Jon Gruden joked on Wednesday that he needed to get some tickets for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' much-anticipated 2017 season. He definitely won't need any, however, for the potentially critical visit from the Atlanta Falcons on December 18.
Gruden will already be on hand for that Monday Night Football contest, providing color commentary for the ESPN broadcast. He won't be in the TV booth at halftime, however, as the Buccaneers will use that time for a ceremony on the field inducting their former Super Bowl-winning head coach into the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium.
Realistically, Gruden's TV commitments won't make it easy for him to attend any of the Buccaneers' home games this season, beyond the Monday-nighter. That's a shame because he appears to have high hopes for a team hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007, when Gruden was still on the sideline.
"I'm really excited about the players you have now," he said. "I wish I could've coached some of these guys!"
Gruden famously coached the Buccaneers' 2002 team to the Super Bowl and the franchise's first title. That was in his first season at the helm, after four very strong years in Oakland, and in the six years to follow the Buccaneers would also win two more division titles. Fast-forward to the 2017 team, one that is coming off a 9-7 finish the previous year and has made some high-profile additions in the offseason, and there is hope that another era of sustained success is just ahead.
Nobody knows better than Gruden – he of the pre-dawn arrivals at One Buccaneer Place – that it's going to take an extreme amount of work to translate that promise on paper to the field. But he definitely sees the potential of something good.
"We've got a lot to prove," said Gruden. "A lot of things have to go right but I think this team has to do the same thing we did, that any championship team does. You got to work your butt off and underestimate nobody. With Jameis Winston and the leadership of the coaching staff here, I think you're going to see some very exciting things this fall. I'm going to try and get some tickets."
Gruden didn't apologize for using the word "we" when discussing the team, saying, "I'm always going to be a Buccaneer." And he peppered his optimistic viewpoint with some of the more grounding thoughts he often used while at the Bucs' helm, such as, "You get what you deserve;" and, "You never stay the same; you either get better or worse." But he complimented the roster after watching practice prior to the Ring of Honor press conference and noted the ongoing construction of a new indoor facility. So what advice would he give the current team in its efforts to chase another title for the franchise?
"Well, I would tell [them] the same thing I tried to tell [his former players] every year: 'There's a rock out there in the lobby, you've just got to pound it.' The rock is the opponent. If I try to slam that rock and break that rock by myself, it's probably not going to happen. I need [Gerald] McCoy, I need the linebackers, I need the kicker, I need everybody to pound that rock, so we can smash it into smithereens. That's how you win and dominate in this league. It's about every guy in the building. Once you cut this thing down to 53, everybody's got to become a grinder. One thought, one mind, one message every day – it's about the team, it's about the rock, it's about finishing and competing because they've got enough talent to do it.
"If they can stay injury-free, have a little luck along the way and pound the rock – the Bucs are back! You watch and see."