The Real Football Network is escaping to the Margaritaville state of mind to introduce a new edition of the Coconut Podcast called Margaritaville Football. As Jimmy Buffett’s tour traveled across the country this year, production coordinator Heikki Larsen sat down with football personalities to talk sports, music, living the Margaritaville lifestyle and more. Heikki’s first guest in the series is none other than former Super Bowl champion coach and current ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. The encounter, and events leading up to the interview, are best told by Heikki himself…
A few years ago I landed at the Tampa airport to start a spring leg of the Jimmy Buffett tour. Making my way through the terminal towards ground transportation I notice the person walking next to me was Jon Gruden. I told myself to shut up and keep moving, enjoy the moment of walking beside a Super Bowl-winning coach. The coach we all lovingly call Chucky.
Watching him from the corner of my eye I could see he was walking with a strut, kind of like John Wayne carrying a garment bag. Looking more closely I could see Coach Gruden wasn’t carrying the bag, it was Chucky. That famous snarl was present and I immediately shied away from saying anything. The next day during load in of the concert the promoter walked up smiling and said, “You know who is going to be at the show today? Jon Gruden!”
It was at that time I knew I had to speak with Coach Gruden one day about what brings him to Margaritaville. Thanks to Pat Kirwan (Sirius XM NFL Radio guru and Real Football Network Analyst) I got the chance a few months ago and found myself on the doorstep of the Fired Football Coaches Association in Tampa, FL at 7:50 a.m. knocking on the door. It took a minute or two but the door slowly opened and there was Coach Gruden with a cup of coffee in his hand wearing an FFCA visor.
I was nervous as he showed me around the offices. Football books, dry erase boards and desks were strategically placed as if it was a building for college professors to share experiments and theories. It was like Albert Einstein had left quantum physics for football. The last part of the tour brought me to where he was when I knocked, the film room. All the lights were off walking down the hallway that led to this mysterious chamber. He opened a door and the only light visible was the video screen on the wall in the corner of the room and a small reading lamp that lit up the video controls.
He had me sit down as he walked over to the table with the controls and said, “Watch this.” The frozen play on the screen started up and footage from the overhead quarterback camera showed a blocked Eagles punt where the punter is leveled while chasing after the ball. Gruden chuckled as the punter was lit up and cleated into the air. During our interview I learned that this video rig is Coach Gruden’s secret weapon because it can play any kind of video, even Beta. He tells me this allows him to watch any game film from any year and it helps visiting coaches from high school and college if they don’t have the technology to watch the game film they want to scout.
The office set up and purpose reminds me of the Google offices in Manhattan. Free flowing knowledge and discussion fueled by an energy and passion for the game. Our conversation starts off with me telling my airport story and the Chucky sighting that day. Coach Gruden’s response is blunt, “I hate everything about airports.” We talk about how much he enjoys Jimmy Buffett concerts because he feels like he’s on vacation. I got the feeling “vacation” was a term he didn’t use a lot because from the look of his office he rarely takes one.
We talked about his Gruden’s Quarterback Camp show on ESPN and how much he enjoys it. You can tell he misses coaching and this allows him to get his fix. He tells me he misses the scoreboard but he hasn’t lost a game since he left the Buccaneers (this he says with a laugh). As we start to talk about football it’s like he wakes up to a higher level, more intense and speaking louder. We talk about A Gap blocking, his dislike of the spread offense because it doesn’t prepare quarterbacks to make difficult decisions and he gets fired up about how coaching has become increasingly difficult because of the CBA and lack of time you get to practice.
I learn that his first years of coaching at Tennessee is where he discovered that he may not have known everything about football but he was going to out prepare everyone. This motto is strong today knowing he gets to his FFCA office before 5 a.m. every day. Don’t get him started on the West Coast Offense. He’ll drag you to a dry erase board and start drawing out plays like he did with me. On second thought, ask him about the West Coast Offense. I know I would have paid money at an auction to listen to what he told me.
My favorite part of our conversation was about the Gruden Quarterback Camp episode with the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jared Goff. In that episode Coach Gruden is elated to see Goff and the Cal Bears running seam posts in some game film. I ask Coach Gruden to help me understand the difference between a post pattern and a seam post and why it made him light up. He tells me that the seam post route hasn’t been seen since the early 90’s Cowboys. Troy Aikman ran it to perfection, as it was a timing route based on seven steps by the receiver. When he saw Goff’s game film he said he fell out of his chair because that route was rare these days. I was fascinated by him recalling a trademark play run by the Cowboys of that era and could only imagine what other football knowledge and history was churning in his memory.
Leaving the office he tells me he’s impressed that I was there at 7:50 a.m. and that former Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin, would have loved that about me. I drive away glowing, fired up after talking football with one of the great minds of the sport. If you haven’t seen Coach Gruden’s Quarterback Camp show I suggest you watch it. It’s a great way to get your football fix when the season is on hiatus and you can learn a lot in each episode. If you feel like you know everything there is to know about football remember Coach Gruden has already out prepared you.
And if you ever see Coach Gruden on the beach, buy him a beer. That’s his go to when his mind is in Margaritaville and not on the field.
Listen to Heikki’s full interview with Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden on the Real Football Network.
Author Heikki Larsen is the Production Coordinator for the Jimmy Buffett Tour and the writer and producer of Margaritaville’s Coconut Podcast.