NAPA — During Jon Gruden’s decade-long hiatus from coaching NFL football working for ESPN, he saw the company experiment with hologram technology, 360-degree replays and an abundance of technology that’s made football more accessible to the general public.
Nevertheless, in February, after he was re-hired as the head coach for the Oakland Raiders, he said he was going to “throw the game back to 1998 … I still think doing things the old fashioned way is a good way.”
On his first day of training camp this year, he said that newer is not necessarily better. ”I got a new remote,” he said, “I like my old remote better.” On Wednesday, he was back on that particular horse, but with a twist: Sometimes the classics have a bit to teach, too. That’s why he’s been showing his team film from as far back as the 1970s.
“He’s bringing up film from like 1976 when you didn’t even think they had film,” tight end Jared Cook said earlier this week. “Like grainy film where you can barely see the players.”
Center Rodney Hudson — who earned plaudits all around for calling out play adjustments against Paul Guenther’s new defense on Wednesday — hasn’t ever seen that much old film, but some of it was at least familiar.
“He put up some games that I was watching when I was a kid. I have an appreciation for it,” he said. “Football plays are football plays. They’ve been around for years. You put a little extra on it to make it your own, but that’s how I look at it: plays are plays. Everyone is running similar plays with their own spice on it.”
Gruden reasons that while the game may have changed in some respects, there are elements of it that are still as applicable now as they were in decades past.
“You know [Tom] Landry and [Bill] Walsh and Chuck Noll weren’t bad coaches,” Gruden reasoned. “They did some good things. They did some good things from a fundamental drill standpoint, too. Showing guys the drills that Jerry Rice did. Showing them how Roger Craig practiced. Those can be great teaching moments. Look, we’re not running a 1964 operation here. But there are some things that happened in 1964 that were pretty damn good. If you don’t think so, go ahead and have a nice day.”
Gruden said that he was “just trying to make some points,” to his team, and maybe create a bit of enthusiasm and respect for those that came before.
“I think they love it. They love seeing Berry Sanders. I think they love seeing Joe Montana in the two-minute drill,” Gruden said. “I had a couple of young guys get up there, they didn’t know who Jack Tatum was. They didn’t know who Art Shell was. Part of that is having a respect for the league that you’re in and the guys that came before you. You try to accomplish a lot. You only have them for so long. You try to keep their attention span.”
Gruden has gone the other way, too. During last weekend’s alumni festivities, Gruden spoke with legendary Raiders center Jim Otto about Hudson, who last year played all 70 offensive snaps last season against the Dallas Cowboys with kidney stones.
“There’s a lot of similar qualities in terms of toughness, passion for football and communication and all-out effort,” Gruden said. “The thing I love about Hudson is when we throw a pass, he runs down to cover, he runs down to see if the receiver needs any help every play. He’s the best center that I’ve coached.”
Gruden, though, hasn’t said that directly to Hudson.
“I’ve spoken with Jim a good bit,” Hudson said. “Jim was always playing hard and did things the right way. We spoke briefly. It’s an honor to be able to meet him and talk to him.”
Speaking of something old becoming new again, 33-year old receiver Jordy Nelson — who hasn’t lost a step, as far as quarterback Derek Carr is concerned — put on a show during the latter third of practice with Martavis Bryant missing practice with illness. Though Oakland wasn’t wearing pads during that portion of the day, hauling in a catch over the top on a deep post and also reeling in a drag to advance the ball.
“I think there’s a lot of guys that are like him at different sports that are able to play at a high level no matter how old they are,” Gruden said. “I think he’s proven that since he’s been here. I was really pleased with him today. He’s a difference maker for us.”