Gruden brothers relish new chapter of their relationship

Jim Gruden, flanked by his sons Jon and Jay, said he goes through "eight hours of hell" every Sunday when watching Jon's Raiders and Jay's Redskins. Courtesy Gruden family

ASHBURN, Va. -- In the years Jon Gruden was away from coaching, his Sunday routine included watching his brother Jay Gruden’s Washington Redskins. The outcome of the game dictated his mood.

And it was obvious to the Monday Night Football crew, especially when they’d ride the bus on Sunday night to meet with the visiting coach for their game the next evening. A quick glance at Jon would let them know if the Redskins -- or the Cincinnati Bengals, when Jay was an offensive coordinator from 2011-13 -- had won or lost.

“When the Redskins played, Jon was a wreck, a total wreck,” said Jay Rothman, the producer of MNF.

“That’s no lie. If Jay lost, he was in the tank, and if Jay won, he was as elated as could be. If he won, he was high-fiving everybody.”

There’s a reason.

“Blood is thick in our family,” Jon said. “We support each other and root for each other to the end. Those were tough [games], no doubt. I had a hard time sitting in front of the TV watching my brother's teams play.”

Jon’s mood now is dictated more by what his Oakland Raiders do. He doesn’t get much of a chance to watch the Redskins play now that he is back on the sideline. That will likely the case Monday night when the Redskins play at the New Orleans Saints (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

“We got a lot of fires in the kitchen here,” Jon said. “It’s not time to sit down and enjoy.”

No brother in the booth

It will be the first time Jay coaches on a Monday night without his brother in the broadcast booth doing color commentary. That might not be a bad thing: The Redskins went 1-6 under Jay with Jon in the booth.

But Jon’s return to coaching also has slightly changed their relationship. They talk a little less on the phone and lose the ability to visit during the weeks Washington plays on Monday nights. But they still keep in touch -- talking on the phone for around 10 minutes two days after the Raiders' first victory of the season. They still bounce ideas off one another. And Jay did get a chance during his bye week to watch the Raiders' win over Cleveland.

"I caught myself yelling at the referees a couple times for him and screaming at someone else, Derek Carr or whoever it was. I was rooting for him, that's all." Jay Gruden
on watching Raiders' win over Cleveland

“I caught myself yelling at the referees a couple times for him and screaming at someone else, Derek Carr or whoever it was. I was rooting for him, that’s all,” Jay said. “Since he’s in the AFC West, I can pull for him every week without a doubt. I really want him to have success. This business is hard, and I know what type of competitor he is.”

They grew up in a coaching family, with their father, Jim, a former coach, executive and scout in the NFL. They know their situation is unique, whether Jon was in the broadcast booth for Jay’s games or now, when they’re only the second set of brothers to be head coaches (Jim and John Harbaugh were the first). But while it’s unique for the brothers, it can be hard on the parents.

“We get eight hours of hell every Sunday, my wife and I,” Jim Gruden said. “If Jay is on at 1 and Jon’s at 4, we watch both games. It used to be just Jon or just Jay for a while. It’s not fun for us at all, unless they both win. It’s an excruciating day.

“I get so frustrated. I might go out and walk around the block. ... Kathy watches every play of every game.”

Bridging time zones

The hard part in maintaining a relationship isn’t as much about Jon being back on the sideline as it is about coaching on opposite coasts. When Jay called Jon Tuesday, he did so at 7:30 a.m. ET.

“I know he’s up driving to work or at work,” Jay said. “I get him for five, 10 minutes to see how he’s doing. ... When I want to call him in the evening, you’re like, ‘Oh, s--- it’s only 3 o’clock there.’ Sometimes the times don’t match up, but we try to keep in touch.”

The conversations often cover familiar ground, a quick discussion of concepts or coaching tactics. Nowadays if they have a common opponent, they can discuss that. But Jon will benefit more than Jay: They have two common opponents and the Redskins played each first.

“We have ideas we can bounce off each other,” Jay said. “Sometimes you get a woe-is-me to each other or congratulate each other. We know how hard it is to coach in this league and how hard it is to win any game. We also love the game and competition. It’s fun to bounce ideas off another guy that’s loyal and who you can count on.”

During his nine years as a broadcaster, Jon still woke up at 3:17 a.m. to break down film. Only, he was concentrating on the teams playing on MNF. He also worked with college quarterbacks, doing his QB Camp features for ESPN. He also work with quarterbacks in the offseason, including former Redskin Kirk Cousins.

While Jon stayed current on NFL players, coaching offers an entirely different set of challenges. The collective bargaining agreement in 2011 altered how much time could be spent with players, how often they could practice and with how much contact. Jon picked his brother’s brain after taking the Raiders job, with the topics ranging from installing an offense to hiring coaches and more.

