SAN DIEGO -- They call Jon Gruden "Chucky," a reference to his striking resemblance to a bloodthirsty doll from a horror movie.
Of course, there's nothing nearly that sinister about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach.
But intense? Yes, there is a certain maniacal pace the coach has taken on during his 17 years in the business.
"He stared me down in his office," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said of his first meeting with Gruden. "I walked in and sat down in front of him. He stared at me for about 30 seconds before he said anything. I was like, 'What's up with this dude?"'
He dissects film in a room he calls his "football laboratory." He gets to work at, oh, "around 3:16 or 3:17 every morning," Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay joked - or was it a joke? Part of his plan to improve the Bucs' staggering offense was to promote - yes, promote - fights on the practice field between the offense and defense.
"It really became personal. It put things in a whole different mindset and light," Warren Sapp said.
When Gruden's Bucs play his former team, the Oakland Raiders, in the Super Bowl on Sunday, he will be matching wits with the guy who replaced him when he left last offseason.
That's Bill Callahan, whose quiet intensity will never land him in the spotlight the way Gruden is, but who is getting results with the Raiders the way Gruden never did.
"Cally's one of us," Raiders guard Frank Middleton said. "He can take a stake and stab you in the heart, but you respect him because he went straight to the source."
The coaches met in 1992, when Gruden was a quality-control coach for the Green Bay Packers and Callahan was coaching the offensive line at University of Wisconsin. They had mutual friends. They set up a meeting.
"We became friends," Gruden said. "We spent a lot of time looking at film together. There's not a lot to do in the wintertime in Wisconsin."
A few years later, they were on the same staff in Philadelphia. And when Gruden, 38, was hired as coach of the Raiders, he knew exactly who to turn to to find his offensive coordinator.
That was Callahan, a self-deprecating, unimposing guy who described himself this week as an "obscure 46-year-old line coach locked up in a film room somewhere."
He grew up on the South Side of Chicago, a working-class neighborhood where the lessons about life were learned as much at the nearby steel mill as on the Catholic League football fields.
"The epitome of success was to become a coach in the Catholic League," Callahan said.
It appears he aimed low. With a victory Sunday, he would join George Seifert as just the second coach to win a Super Bowl in his rookie year.
He sticks by the assertion, however, that he does not want this season, this team, these accomplishments, to be about him.
"I've focused my career on the team," Callahan said. "Helping the team get to where it wants to go - that's what I do."
That's what Gruden does, too. He just does it differently.
His dad has been in the coaching and scouting business ever since Gruden can remember. He recalled having trouble sleeping as a child, and when he went to the doctor for help, the doctor told him he had to find a good place to channel his energy.
"So I set up a little laboratory and I started studying film," he said. "It was something I really liked to do."
His strange offseason move from the Raiders to the Bucs has been the story of this Super Bowl week. The Bucs gave up four draft picks and $8 million to get their guy, a blockbuster of a deal that put Gruden squarely in the spotlight. It makes him uncomfortable.
"I realize this compensation thing is something you've got to talk about," Gruden said. "But you're going to be judged, whether you were brought in for a pair of turf shoes or a draft pick, on your ability to win in this game."
He has won, and he has done it with style.
Whether intentionally or not, he has joined that very small group of coaches - Steve Spurrier, Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells - who are often more interesting to watch on the sideline than the product they're coaching on the field.
When the eyes squint and the jaw juts and the spit starts flying when he talks, the resemblance to Chucky is eerie.
"You get the whole persona off TV - the scowl, the grimace, the quick, smirky answer," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "You wonder if that's what he's really like. And in all honesty, he's not that different in real life. You get what you see, and you see what you get."
© 2016. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us