This happened in the late 1990s. Jon Gruden was the coach of the Oakland Raiders and he assigned a research project to a young scouting assistant named John Morton, known around the facility as an around-the-clock grinder who regularly slept in the office.
"I remember giving him a couple of passing concepts I really liked, and I said, ‘Can you come up with some new formations and new looks for these plays?’" Gruden was saying Wednesday in a phone interview. "I didn’t see him for seven or eight or nine hours. The next day, he had these plays drawn from a hundred different looks, formations, shifts, you name it."
Gruden believes Morton will bring that same passion to his new gig, offensive coordinator of the New York Jets -- one of the toughest coaching jobs in the NFL. The Jets are rebuilding without a clear-cut answer at quarterback, and they've entrusted the challenge to a first-time NFL coordinator.
"You’re not going to replicate the New Orleans Saints, run by Drew Brees, in Year 1 with the Jets," Gruden said, alluding to Morton's previous team. "That’s not going to happen. They’re going to have to have a little patience and see what they have so they can put their vision on paper and on film."
The current ESPN analyst was one of Morton's first mentors in the NFL. Gruden was hired by the Raiders in 1998, when Morton was added to the pro scouting department. Gruden credited the late Al Davis with discovering Morton, a former wide receiver who boasted sub-4.4 speed in the 40. He impressed Davis with his work ethic and knowledge of personnel, and became "an invaluable part of our staff," Gruden said.
Gruden has watched Morton grow up in the business, and he believes his former protege is ready to run his own show at the not-so-tender age of 47. Morton is a late bloomer in an industry getting younger by the year.
"Some of these guys who get jobs are sometimes fortunate to get them," Gruden said. "I know I was fortunate to get an opportunity at a young age. You can’t rush greatness, that’s what I always say. I just think he’ll do an excellent job."
Morton will have to be part coach, part miracle worker.
"A lot of it obviously depends on who you have," Gruden said. "You’re going to be a better coordinator if you have a better quarterback. You’re going to be a better coach if you have better players. I don’t know what they’ve assembled there -- the draft and the upcoming month will decide that -- but he’ll be able to get the most, I think, out of what he has."
Coach Todd Bowles hasn't said what kind of system Morton will employ, and no one knows what Morton is thinking because he still hasn't been made available to the media. But Gruden expects Morton to install a form of the West Coast offense.
"Yeah, I think so, I don’t think there’s any doubt," Gruden said. "He’s got a tough spot right now. I don’t know if he knows who the quarterback will be. They haven’t been able to play catch yet. I think he’s got enough versatility where he can grab and pull and choose from different experiences in life."
It always comes back to the quarterback issue, the story of the Jets' history.
"Look, they know more about Bryce Petty than the rest of us and they know more about [Christian] Hackenberg than the rest of us," Gruden said. "The only time I saw Hackenberg was minimal snaps in a couple of preseason games.
"We know what Josh McCown is. He’s a serviceable player. He’s great, I think, in the meeting room. He’s an outstanding mentor, great person, but as long-term solution, I don’t think he’s the answer, personally."
Gruden said his old friend faces "a big challenge." That's a diplomatic way of putting it.