“How to conduct practices, scrimmaging against somebody,” Jon said. “There are a million decisions to be made. What’s your input in the draft and free agency? How much are you involved in that? How do you develop a player? What do you do when you lose five linemen and you play at Seattle?

“We have issues we talk about. We support each other. We understand the issues. We don’t call the Washington Post and talk about things. We support each other and try to brainstorm to solve the problems.”

And they’ll watch each other’s film.

“See what they’re doing on offense and see if I can still keep up with his plays,” Jay said. “He’s changed a little bit. We have our own ideas and staffs, and we don’t need a whole lot, but it is fun to holler at him because he’s a good offensive mind.

“There are some concepts you might forget about that we might have run a year or two ago, but haven’t run in a while. But he has a different way of attacking with different types of people than we do. I still like to bounce concepts off of him and check out new ones.”

Other changes

Breaking down college quarterbacks' tape gave Jon some insight into the draft. That's information he's no longer sharing with Jay.

“He had a good bead on a lot of guys,” Jay said. “We were able to bounce ideas off each other and then during the season. The offseason is when we’d talk about different concepts and plays and new blitzes, new coverages. During the season, not so much. Everything should be in place so you’re not going to change drastically.”

Another change? Jon is no longer having the stress of broadcasting his brother’s games. He said it wasn’t difficult because he worked hard to be impartial. But it wasn’t easy. Jon didn’t want the opposing coach to worry about what he might tell his brother after their meeting. Nor would he stay at Jay's house when in town for games. They’d grab dinner, but that was about it.

Both Rothman and Jon's former broadcast partner Mike Tirico recalled how, before the 2016 season opener when the Redskins played the Steelers on Monday night, Jon bowed out of a meeting with Steelers coach -- and one of his former Tampa assistants -- Mike Tomlin.

“I was like, ‘B.S. Jon you’re going.' [Jon said:] 'No, I don’t want them to think I’ll give [the Redskins] information,'" Rothman said. "I call the Steelers and they say, ‘No way. Mike wants him in the meetings.’ We walk in the meeting and he gives Jon a huge hug. The same with Tom Coughlin and the Giants. Jon didn’t want them to think, 'I’ll give my brother information.' Coughlin was like, ‘Are you kidding, Jon?’ NFL coaches had great respect for Jon and trusted Jon.”

Tirico said he remembers two coaches during their seven years together “being a little uptight” about the situation. But during production meetings with the Redskins, Tirico joked he knew he never had to ask Jay the tough questions.

“Our meetings with Jay were as normal as they were with other coaches,” Tirico said.

“They were fun,” Rothman said. “When we had their game, they’d talk the week of the game, but Jon would come in and ask questions as if they weren’t brothers to try to help us out to acquire information. Jon knew the answers to the test but he was looking to help us out and Jay would answer. But there were brotherly jabs in there. They were fun, very playful.”

Playing the middle

On the air, he worked to stay impartial.

“When Jay was on, it was funny because he would call him Coach Gruden,” Jim Gruden said. “They don’t care that he’s your brother, just like the Harbaughs. I don’t know how their parents put up with the Super Bowl [John's Ravens beat Jim's 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII]. I would have gone to a movie and see what happens after the game.”

But one game stood out to Tirico: a 2015 overtime win at Dallas in Jay’s first year with Washington. The Redskins had just ended a five-game skid the week before and were starting Colt McCoy. It might have been the most emotional the Redskins were after a win under Gruden.

“That game, Jon was emotionally involved,” Tirico said. “If you’re doing a good broadcast, you’re emotionally involved, but he was really emotionally involved, given what happened with his brother’s team that year, and here they’re going with a backup QB in Dallas. Jon was pacing more than he normally paces. It was a hard game for him to do. But I always went in thinking I’d have to be more critical of Jay if the situation is obvious because Jon wasn’t going to be. But that never happened. He never treated it any different.”

Jon said, “I took pride in not being biased, but I also tried to let fans know this is my brother and I’m proud of him.”

There were times if Jon criticized a Redskins player that many wondered: Did that come from Jay? Both scoffed at that notion, pointing out how their opinions don’t always mesh because both have strong coaching networks and can form their own opinions. And when Jon would knock Jay during the game, it didn’t have any lasting impact.

“I always knew he had my best intentions at heart,” Jay said. “But I also knew he had a job to do. If he was critical, it was probably because I deserved it. I never worried about it because I never saw any of them anyway. It never got back to me. There were a couple Monday night games we didn’t play well, so he had a right to be critical.”

Jay may have lost a passionate and knowledgeable fan when his brother became a coach again, but Jay couldn't be happier for Jon.

“I love having him back in the league,” Jay said. “He’s good for the NFL. He’s a great personality, has a great football mind and he’s good for Oakland/Las Vegas. It’s good for him, too. He was a broadcaster for so long, he had an itch to get back in. You only live once, and if it’s his passion, which I know it is, he needs to fulfill it and that’s what he’s doing.”