Bruce Allen first got a feel for Jon Gruden's passion and acumen for the game when he interviewed him for a coordinator position in 1996
The day is going to come, somewhere down the road, when Jon Gruden will want strawberry and Bruce Allen will prefer mint chocolate chip.
It's a measure of how eager Gruden and Allen are to work together – and for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' aggressive ownership – that they see positives in even that inevitable clash of tastes. Two men with finely-honed football minds, they obviously trust each other's opinions and expect to agree on most accounts, but Gruden says even their friction will be good for the team.
"I don't know what kind of world everybody lives in out there, but there are 33 flavors of ice cream," said the Bucs' head coach, who formerly worked with Allen for four years in Oakland. "Sometimes you argue about what kind to get. There's friction in family foursomes on the golf course. That's just part of life. That's part of competing. That's part of finding an edge."
Gruden has always been about finding an edge, about 'juice.' Allen, introduced Friday as the team's new general manager, is clearly the same sort of personality.
"There aren't a lot of things that are easy when it comes to Jon Gruden, which is good," said Allen. "I like someone who is committed to his job. I like someone who is tireless in his work. I think that we both understand each other. We haven't always agreed on everything, but we know that the common goal is the same.
"We want to win and whatever it takes to do it, we'll do it."
As we ponder this pairing of Allen and Gruden, a leadership tandem that already felt right on Friday, it's first official day of existence, we start with the idea of friction because it seems like the least obvious aspect of their relationship. What is much more obvious is that these men are going to work together very comfortably, moments of friction or not.
"Anytime you change jobs in the middle of the night and go right to work and make a bold attempt to construct a team that can compete for a world championship, familiarity with a person with common goals and common views certainly helps," said Gruden. "There was friction in the past (at Buccaneer headquarters) but there's going to be friction in the future. No two people that I know of can agree on everything."
Gruden and Allen certainly built up a very healthy mutual respect in their four years together with the Raiders. During that time, and for three years before Gruden arrived in 1998 plus two years after he left, Allen carried the title of senior assistant and was known around the league primarily as a salary cap guru. Gruden wanted to make it clear that Allen was much more than that, and that he will be more than that in Tampa, just more obviously so.
"He's a winner," said Gruden. "He had more to do with me going to Oakland than anybody. He's just on the cutting edge. Forget about the salary cap, 'capologist' and all that stuff. He's obviously magnificent in his understanding of the salary cap and the economic side of the game, but I always felt that he was great with people and outstanding with the football stuff.
"He's great with coaches. He understands football, he understands schemes, he understands personnel. He has a great, broad background in the game. He delivered for me when I was there for four years in all aspects. He's a supporter, he's a critic, he's a knowledgeable guy in terms of personnel and every aspect of the Oakland Raiders when I was there."
Gruden also wanted to make it clear, in the face of some obvious skepticism, that Allen would be a general manager in the full sense of the title in Tampa, carrying final say-so in personnel matters. Since successful teams usually make decisions based on consensus opinions, both men feel that this distinction, while important, will not be an issue very often.
"He has a wide-open opinion," said Gruden. "He's not close-minded. He's got a lot of strengths that are very exciting. He's a great listener. At the end of the day, he's going to be the guy who makes the final decisions – let's be perfectly clear about that. But he's going to utilize a very good staff around him."
That staff, and particularly Gruden, was one of the main aspects of the job that attracted Allen to Tampa. There are some serious obstacles facing the team in the coming months – most notably a tricky cap situation – but Allen's familiarity with Gruden, his trust in Gruden's football instincts, his knowledge that Gruden will put in whatever amount of work is necessary, means he can hit the ground running.
"When you look at the league right now, there are seven openings at head coach and I can't imagine any general manager in the league, if Jon was available, not saying, 'That would be my number one choice,'" said Allen. "Maybe (Washington Redskins owner) Dan Snyder got Joe Gibbs – alright, that may be better (for Washington). Other than that, Jon would be the number-one choice of everyone. It's a unique situation where a general manager comes in and has the coach he wants."
Allen first got a feel for Gruden's football acumen in 1996, when he interviewed the then-Philadelphia offensive coordinator for a similar job in Oakland, one that had been vacated by Jim Fassel. Gruden stayed with the Eagles, then showed up in Oakland two years later as the head coach.
"Although he didn't take the job (in 1996), it was clear that this was one of the brightest minds I'd seen in a long, long time," said Allen of that first interview. What was also clear at that time, and what will be the uniting force for these two as they look to steer the team's football operations back to the top of the NFL heap, is that Gruden desperately wanted to win.
"If Jon and I went back there and played tennis, we'd both want to win that match," said Allen. "You want to succeed. (Oakland owner) Al (Davis) only tries to hire people who want to win. He doesn't teach you to want to win. You either have that or you don't."
Allen has that. Gruden has that. And the Buccaneers have both of them.