INDIANAPOLIS -- In his first news conference since he was introduced as the Oakland Raiders' head coach on Jan. 9, Jon Gruden took to the podium at the NFL scouting combine to discuss everything from his limited offseason contact with players to his new coaching staff to who he sees headlining the offense in 2018.
Here's the exchange between Gruden and the media on Wednesday:
Gruden: I'm very happy to be back here in Indianapolis. I sure have missed the combine.
When did you decide that Tampa Bay wasn't an option for you to coach?
Gruden: When I was fired.
On his playbook being available online and if he'll do things differently because of that:
Gruden: A lot of coaches on my staff have gone different places, players got into broadcasting. Some of that stuff leaks out there, so we're changing the presentation of our offense. Really excited about the diverse staff that we've hired. The terminology will be different, formations will be called differently and we're going to run some different kinds of plays, but we can't be too specific today because we really aren't sure who we have on our roster.
How integral was the last month in figuring out what you want to build as an offense and to gain familiarity with defensive players?
Gruden: It's been important. No. 1, I spent a lot of time hiring a coaching staff. We did not rush that process. Then we evaluated our roster, our current roster. Went through practice film, game footage, talked to the trainers, obviously Reggie McKenzie and his staff, and then you've got to get ready for free agency. You've got to study who's available, you've got to get to know your salary cap -- what you can do, what you can't do -- and now here we are at the combine. But to answer your question, it was helpful but we still have a long way to go.
On the Raiders' biggest roster needs:
Gruden: Obviously defensively, there are some glaring needs. At this time, free agency hasn't started yet, but our linebacking corps, we have a lot of unknowns there. NaVorro Bowman is a free agent. We're looking for an inside pass-rusher to step up. Our secondary, we have to clean that up. But I think most importantly with the Raiders, just looking at our last three drafts, we need some young people to emerge and start playing a lot for this football team.
Will Gareon Conley be ready for the start of the offseason program?
Gruden: He's going to be ready to start the offseason program. I just talked to him briefly. We're not allowed to have contact with the players; I have bumped into a couple of the players who have been in and out of the facility for various reasons, but he's our first-round draft choice. Everybody liked Conley at Ohio State. He had an excellent training camp. When I studied the training-camp film, he was inside playing the nickel position. When the season started, he was out at right corner. He's a young player. We're counting on him and Obi Melifonwu to play and we need them to. But we're really excited to start working with him.
On how Marshawn Lynch fits into the team's offensive plans:
Gruden: Well, our program starts April 9. Looking at the film and a game that I broadcast Christmas night, there's no question he's still a beast that's hard to bring down. One of the reasons I'm excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch, but we'll see what happens. Obviously we've got to take a look at the entire roster, but I'm counting on him. I'm counting on him being a big part of our football team."
On coaches he has familiarity with:
Gruden: Well I got Paul Guenther from the Bengals. I've got a lot of respect for my brother, obviously, and a lot of young coaches that are doing great. Sean McVay, coach of the year in the NFL, was on my staff (in Tampa Bay), Kyle Shanahan's doing great. It was really cool seeing a lot of those guys walking around, and if they could find time for me, if they can fit me in while I'm in Indianapolis, hopefully they can answer some of my questions.
Why did you go after Guenther?
Gruden: Well it goes back to my days visiting Jay [Gruden] in Cincinnati, getting to know that coaching staff. [Mike] Zimmer was the defensive coordinator, Guenther was the linebacker coach. I thought that was an excellent staff that Marvin Lewis had. Every time I had the Bengals on Monday Night Football, I was always impressed with the way he coached -- on the field, taking advantage of the time in pre-practice, post-practice, and what he got done with Vontaze Burfict, Vinny Rey, very impressive. We're excited to have him.
How similar or different is the job of a head coach now compared to when you left the NFL?
Gruden: It's a lot different because you're not allowed to have any interaction with the players. I've always complained about that since the new CBA came in place. A lot of players would come to see me in Tampa to get their football fix. So you're not allowed to have contact with these guys, but what's most discouraging to me is we've got to make some decisions on our roster, on salaries, on players and their futures, and you can't even meet them. I don't know these guys. I've never coached them. I've never met half of them, so that's been very, very difficult for me, and I've been emotional about it at times.
Are you looking forward to the matchup with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers?
Gruden: Yeah, I look forward to matchups with everybody, and I've got a lot of respect for Kyle, the way he's gone about his career. Obviously he's been fortunate to have a dad like he has and to have some experiences as a young man that have really fast-tracked him to the success he's had, but certainly, yes.
On new NFL technology such as player tracking.
