wilson with Jon Gruden

September, 3, 2012

The final teams to name starting quarterbacks for the 2012 NFL season went to extremes in doing so.

The Arizona Cardinals went with the 6-foot-6 John Skelton. No current starter is taller.

The Seattle Seahawks went with the 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson. No current starter is shorter.

Quarterback height probably isn't going to decide the Seahawks-Cardinals matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 1.

But as ESPN's Jon Gruden pointed out in the "2012 QB Camp" pre-draft installment above, Wilson's stature serves as a convenient explanation for any on-field failures Wilson might suffer. Wilson's height will be an issue until he proves it's not one.

The chart, provided by Jon Kramer of ESPN Stats & Information, breaks down starters by height. The listings reflect rounded heights in some cases. Wilson, for example, stands 5-10 and 5/8 inches. Drew Brees and Michael Vick are both 6 feet tall. They join Wilson as the only starters shorter than 6-2.

Gruden, speaking recently during a "Monday Night Football" media conference call, offered additional thoughts Wilson:
"I think the surprising thing that goes along with Russell Wilson being a starter, is they went out and gave Matt Flynn a big contract, where some people probably felt Flynn was the guaranteed starter, given the money he was given. But if you look at the body of work, what Russell Wilson did in college and what Matt Flynn did in college, it's to me not even close.

"I haven't met anybody who has been a team captain at quarterback on two major college teams in backtoback seasons and taken their teams to Bowl games. When Russell Wilson walks in the room, you feel his presence. He has an incredible vibe about him that's outstanding for an offensive football team and a team. And I think he can play it.

"The only downside to this kid is he's just not tall in some people's eyes, and I'm just happy that he's proved the critics wrong so far and I'm pulling for him. I really like this guy."

Convention says Wilson will struggle because he's a rookie, perhaps even imperiling Pete Carroll's coaching tenure following consecutive 7-9 seasons. Others think Wilson can put Seattle over the top in the division.

We can say this pretty safely: Wilson enters the 2012 season as the most pivotal unproven player in the NFC West.

Gruden QB Camp: Brandon Weeden's turn

April, 18, 2012

NFL teams covet players whose passion for the game makes them put football first.

Brandon Weeden, one of the top quarterbacks in the 2012 NFL draft, put baseball first -- for good reason. The New York Yankees made him a second-round pick in 2002, in part because Weeden, a shortstop-turned-pitcher, could throw a baseball in the 90s consistently (as in 90-plus miles per hour, as opposed to the 1990s).

Now 28, Weeden continually faces questions about his age, a subject ESPN's Jon Gruden raised during his latest conversation with a top quarterback prospect. That video is available above and is the latest installment in a series that has already covered quite a few college prospects at the position.

Mel Kiper jr. sent Weeden to Cleveland at No. 37 in a recent mock draft Insider. Todd McShay agreed Insider, as did Pat Kirwan of Which can only mean the Browns will not take Weeden. Kidding. Unless I'm right.

One dissenting opinion: Rob Rang has Weeden going to Miami at No. 42, with the Browns taking Ryan Tannehill fourth.

Former Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler says he's hoping to leave a "very respectful, cherished, loving legacy" during his time here on Planet Earth.

The tattoo on his right arm reminds him of this.

"Leave your legacy," it says.

Osweiler's left arm is less relevant to whatever success he enjoys in the NFL -- or in any English classes he might have taken as a political science major at Arizona State.

"Live life to it's fullest," reads the tattoo on that arm, complete with the unwelcome apostrophe.

Osweiler, speaking to ESPN's Jon Gruden in the continuing "QB Camp" draft series, says that tattoo dates to his high school days.

Perhaps most impressively, Osweiler has enough room on his long arms to fit those sentences, additional punctuation and all. At Gruden's prompting, Osweiler addressed the positives and negatives associated with his 6-foot-7 height and with his length overall.

