TWO DAYS INTO his voyage as a NFL Network analyst, former Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden has become must-see TV.
His teeth-gnashing commentary is refreshing, and his willingness to question his fellow analysts is hilarious. Forget about tuning in to watch up-and-coming players at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. Just watch Gruden, and try containing your anger that he's not back in the Bay Area coaching the Raiders or 49ers.
Friday's show included him interviewing 49ers coach Mike Singletary. Alongside was long-time friend, fellow NFL Network analyst and former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci. Talk about a roundtable. Those three are the most charismatic coaches the Bay Area has enjoyed over at least the past decade.
Just as Singletary was starting to explain his offensive philosophy, Gruden interrupted (almost rudely but also enthusiastically) and begged to know if the 49ers plan on retaining Alex Smith. Singletary said he hopes Smith stays and restructures his contract. (Smith should instead flee, but that's another story for another day).
The best quote of the segment came later from Singletary. Asked by Mariucci if 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is going to have a Singletary-esque playing career, Singletary responded: "He's going to be better than that. He'd better be better. He's got the ability to do what he wants to do. There's only one Patrick Willis. I'm excited about him. I'm more excited about him as a person than a football player. I feel very fortunate to have him."
The NFL Network is fortunate to have Gruden and Mariucci spicing up coverage from the annual combine. Friday they rehashed stories from their days as Green Bay Packers assistants. Ten years ago, those two coaches had the Bay Area's NFL circuit full of energy, something Singletary and the Raiders' Tom Cable are valiantly trying to recapture.
"We're fired up," Gruden said in closing to Singletary.
Added Mariucci: "Be yourself and do what you do, because you're doing a heck of a job. Keep it up."
As for Gruden, he should keep up this broadcasting business, if he doesn't return next season as a head coach, the role he held with the Raiders from 1998-2001 before spending the next seven seasons in Tampa. Maybe he's taking a cue from another ex-Raiders coach (John Madden) and launching a terrific second career (which Mariucci is doing quite well, too, with his affable and personable nature). The next few days should be fun to watch.
Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at firstname.lastname@example.org.