Gruden: Are you talking about analytics, the GPS, all the modern technology? Man, I'm trying to throw the game back to 1998. Really, as a broadcaster, I went around and observed every team, asked a lot of questions, took a look at the facilities, how they're doing business. There's a stack of analytical data, or day-tuh, however you want to say that word, that people don't even know how to read it. It's one thing to have the data, or day-tuh, it's another thing to know how to read the damn thing. So I'm not going to rely on GPSes and all the modern technology. I will certainly have some people that are professional that will help me in that regard, but I still think doing things the old-fashioned way is a good way. We're going to try to lean that way a little bit.
What did you make of Bruce Irvin's 2017 season and where does he fit into the team's plans?
Gruden: I like Bruce Irvin. I know Bruce Irvin. I like him because he plays. If you look at play time, the amount of percentage of snaps, he's out there all the time. He played through a back problem early in the season, and I really think he's playing a difficult position because he's really an edge player, and when you ask him to play over the tight end or over the offensive tackle at his size, you can get beat up. But he's still a very good pass-rusher; I think he plays with good effort. We just need to get him some help so he can do the things he does the best more often.
Do you see a digression with Amari Cooper or were his issues injury-related?
Gruden: We think Cooper's going to be a great player. We think Amari's not only a great prospect, a great player, he's a great person. He had a lot of injuries last year and that impacted him, but he'll be the focal point of our pass offense. I hope he's listening here today. I look forward to joining up with Amari Cooper. He's got tremendous quickness. I think he's smart, he's versatile, he's a gamer, he likes the bright lights and he'll be the headliner in our offense.
What did you learn about the Patriots as a broadcaster?
Gruden: I'm envious of the Patriots, I really am. The Patriot Way, finding players that are versatile, finding players that can adapt on a weekly basis to win a game. They don't care how they beat you either. They're not afraid to use a 60-minute clock to beat you in the final seconds and they're not afraid to blow you out either. But they can morph themselves into a two-back team; they can come out with five receivers and play no-back formations. It's just a pleasure to watch them adapt every year to the new rules and to the new men on their roster and on their coaching staff. It all starts with [Bill] Belichick and Tom Brady certainly, but the people behind the scenes there deserve a lot of credit.
With some of the areas in which Derek Carr regressed in 2017, was that on him or was it a function of what happened on offense overall?
Gruden: I thought Derek did some good things, honestly. He's got tremendous arm talent. We didn't play to the level we played two years ago for a lot of reasons. He got hurt in the Denver game, hurt his back, I think that impacted the way he practiced, I think it impacted the way he played, we had a new feature back, new offensive coordinator, struggled I think on the right side of our offensive line at times, Amari Cooper got hurt, [Michael] Crabtree got suspended. All those things add up. I'll say this: He's a lot of fun to be around, Derek Carr. I enjoyed meeting him when I had him on my show a couple of years ago. He's got the right stuff. He's going to be a great leader for us.
With the NFL's offseason rules, are you allowed to do anything with Carr right now?
Gruden: No, uh-uh. Nope.
How frustrating is that?
Gruden: Yeah, it's frustrating.
How much of your philosophy have you had to change as the game has changed since you last coached?
Gruden: You have to. Obviously, you have to change a little bit. But I think the roots, the foundation of what I know is going to stay in place. We're going to adapt to what the rules are and what our roster allows us to put out there every week. I think that's the uncomfortable thing right now is I don't know exactly what that's going to be, but Greg Olson coached Derek as a rookie, Greg Olson was with the Rams, Edgar Bennett was the offensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers, Tom Cable's been to two Super Bowls with the Seahawks. We've got plenty of people to help me adapt, and that we will do. But it's frustrating right now because we don't know exactly who's going to be with us.
Thoughts on the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, with Gruden having coached on their staff in the past:
Gruden: I was just happy for the Eagle fans. Those people deserved that. It was really cool. I've got a lot of respect for what Howie Roseman did. I asked our people in our organization, how did they do that? Some of the trades that they made, some of the free-agent acquisitions that they made paid off beautifully. Doug Pedersen and his coaching staff did a tremendous job winning a Super Bowl with a lot of new players, especially at the quarterback position. But I'm really happy for those Eagle fans. I really am.
Have you seen anything at the high school or college level that you might want to integrate into what you do?
Gruden: Plant High School in Tampa, [Florida] I might put their playbook in. No, I don't know. I think you study, you learn from everybody. That's the cool thing about the combine. You start studying these college offenses, which is what I did over the last several years. I was enamored with Patrick Mahomes' offense at Texas Tech. I remember Paxton Lynch running some really cool plays at Memphis. I look forward to watching Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and these young quarterbacks and seeing how they tore up the field, maybe we could steal some plays and some concepts that could help us.
Are you excited to renew the AFC West rivalries?
