When 'new school' and 'old school' collide: Jon Gruden vs. Andy Reid

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There were nights during training camp when Jon Gruden, in his return to coaching after nine years of calling Monday Night Football, would go old school.

Decidedly old school.

Gruden would play tape so old and grainy Oakland Raiders players could barely make out who was running routes and making plays. But there was Dan Marino and the "Marks Brothers," Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, lighting up Miami and the NFL in the 1980s.

And there was, as Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said, "Some 'Crazy Legs' guy, practicing hard. It was practice film. Some dude in the '50s."

Yeah, Gruden went there, breaking out footage of Elroy Hirsch for motivation. And with the mutual admiration society that exists between Gruden and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, you have to wonder if Gruden pulled out a VCR to show the tape of Reid's iconic appearance as a massive 13-year-old rocking a Los Angeles Rams uniform in a punt, pass and kick competition from Dec. 13, 1971.

For inspiration, not for scouting reasons. After all Gruden is quite familiar with Reid and his coaching tendencies.

When the Raiders meet the Chiefs on Sunday it will be the latest in Gruden's reunion tour of coaches with whom he has worked. Gruden and Reid were together on Mike Holmgren's staff with the Green Bay Packers from 1992 through 1994, with both serving as offensive assistants that first year.

Their paths diverged, though, Gruden getting hired at age 34 to coach the Raiders in 1998 while Reid took over the Philadelphia Eagles a year later. And while Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay in 2002 before television came calling in 2009, Reid has been a head coach non-stop, going to Kansas City in 2013.

"We were both young and we were able to learn a ton from a great head coach," Reid said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters of their time under Holmgren. "Jon and I spent a lot of time together, along with Steve Mariucci. We were the youngest guys on the staff. We all kind of bonded and did our thing. We did a lot of the gopher work, which we loved. Great learning experience and great foundation to build on.

"We had a blast with that stuff -- who could find what or design what. We had a blast with that. He's a creative mind, so you've got to stay on your A-game when you are hanging with him."

But while Reid has the Chiefs humming at 9-2 with an NFL MVP candidate in second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Gruden has come under fire with the Raiders just 2-9 and in the running for the top draft pick.

Many wondered if a near-decade away from the sidelines was too much for Gruden to bear, and the results thus far have not necessarily debunked that theory -- even if the Raiders are in the middle of a rebuild and bereft of upper-echelon talent.

"I think what he did outside the booth, staying in tune with the game, he had an office down there [in Florida], he's got more tape than anybody, he studied and worked with all these young quarterbacks," Reid said of Gruden. "These guys would call him to come back and work with him even after they were drafted. He stayed right up and in tune with the game."

So how is Gruden doing? ESPN Stats & Information compared Gruden's 2018 offense with some numbers associated with new-school offenses:

  • The Raiders run 35.3 plays in shotgun/pistol per game, which is 23rd most in the NFL; the Chiefs are fifth at 49.6 such plays per game.

  • The Raiders average the fewest air yards per attempt in the NFL at 6.1 yards, which may not necessarily be an old-school pattern since the high-powered New Orleans Saints were last in that category last year.

  • Only 18.9 percent of the Raiders' rushing attempts come outside the tackles, second fewest in the NFL; the Chiefs rank fourth.

  • The Raiders pass the ball on first down at a league-average rate.

  • The Raiders run the ninth-most two-running-back sets in the league, so they use a fullback at an above-average rate, but the New England Patriots are second and the Saints are third, and both are top-tier offenses.

  • The Raiders are 16th in the NFL in using three-wide receiver sets.

  • The Raiders are 12th in time per play, so they run plays at a pretty average speed.

"He's a great football person and coach," Reid said of Gruden. "He loves the game. He's passionate about the game. He's doing what he thinks is right. You can't ever question when you have a record like he has -- Super Bowl champ.

"I don't know, none of us know, including you guys, as much as you're around him, no one knows the whole picture like the head coach does and what needs to be done and so on. I would defer to him. I've known him a long time and I'm very confident in his ability. He's doing what he thinks is the right things."

Asked if he thought Gruden had mellowed, Reid roared.

"No, I don't think he's probably mellowed too much," Reid laughed. "He is a competitive kid."

Kid? At 60, Reid is only five years older than Gruden. Reid's offense, though, may be light years ahead.

The Chiefs, who have the AFC's top-ranked offense, lead the league in yards per play at 7.0. Their 404 points are tops in the AFC as their 36.7 points per game is just behind the Saints.

Carr called Reid a "genius" with how he has worked with quarterbacks, from Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb to Michael Vick to Alex Smith to Mahomes, who has passed for 3,628 yards and a league-leading 37 touchdowns while his passer rating of 117.9 leads the AFC. All in his first year as a starter.

"I think the credit to him is he's always considered the quarterback the head of the food chain," Gruden said of Reid. "Wherever he goes, he goes out of his way to get one. … He's always gone out, drafted quarterbacks, traded for quarterbacks, signed free-agent quarterbacks. He's really good with quarterbacks. He's able to adapt his scheme to who his quarterback is, and that's a sign of a great coach.

"He's been in the league a long time. Been calling plays, been part of the draft. He's been able to pick players. He knows what he's doing. I'm not surprised at all. I don't know why anybody would be."

With that, it was time for Gruden to get back to studying film. Not the grainy, pixilated stuff from the past. Rather, HD tape of the Chiefs, and Reid's decidedly hi-def attack.

And Gruden was conflicted.

"We have a lot of memories," Gruden said. "I just don't have a lot of good feelings right now watching this tape. We've got our hands full.

"But he's a great friend of mine. Passionate coach. He loves football. He might be one of the few guys I know that likes football more than me. That's why I treasure him."