The point Gruden made about taller quarterbacks -- how they use their eyes to mask their intentions becomes critical because defenders can see them easier -- stood out. Osweiler is two inches taller than any NFC West quarterback. Arizona's John Skelton and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick are both 6-5.

The last time we considered Osweiler, he was at the combine and recovering from a foot injury. The Seattle Seahawks were looking for a quarterback, a search that led them to Matt Flynn in free agency. Osweiler subsequently worked out for scouts.

Analysts are projecting Osweiler for the second round or later.

I'm having a tougher time envisioning an NFC West team drafting him in that range now that Flynn is a starting candidate for Seattle. The Cardinals do not have a second-round choice, and they appear mostly set for 2012 with Kevin Kolb and Skelton. The San Francisco 49ers are set at quarterback for this season. The St. Louis Rams could use a veteran backup more than they could use a developmental player at the position.

Gruden's QB Camp: 'Spider 3 Y banana'

March, 30, 2012

NFC West teams do not face the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, meaning presumed No. 1 overall draft choice Andrew Luck will not be on the schedule in this division.

I thought Luck's interview with ESPN's Jon Gruden was interesting anyway. Luck seemed comfortable talking football and laughing at his mistakes, including that memorable interception he threw during Stanford's game against USC.

The "Spider 3 Y banana" reference refers to a staple play from Stanford's offense, one featuring the fullback as the No. 1 option. Turns out Luck should have thrown to the fullback in that USC game.
There are good reasons relatively few prominent NFL players transition into coaching.

Salaries are much lower for coaches, especially at the entry level. Hours are much longer. There is very little glory compared to the rush players experience routinely on the field.

Any highly-paid player making the transition probably loves the work.

Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Bobby Engram comes to mind. He's joining the Pitt staff as receivers coach after spending 2011 as an offensive quality control coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

Quality control coaches often do the dirty work, including recording detailed play-by-play information for use with video systems. It is tedious work. Hours are long. Salaries are far lower than what other assistants earn. But as Jon Gruden, Steve Spagnuolo and others have proven, starting out at the bottom can result in getting the top job eventually.

Engram, 39, grew up in South Carolina and played at Penn State. He's obviously serious about coaching.

Playing for Joe Paterno in college and Mike Holmgren in the NFL gave Engram a strong coaching pedigree during his playing days. Working under Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers added more seasoning.

Engram will work under Paul Chryst at Pitt. Chryst's brother, Geep, is the 49ers' quarterbacks coach.
While the St. Louis Rams wait for Jeff Fisher, the team is lining up interviews with additional candidates.

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals and brother to Jon, is apparently on the interview schedule for Thursday, Bernie Miklasz notes. Denver Broncos assistant Dennis Allen is also interviewing.

This could be a case of the Rams simply doing their diligence. It could also indicate the Rams feel as though Fisher is slipping away. Or, they simply do not know what to think.

The father-son relationship between Fisher's agent, Marvin Demoff, and Rams executive Kevin Demoff hardly guarantees Fisher will land in St. Louis. It's reasonable to think that relationship would help the Rams have an accurate feel for Fisher's intentions, however.

If the Rams were confident in landing Fisher, they would have less reason to speak with other candidates -- particularly coordinators, who could not join the organization in any capacity other than as head coaches.

There's a danger in overthinking what still could be a straightforward situation. The longer Fisher takes to decide, however, the more our minds wander.

We know Fisher is the Rams' top choice. The team has said so. Landing a secondary candidate would feel like settling.

The irony, in my view, is that even Fisher would have a hard time improving upon a Steve Spagnuolo-Josh McDaniels pairing purely from a scheme standpoint. What kind of staff could Gruden, Allen or the other backup candidates put together?

Around the NFC West: Pro Bowl surprises

December, 28, 2011
A single tweet from a Philadelphia reporter trumped all the others I ran across after the NFL announced its Pro Bowl teams for the 2011 season.

