Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Playoffs 2002 [Print without images]

Thursday, January 16, 2003
Updated: March 31, 11:13 AM ET
Gruden and Reid have come a long way

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Success didn't spoil Andy Reid and Jon Gruden. It only made them work harder.

That work ethic blossomed under the direction of Mike Holmgren, who hired Reid and Gruden onto his original Green Bay Packers staff in 1992. Holmgren took the West Coast offense to Green Bay and used it to develop Brett Favre into the game's best quarterback.

The combination of the offensive scheme and Favre's arm and competitiveness made the Packers a laboratory for offensive minds. Holmgren had the best and the brightest, and he had the quarterback who could get it done. It was a special time and place, and Reid and Gruden made the best of it.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid must learn to change his philosophy.
"Andy coached the tight ends and Jon was the quality control coach," said Lions offensive coordinator Sherm Lewis, who was Holmgren's offensive coordinator at the time. "Both were creative guys. I remember that they both wrote down everything, and I mean everything, when we would have our meetings. They didn't leave anything for chance."

The two worked together until 1994, at which time Gruden stunned the football world when Ray Rhodes hired him to be the Eagles' offensive coordinator at the age of 31. He stayed in Philly for three seasons before heading to Oakland at the age of 33. Reid stayed in Green Bay until 1998, when he left to become head coach of the Eagles at the age of 40.

What they shared was a tireless work schedule. For hours, Reid and Gruden sat in offices and pondered different offensive plays. It's not that much different from this week. Gruden gets to his office before 5 a.m. and stays late. Reid still sleeps in his office three nights a week.

Who knows how different their schedules would have been had computer and digital video technology been as developed in the early 1990s as it is now. Plays can now be designed and executed on a Powerpoint program. Even as head coach of the Raiders, Gruden loved arriving at the office early and cutting up tape for his players and coaches. He even spliced together special clips for owner Al Davis.

"Jon was the quality control coach for us in Green Bay, so he was the one who always broke down the tape for us," Lewis said. "They were the early birds. They both tried to better each other in the work that they did. They'd get to the office before 6. Mike Holmgren would come in a little before 8. They'd stay there until maybe about 11 p.m."

There was a method to their work madness. Their goal was to find plays that could be submitted to Holmgren for approval.

"These guys were hungry for information and knowledge, and they were very creative," Lewis said. "Working with the tight ends, Andy had knowledge of the blocking schemes. Gruden broke down the film, so he had the trends. Both designed a lot of plays involving motion to create problems for the defense. Jon loves shifting in games. He loves moving in and out of formations near the goal line. Andy does similar things."

Often, they'd compare notes, but their competitive natures always had them trying to top each other, to put the best play in front of Holmgren. It was fun. The creative energy made the Packers a better offense. The education made them better coaches.

"We were very ambitious," Gruden said. "I think most coaches, particularly young coaches, who get in the NFL and get a break, get an opportunity, are very ambitious. We used to try to out-work each other and get a play in front of Mike Holmgren that he would approve and he would put in a game plan. When it got called and it worked, we were like peacocks. Our wings were spread pretty good.

"We competed with each other in some ways for approval by Mike Holmgren. He was a fantastic coach that really set the standards for us, but Andy Reid you knew from day one was a great football coach. He had an unbelievable work ethic and had unbelievable aptitude really, in terms of pass protection, running plays and schemes. He understood the passing game. I've always been impressed with him, and it goes way back."

Reid offers nothing but praise for Gruden, too.

"Jon is a very hard worker," Reid said. "He loves his work. There are not a lot of things outside of football that he spends his time on. He enjoys the game."

Their successes can't be questioned. Each has won 34 games over the past three years, tied for the best in the league. Reid won NFL Coach of the Year this season because his schemes worked whether Donovan McNabb or third-stringer A.J. Feeley was playing quarterback. Gruden parlayed two playoff seasons in Oakland into one of the biggest coaching trades in NFL history.

The Buccaneers surrendered two first-round draft picks, two second-rounders and $8 million to the Raiders in exchange for Gruden.

Yet neither of the ex-Packer assistants can forget his roots. They are office-dwellers who can't delegate the main responsibilities of trying to create the right plays. Gruden laughs about his days in Veterans Stadium. This week, he joked about the strange animals he'd find around the office in the early morning hours, about the little feet he heard running around the old, broken-down stadium.

We were very ambitious. I think most coaches, particularly young coaches, who get in the NFL and get a break, get an opportunity, are very ambitious. We used to try to out-work each other and get a play in front of Mike Holmgren that he would approve and he would put in a game plan. When it got called and it worked, we were like peacocks.
Jon Gruden, on coaching in Green Bay with Andy Reid

The only difference now from his Eagles and Packers days is that he's the boss of the office in Tampa. He and his staff virtually live in One Buc Place.

"We've lived here for quite some time," Gruden said. "We're exploding, we're busting out of One Buc Place here. We've been here a lot, but at the same time it's been the best time of our lives. We've had a blast."

Though their styles are similar as far as work ethic, Reid and Gruden's paths have gone different directions when it comes to strategy. Each has taken the West Coast offense to a different place.

Three years ago in Oakland, Gruden's Raiders led the league in rushing. He built running packages using four or five different backs. And he has exceeded Reid in the number of motion packages used.

Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil marvels at some of Gruden's schemes. Over the years, he has watched Gruden bunch receivers and tight ends close to the line of scrimmage and have them flood the middle of the field, only to bunch them similarly on the next play but to send them outside the numbers. Self-scouting by Gruden and his staff makes it difficult for teams to figure out tendencies.

And Gruden can always design something different during the week. After all, there are 24 hours in a day, and he works most of them.

Reid, because of his background coaching offensive lines and tight ends, is more expansive in protection packages and run-blocking. Though he has to be convinced to call two consecutive running plays, he loves big, tough offensive linemen who have attitude. Signing right tackle Jon Runyan from the Titans might have been his second best move, after the drafting of McNabb.

Runyan brought a mean, nasty attitude that carried over to Tra Thomas and the rest of the linemen.

Reid and Gruden are coaches' coaches. They love their jobs. They don't mind the time sacrifice. It brought them together in Green Bay to start their careers, and it has brought then together again in the NFC title game.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.