Early in the Washington Redskins' spring workouts, it became clear. Jay Gruden was being Jay Gruden on the field. He served as a defensive back on some plays, a safety on others and brought an energy that was his own. It was a good first step in being a head coach in the NFL: Be yourself. That's what most coaches always say and Gruden, with a brother who won a Super Bowl and a father who has been involved in the game for decades knows this.
Of course, it's about much more than pretending you're a defensive back: It's having core beliefs and staying true to them as well, whether it's in how you delegate or how you deal with player problems. In that regard, Gruden remains a work-in-progress.
Gruden's first camp begins Thursday, with players reporting Wednesday. There's still so much to learn about how he'll be as a coach -- and going through his first season will be revealing, whether good or bad.
"I don't know how I'm going to be," Gruden said earlier this offseason. "I'll be myself and go from there. The biggest thing is you want to give your players every avenue to be successful. If they need a kick in the rear you kick them in the rear. If they need a pat on the back, you pat them on the back and hopefully I'm a good judge of when to do both. We'll see."
Gruden also saw how Marvin Lewis handled his job in Cincinnati. Lewis has held the Bengals' job since 2003, despite a couple rough seasons. Perhaps it gives a clue as to how Gruden wants to be.
"Marvin is a father figure to those guys," Gruden said. "Treats them all with respect, didn't take a lot of stuff off the field or on the field, great with discipline but also maintained a loose ship. He had a consistent approach every day. He didn't treat A.J. Green differently than he did Dane Sanzenbacher. That's important."
Before Gruden gets started with camp, we deliver him some wisdom gathered earlier this offseason from a handful of other coaches on their advice for a first-time head coach:
Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis: "The first thing you learn so much of is that you have to deal with injuries. That's the thing more than anything else. Dealing with injuries is difficult. And those are the unforeseen things that happen all the time. You're not sure when it's going to happen and you're not sure who will be the next person. It's inevitable that you'll get a surprise on a Wednesday or Thursday that you didn't know about on Monday or Tuesday. You're going to have the left corner who now has this issue and the right guard has this issue and so forth. Why aren't I playing more? Why am I not doing this? You have more on your plate to deal with than you've ever had."
San Diego's Mike McCoy: "I'm still learning to this day on a number of things. Certain situations will come up and it's the first time for something and you learn something new every day. I was comfortable from Day 1 doing it. You have to understand you have to make that decision now. Sometimes the hardest part is how quickly do you make that decision or put your stamp on it whatever it is."
Kansas City's Andy Reid: "It was important that I'm asking players to let their personality show that I let mine show, that they know I'm all in and most of all that you'll give them an opportunity from a coaching standpoint to be the best they can possibly be. You have to present that to the guys and it has to be real. Players can read through it like that if you're putting on an act. I try to be myself and be honest. Sometimes that can be the hardest thing. You're dealing with young kids, but this is their livelihood. They're making a lot of money. In a lot of cases they're making more money than their parents ever dreamed of making. You have to be honest with them. That's very important."
Tennessee's Ken Whisenhunt: "There's a lot more going on than what you anticipate and what you're exposed to as a coordinator. You're only looking at one side of the ball. When you step into that role as a head coach now all of a sudden you have all three phases. You have a lot of different things going on. I wouldn't say I wasn't prepared for it, but the volume of things that come up as well as the things that are non-football, like what time do the buses leave to go to the airport for the road trip. It's fitting all those things into your schedule and making time to make sure you get them all done while you're still involved with football is an important piece of it. ...There's a lot of things on your plate. I was lucky because I had good coaches I could lean on. That's a big piece of it, too."
Baltimore's John Harbaugh: "The biggest thing is how big the job is. There's a lot going on all around you and it moves quickly. I didn't really understand that at first. You've got to live it, not just one year either. You learn every year. It's a complicated job."
Denver's John Fox: "The first thing is to be yourself. Most of us aren't smart enough to be anybody else. All these guys here work hard, it's not like you have to learn that. And you don't get to spend much time with football, you're managing people. I didn't want to be a head coach for a long time because of that. Then I decided it's something I wanted to try and I actually enjoy it, the managing of people -- whether it's your coaching staff, hiring your staff. That's a real important thing to begin with and then it's just managing. You have your own managing style but be yourself. That would be the first thing I'd tell guys."
Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin: "That was a long time ago, man. I'm trying to get better every year and for me it's all about that. I realize the variables change. I need to be what my guys need me to be as opposed to what they want me to be. That's always my focus."