"I have to say this one more time before I go to bed," Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote. "49ers have more Pro Bowlers (8) than the entire NFC East (7). Not how I saw it in August."

The situation at cornerback was particularly illustrative. Carlos Rogers, a relatively cheap pickup by the San Francisco 49ers in free agency, is a Pro Bowl starter. Nnamdi Asomugha, the Philadelphia Eagles' prized offseason acquisition, is only a second alternate -- behind first-alternate Brandon Browner, a player the Seattle Seahawks signed from the CFL amid zero fanfare.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle provides perspective by noting that the 2011 49ers tied a franchise record with six Pro Bowl starters. Branch: "They also had six starters in 1971. San Francisco and New England, which also had eight players selected, have the most Pro Bowlers of any NFL team this season and the Niners' eight Pro Bowlers are their most since they had 10 in 1995."

Matt Maiocco of passes along reaction from 49ers players following their selection to the Pro Bowl.

Also from Maiocco: player-by-player review for the 49ers' defensive players from Week 16.

More from Maiocco: a look at the offensive players.

Clare Farnsworth of says Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and the team's other Pro Bowl selections/alternates earned their standing on the strength of votes from coaches and players. Coach Pete Carroll on Chancellor and Browner: "As first-time starters, the fans wouldn’t really know them. But their peers have recognized the impact that they’ve had."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes a closer look at the range where the Seahawks figure to draft in the first round.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle passes along Carroll's thoughts on what Tarvaris Jackson could do better late in games. Henderson: "Specifically, Carroll pointed to a third-and-2 play on the final possession in which Jackson threw incomplete deep down the middle of the field. Carroll said throwing a check-down pass instead would have gained about 15 yards."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with the Cardinals' Pro Bowlers, including Adrian Wilson. Somers: "This is Wilson's fourth consecutive Pro Bowl selection and fifth overall. In early August, it didn't seem possible that he would play this season, much less make the Pro Bowl. Wilson suffered a torn right biceps muscle in training camp and missed the preseason. He didn't play well in the first month or so of the season, but then settled into coordinator Ray Horton's new scheme. Wilson thanked his teammates, the coaching staff and the rest of the organization for being patient while he returned from the injury."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals plan to bring back quarterback Kevin Kolb even though they could get out of his contract by declining to pay a $7 million bonus. Somers: "He's not going anywhere. The Cardinals traded away too much (cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, second-round pick in 2012) and committed to a five-year contract worth as much as $63 million. Kolb has missed six starts and most of a seventh game this season due to injury, but the Cardinals are too deep in this relationship to sever it after one year. And just as important, who takes over if Kolb is gone?" Noted: That last part is a key consideration. It's a little early to bail on such a significant investment under unusual circumstances.

Darren Urban of has this to say about John Skelton's slow starts and fast finishes: "It’s so odd, not that Skelton plays better at the end of games but that there is such a discrepancy on how much better he plays. Is it inexperience, or a lack of a full offseason of reps (since he got little as a rookie in his non-lockout offseason), as coach Ken Whisenhunt suggests? Maybe. But it’s hard to tell why Skelton suddenly gets all Brady in the final 15 minutes (yes, he is compared to Tebow, but Skelton usually is passing the ball better than Tebow late) when he can be very John Navarre before then."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Chris Long, Steven Jackson and James Laurinaitis have played well enough to receive Pro Bowl consideration. Thomas: "Laurinaitis is enjoying arguably his best NFL season, with 131 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. But only two middle linebackers per conference earn Pro Bowl berths, and San Francisco's Patrick Willis and Chicago's Brian Urlacher -- this year's NFC Pro Bowlers -- are tough competition." Noted: I hadn't considered Laurinaitis seriously given the Rams' struggles on defense, particularly against the run. The Cardinals blocked him well while springing Beanie Wells for 228 yards. Some of the other inside linebackers in the NFC West -- Daryl Washington, NaVorro Bowman and K.J. Wright -- have sometimes stood out.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on a report from San Diego suggesting Jon Gruden and A.J. Smith could come to St. Louis in leadership roles with the Rams. Miklasz: "My best guess is that the speculation is most likely originating from Los Angeles, home of off-the-books Rams adviser John Shaw, who is tight with Chargers' president/owner Dean Spanos."