Gruden: Yeah. That to me is very special. I remember being here seeing Marty Schottenheimer across the field, Mike Shanahan, Junior Seau and the Chargers. I'm just thrilled to be back in the AFC West certainly, but with the Raiders. It's been really cool. Not many people get a chance to go back and do it a second time. It's a neat story for me, but I want to take advantage of the opportunity, and I know I have a lot to prove.
Had you already decided to coach again when you went into the Buccaneers' ring of honor or did that push you over the top?
Gruden: That kind of did push me over the top. I've spent a lot of time with players and coaches around the country and I've always had the urge to come back, but being on the field that night with Brad Johnson and [Derrick] Brooks and Ronde Barber, Joe Jurevicius, it did push me over the edge. And you only live once, so here I am.
What are your impressions of fullback Jamize Olawale?
Gruden: I like Jamize. He didn't play much last year; he had some injuries. I think that hurt the offense as well. He gives the offense some deception because he can run. He's a fullback with speed. But he was injured. It impacted us on special teams and it certainly impacted the offense. But I would like to have a fullback. They're a dying breed in football, but I think it does give your running game a lot of deception. If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it'd be nice if we serviced him with a fullback. He had a guy named [Michael] Robinson who's with the NFL Network who was a hell of a fullback. And you need a blocking tight end if you're going to slam the ball with a beast, so those are two things that I'm looking for.
On the Bengals' defense:
Gruden: I think their defense is a problem. I think the Bengals are blessed with a lot of really good personnel, and the middle of their defense I think has been strong obviously with Geno Atkins and Burfict and Reggie Nelson when he was there at a high level and a lot of first-rounders that allowed them to do a lot of cool things in the secondary. But I do like the pressure package. They don't always bring it. As a matter of fact, they don't blitz a lot but the illusion of pressure is a problem. But he gets guys to play, they don't make mistakes, they have some really good coverage principles and they mix it up, which is hard to deal with. But [Paul Guenther is] a big reason I think the Bengals have had success and if we're successful on defense, he'll be a big reason why.
On Rams coach Sean McVay's first season?
Gruden: Well his first season, he was coach of the year, man. You can't do much better than that. He turned that franchise around, he energized them, got the young quarterback to play well, [Todd] Gurley had a fantastic season and their offensive line stayed healthy. They're fortunate too in some ways, and you've got a great staff together, which is a credit to him. Usually the coaches that win are able to compile really good coaching staffs. I think everything he did, everything he touched worked, and it's a credit to him. I'm looking forward to competing with him, for sure.
On former Packers assistants Edgar Bennett and Mike Trgovac, who are now on Oakland's staff:
Gruden: Unbelievable. I coached with Mike Trgovac in Philadelphia. I know what kind of coach he is. I competed with Trgovac when he was the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. For him to be available was shocking to me and I gobbled him up as soon as possible. I coached Edgar Bennett in Green Bay. He won a world championship as a player. He won a world championship as a coach with Aaron Rodgers. I was shocked and I'm stunned and I'm very happened to have both those guys. They'll be a big part of where we go with our football team.
Why did you want Rich Bisaccia on your staff?
Gruden: He's one of the best coaches I've ever worked with. Obviously he was the assistant head coach for me in Tampa. He coached two positions. He coached special teams, I let him coach the running backs, I even let him put together the meal that we served our players on the airplane. He did it all for me and I wanted him back. He's a great leader, a great teacher, and his standards are very high. We're very happy to get him as well.
Do you enjoy the combine?
Gruden: I do. I like the camaraderie of it all. I get to see a lot of you people that I know I haven't had a chance to see for a while. I also get to fraternize with the coaches from around the league. It's your first opportunity to see what kind of players we have in this draft. So I'm going to be a part of the interview process at night into the late evening, and I might be out after curfew a few times this week. I've got a free pass from my wife. So I look forward to seeing you guys.
What's Michael Crabtree's status?
Gruden: Well, he's on the team. Like I said, I'd love to coach all these guys. It's a big reason I was excited to get here, so we'll let you know. We'll keep you updated as we gain more information. I'm going to get a chance to meet with their agent. Obviously April 9 I'm allowed to officially start talking to these guys. Reggie McKenzie has a press conference later today at 12:30. I'm sure he can update you on a lot of the contractual matters.
On possible changes to the catch rule and defensive pass interference:
Gruden: Well, I've got a lot of thoughts on that, but I don't know if I want to get involved. I'm not on the [competition] committee. I do know a catch needs to be cleaned up and interference, should it be challengeable? If it's a 51-yard penalty, can I challenge that? That was my argument when I was coaching. I bet the NFL's glad to have me back because I'll be raising hell about all these issues. I've got enough problems. I don't have to worry about the catch or DPI right now. I've got to try to find some players to help us win.