ASHBURN, Va. -- The little victories take place each morning when Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden steps on the scale. The weight he shed over the offseason has stayed off. Some days the scale edges up a little bit; the next day it inches back down.
Overall, Gruden has kept off the 30 pounds he dropped before the season. Losing weight in the offseason is one thing, keeping it off during the season is another. The NFL is full of coaches whose weights yo-yo.
“There are times when I don’t have the best eating habits in the world and I cheat a little bit,” Gruden said. “But for the most part I know how hard it was to get it off, and the last thing I want to do is splurge on three double cheeseburgers, large fries and two Cokes. I try to stay picky about what I eat.”
That means staying away from his former holy trinity of cheat foods: pizza, burgers and chicken wings. He also hasn’t had a beer in more than four months. Once upon a time -- like last season -- the 6-foot-2 Gruden weighed as much as 242 pounds. He turned 50 in March, a milestone that prompted him to re-evaluate his body.
Survival of the fittest
It was as much about survival for Gruden as it was about his desire to get back to the weight of his playing days in the Arena Football League or in college at Louisville, when his weight hovered around 215 pounds. These days, it fluctuates between 208 and 214.
This summer, he told the Washington Post he needed platelet-rich plasma injections in his knees and anti-inflammatories to help with the wear and tear of a coach's season.
Gruden liked to be active on the field, sometimes lining up as if in coverage against a receiver. That became harder.
“That’s the whole thing: It feels so much better to move around,” Gruden said. “I used to be so sore. I’d get out of bed and I could hardly walk to the bathroom, my joints hurt so bad. Once I lost the weight, I started feeling better. I was able to run. I’ll go out and take a 30-minute run after walk-through or right before dinner.”
Gruden likes to arrive at the office around 4:45 a.m. after going to bed around 9 the previous night. But a coach’s hours during the season aren’t kind to the body. Even though there’s a weight room downstairs, it can be easy to forego a workout in favor of watching film. It’s also just as easy to grab whatever food is available and head back to the office.
In the past, Gruden would grab one of his favorite junk foods.
Now, he doesn’t eat after 6 p.m., with an occasional exception. One night last month, he ate at 7:30, but it was chicken and broccoli. Typically for dinner, he’ll eat whatever fish they have on the menu in the cafeteria at Redskins Park. If there’s no fish, he’ll eat something else, using a small plate to limit portion size. Or he’ll opt for a salad.
“You can make the right choices,” he said. “When I was in Cincinnati, we didn’t have the luxury of healthy options. You’d feed your face.”
The past two offseasons, the Redskins coaches have held contests to see who could lose the most weight. Gruden lost one pound in the 2016 offseason; he declined to enter the contest this past offseason, ceding victory to secondary coach Torrian Gray.
“I would have won, damn it,” Gruden said.
'These are size 34s'
Gruden's victory is how he feels daily.
“I feel way better,” Gruden said. “The big thing is getting a little workout and eating better. I feel better all the way around. I have more energy at practice and more energy watching tape.
“[Before], I felt big. My face felt heavy and my clothes, you don’t notice it when you wear [T-shirts], but when you put on nice clothes, that’s when you notice it. You’re going from a 36 [waist] to a 38, and you might have to go to a 40. I’m like, ‘Oh, God.’ Now I’m back to a 35 and I might be able to get into 34s now.”
Which, of course, is a source of pride he’s happy to share.
“He talks about it all the time,” Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy said. “He’s just being Jay. He asks me what pant size I wear and he’s like, ‘Oh, I bet we can wear the same pants.’ I wear a 36 and he’s like, ‘These are 34s.’”
Occasionally, coaches with other teams will ask Gruden how he lost weight, hoping to gain some secret.
“Everyone wants to lose weight, but no one is willing to [work at it],” Gruden said.
His wife, Sherry, used to cook him healthy meals.
“It was her subtle way of telling me to get my weight down,” he said. “She cooked healthy all the time. I had to sneak in bad meals on the way home sometimes.”
Gruden faces another challenge with his new lifestyle, thanks to a strained calf muscle. His running, at least temporarily, is on hiatus.
Instead, in Seattle last weekend, he swam in the hotel pool, and he’s now using an elliptical machine. But Gruden prefers to jog outside, helping him clear his head.
He does still indulge, however.
“Friday nights I’ll go get a steak,” he said. “I’m not perfect.”