Gruden and the Rams' plans for a coach

December, 27, 2011
A few thoughts on the San Diego Union-Tribune report connecting ESPN's Jon Gruden to the St. Louis Rams:
  • Gruden
    ESPN issued a statement saying Gruden remains committed to "Monday Night Football" for many years to come. Of course, people sometimes change their minds, particularly when vast sums of cash are involved. Stan Kroenke, the Rams' owner, has vast sums of cash to offer. He also has a young franchise quarterback and a power running back suited for the offense Gruden has run in the past.
  • Landing Gruden would be a great get for the Rams. Critics will correctly note that Gruden won in Tampa Bay largely with Tony Dungy's players. The bottom line, though, is that he won. Gruden also won in Oakland, something no one had done since Art Shell's run as coach there. Gruden's track record would give the Rams welcome profile in St. Louis and beyond. His offense bears similarities to the one Sam Bradford and the Rams ran in 2010, so that would help in the short term.
  • Gruden and Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president of football operations/chief operating officer, worked together in Tampa Bay from 2005-08. That gives Gruden a direct connection to the Rams' current power structure. Demoff's father, longtime agent Marvin Demoff, represents another potential coaching candidate, Jeff Fisher. There's another name to keep in mind if the Rams change coaches.
  • There is no opening in St. Louis just yet. Steve Spagnuolo's run as head coach could be ending, but no decision has been announced. Kroenke has been called "Silent Stan" because he doesn't volunteer information freely. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that those informing reporters on these matters are connecting dots more than they are relaying hard facts.
  • The Union-Tribune report suggests Chargers general manager A.J. Smith would land in the same capacity with the Rams, and that Smith would be the key to bringing Gruden to St. Louis. This paints Smith in a flattering light. It suggests the Chargers might want to think twice before letting such a power broker slip away. I am not sure what would make Smith the key to landing Gruden. Kevin Acee notes that Gruden and former Raiders/Bucs executive Bruce Allen are close friends.
  • Smith has been a polarizing figure, especially with players. Does his personality lend itself to connecting with a rightfully skeptical fan base in St. Louis? It wouldn't really matter if Gruden were head coach. Gruden would be the face of the franchise in that case. His personality would set the tone for the organization. Smith would remain in the background. His track record in personnel is mixed. The Chargers have enjoyed a run of relative success in recent seasons, but they'll be watching their former quarterback, Drew Brees, in the upcoming playoffs.
  • Acee's story mentioned Spagnuolo as a possible candidate to become defensive coordinator in Philadelphia if the Rams make a change. That makes sense on multiple levels. Spagnuolo has coached under Andy Reid previously and would, at least in theory, be a candidate to replace him at some point down the line.

That's it for now. I just finished discussing this and other NFC West matters with Bernie Miklasz on our weekly conversation via 101ESPN St. Louis. I'll post that audio in a bit.

Video: Behind the scenes with Tirico

December, 12, 2011
ESPN's Mike Tirico takes us behind the scenes for a closer look at the logistics associated with a "Monday Night Football" production.

The color-coded chart Tirico uses during games looks like something an offensive coordinator or head coach would use.

Tirico and his partners in the booth actually emerge from games with that night's broadcasts recorded onto their iPads and personal media for "film review" of their own performances. I'll be charting Jon Gruden on third down tonight.

Video: Gruden QB camp - Newton sequel

April, 17, 2011

Jon Gruden discusses NFL verbiage with the NFL prospect and puts the former Auburn star through some passing drills.
In the spirit of draft analysis, surely we can overanalyze Cam Newton's performance during this video clip from the Auburn quarterback's session with ESPN's Jon Gruden.

