NFL Nation: Howard Schnellenberger


ASHBURN, Va. -- His path started out as a typical one, with Jay Gruden starring at quarterback for the University of Louisville. He left there as the Cardinals' all-time leading passer.

But there was no shot at the NFL. He's not tall, he's not strong-armed and a knee injury as a sophomore altered his game. So he wasn't drafted. And thus started quite a journey, one that started with a gig as quarterback for the Barcelona Dragons and then Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football.

After a graduate assistant's job with Louisville, he jumped to a $500-a-week gig as a quarterback in the Arena Football League for five seasons.

One of his linemen, Carl Watts, once told the St. Petersburg Times that Gruden's fearlessness as a quarterback wasn't always good (which should give him something in common with his new quarterback, Robert Griffin III).

"You know he's about to take off and scramble," Watts said. "I pick him up and say, 'Jay, you got to cut this out. We need you hanging around until the end.'"

His Louisville coach, Howard Schnellenberger, told the Times that Gruden, “Took a real physical beating with us.”

Gruden won six Arena League championships, including two as a coach. He once admitted to Dan Daly of the Washington Times that he was a little bitter that he never earned one invite to an NFL camp.

“Given the opportunity I could have at least played some preseason games or something,” he told Daly in 2003. “I think the rest of the league thought, 'If his father [a scout] doesn't want to sign him, why should we want to sign him?' But I see these other slappies who've gotten nine or 10 years in and wonder why that couldn't have been me.”

Even in that article, his brother, Jon, predicted Jay Gruden would someday be a great coach. But Jay Gruden often admitted that he was not as intense or driven as his brother. Jon Gruden would be with their father, a former director of player personnel in Tampa, while Jay Gruden said he'd be watching cartoons.

Still, he stayed on the path. He was the offensive coordinator for the Nashville Kats in 1997, then the head coach of the Orlando Predators from 1998 to 2001. He served as an offensive assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002 to '08. During that same period, after the NFL season ended he was the Predators' quarterback from 2002 to '03 and then their head coach from 2004 to '08.

"He's a hard worker," Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said. "He would commute in the middle of the night from Orlando to Tampa."

Gruden not only called the offensive plays, but also the defensive ones for the Predators. And he resisted overtures from college and NFL teams. Finally, after two years in the United Football League, first as the offensive coordinator under Jim Haslett and then a year later as the head coach of the Florida Tuskers, Gruden made the jump to the NFL. He served as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator the past three seasons.

“There's a lot at stake here,” he told the Tampa Tribune in 2011 during his first offseason with Cincinnati.

Yes, there was. And it led him to Washington.

Week 15 power rankings: NFC East

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
2:55
PM ET
Don't look now, but the Eagles moved up three more spots and are now No. 5 in the Week 15 ESPN.com Power Rankings. Philly has gone from No. 11 to No. 5 in just two weeks as they prepare for a 49ers team that's coming off a nice win over the Cardinals. Now let's take a closer look at how our esteemed panel voted:

5. Philadelphia Eagles: Paul Kuharsky of AFC South blogging fame and ESPN.com senior writer Jeff Chadiha both had the Eagles in the sixth hole but they were neutralized by Mike Sando and John "The Professor" Clayton. Kuharsky and Chadiha think the Packers should be ahead of the Eagles in the rankings.

11. Dallas Cowboys: Kuharsky apparently has immense respect for Wade Phillips because he actually had the Cowboys in ninth place after their home loss to Norv Turner's Chargers. But Sando and Chadiha voted the Cowboys 11th. Right now, the Cowboys remain ahead of both Baltimore and Miami. I think both of those teams would beat the Cowboys in head-to-head matchups right now, though. What do you think?

14. New York Giants: Only fell two spots after the loss to the Eagles at home. The panel has the Giants ranked ahead of Tom Coughlin's former team, the Jaguars. I think Jacksonville's the better team right now. John Clayton is the one panelist who stood by this team in its time of need, ranking them 12th.

26. Washington Redskins: Only moved up one spot after the win over the Raiders. Sando rewarded Jim Zorn with a No. 22 ranking, but Kuharsky torpedoed the Skins with a No. 27 ranking. The Skins' PR department is reaching out to "assist" Kuharsky as we speak.

The overall ranking for the Beast: 13.4. And, yes, folks, the NFC East once again rules the power rankings. The Beast surpassed the pesky AFC South (13.5) and is racing away from the NFC North (15.8). John Clayton's average of 12.5 for the NFC East teams did the trick. Chadiha almost blew it with his 14.25. Sando had the AFC South and NFC East tied at 13 and Kuharsky stayed true to his blogging gig, giving the AFC South a sweet 13.25 ranking.

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