On Monday night December 17th, the Buccaneers hosted the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. They also immortalized their former Super Bowl winning coach, Jon Gruden, in their “Ring of Honor,” as part of the 15th anniversary of that championship team.
And that night, Gruden says he decided, once and for all, to come back to the NFL. Just not back to the Buccaneers.
In a phone interview with Mike Florio Thursday on his “Pro Football Talk Live” television show on NBC Sports Network, Gruden expounded on what that night at Raymond James Stadium meant to him and how it pushed him “off the fence” to return to coaching in the NFL.
Gruden gave a rousing speech at halftime, as the Glazer family unveiled his name on the facade of the upper level of the stadium and he told Florio, “I got to be around 60 or 70 of my ex-players in Tampa. It just hit me like a brick. I just missed being around those guys, I missed being around that coaching environment, and I got all choked up emotionally. I remember driving home that night thinking, ‘I gotta get back on the field, I just wanna be a part of a team again, and see if I can help somebody. So I think that was the signature moment for me really.”
But, a few weeks later Gruden was sitting in Oakland with owner Mark Davis and GM Reggie McKenzie, having accepted a reported 10 year $100 million contract to return to the team that gave him his first chance as a head coach in 1998.
Gruden said at that press conference, and in interviews since, that the Raiders never fired him in 2002, but rather traded him (which is 100% true) for two #1 and two #2 draft picks and $8 million dollars. And, that the Raiders have, and will always have, a special place in his heart.
15 years later it’s still the most outrageous trade for a coach in North American sports history.
Oh, the Buccaneers also won the Super Bowl that same year at the expense of his old team, too.
Meanwhile, he’s back now in Oakland, and he spoke with more passion about the fans in Oakland with Florio Thursday, “these people in Oakland, they supported me as an unknown nobody. When I was 34 years old they got behind me, they got behind the Raider football team, and they helped me. And I feel the urgency to come back here and do everything within my power to try to deliver the best possible football for them for the next two years before they move to Vegas. It was very important.”
There is no doubt that there’s a large segment of Bucs fans that if Gruden was going to come back, wanted him to come back to the Buccaneers for 2018.
They’ll have to settle for the memories of 2002 and his “Ring of Honor” night 15 years later.
The night that Gruden says it all became clear to him to return to coaching.
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