I'll lead off by noting that Newton pulled out a 244-202 victory in total words spoken, impressive against someone with Gruden's syllabic range. Gruden built a 162-59 word-count lead halfway through the clip, punctuated with a 65-word flurry in which the former NFL coach noted that Peyton Manning was preparing to beat Newton even as they spoke -- a harrowing thought for any rookie.

Newton kept his composure, providing answers spanning 106 and 79 words in the second half of this video. He mixed in some seemingly genuine smiles while outscoring Gruden by a 185-40 margin over final 1:16.

Overall, Newton averaged 1.58 words per second on a relatively slow track. I'd say he's ready for the NFL.


Chat wrap: Cardinals and Kevin Kolb

December, 30, 2010
As usual, we solved every problem for every NFC West team in the latest chat. Transcript here. Highlights below:
Derrik (AZ): The more I think Coach Whiz will be under the gun next year due to a drop off in fan support here in the Valley, I really believe he can convince the owners to go aggressive after Kevin Kolb. Coach will not want his future tied to an unproven QB draft pick with a washed-up backup behind him. Now, I hope he can convince Andy Reid that their high second-round pick with other lower pick or picks will be enough, because the Cards really need to keep their high No. 1 pick this year to fill a huge hole at OLB or tackle. Thanks.

Mike Sando: If I'm the Eagles, I'm holding out for a first-round pick on Kevin Kolb. Michael Vick has worn down physically in recent weeks because he has taken quite a bit of punishment. Can he hold up as a 16-game starter? The Eagles would be in strong position next season with both players. If they can get a first-rounder for Kolb, great, go for it. But I see no reason for them to sell Kolb at a discount. You are probably right about the drop-off in fan support looming in 2011. We'll see if they can keep that non-blackout streak alive.

nwdave (Tacoma): Considering the way the Seahawks' season is wrapping up, would you consider the first year of the Schneider/Carroll regime a step forward, a step back, or a punt? They made so many roster changes it seems like we didn't really improve at all. Is that just the product of instituting a new scheme and adjusting the personnel accordingly?

Mike Sando: They started over in a lot of ways. This season was a step forward when they were 4-2 and showing signs of improvement. I think they lost whatever ground they gained in the second half of the season, but along the way they also gained knowledge that will help them formulate plans for 2011 and beyond. Ultimately, this season feels like a step backward because of how the team is finishing and because the quarterback situation remains the same.

MyrtleBeach49erFan (Myrtle Beach, S.C.): Mike, how do you see the fans reacting when we promote Trent to GM, and end up with a no-name coach? Adam Schefter says Harbaugh will not end up in SF. Also hear that Gruden is not an option. How do the Niners parade out Jed York telling us fans that big chages are coming, when there seems to be no real change coming. What is wrong with this team? Thanks, and Go Rams...would love to see them do some damage in the playoffs. (this from a Niner Fan)

Mike Sando: The fan base will react negatively if that happens. We need to see to what extent Jed York preserves his own comfort at the possible expense of organizational advancement, whether or not he's aware of the trade-off. I think Jed York has the best interests of the 49ers at heart, but I also know he has not demonstrated an ability to run a franchise well to this point.

Blake (LA): Huge Rams fan here, and I hope they win the division next year. I looked at their schedule though and it is not going to help them at all. It was one of the toughest schedules I've seen in awhile. I do not remember exactly who they play but it was mostly top tier teams. What are your thoughts on it? Thanks for the chat!!

Mike Sando: It's a little early to read too much into the upcoming schedules, Blake. The 2010 schedule was supposed to serve up softies like Kansas City, Detroit and Tampa Bay. The Rams lost to all three, but they beat projected division winners San Diego and San Francisco.

Back in a bit.