Eagles should hire Jon Gruden

It was reported recently that Jon Gruden was committed to ESPN. (Tony Avelar/AP)

Disclosure: Ten days ago, I started writing a column advocating Jon Gruden to replace Andy Reid as head coach of the Eagles. I decided to go in a different direction, which isn't unusual. What's unusual is reviving an unfinished column and reworking it.

Why now? Three reasons: The Eagles' coaching search  meanders on, with Notre Dame's Brian Kelly handing them another snub. A few notables - Ron Jaworski, Dick Vermeil, Mike Mayock, Brian Baldinger - endorsed Gruden. 

Finally, and maybe most compellingly, I've gotten into a couple of Twitter debates on the topic. Why try to make a case in 140 characters when I can do this?

It comes down to this belief: If Gruden returns to the NFL, whether it's here or elsewhere, he will win. Overall, he's better qualified than Lurie's other known candidates to come to Philadelphia, a place he already knows, and do what Reid never quite did.

The argument against Gruden goes like this: He won a Super Bowl over a decade ago with talent assembled and coached to the brink by Tony Dungy. After that, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined sharply, and Gruden was exposed as a mediocre coach.

Oh, and for good measure, no coach has ever won Super Bowls with two franchises. Not Bill Parcells, not Jimmy Johnson, not Mike Holmgren.

That quirk will inevitably disappear. Someone will do it. Since Gruden became the youngest head coach ever to win a title in 2003, he is a strong candidate to be that someone. More important, he is very different from those other guys.

Since being fired and establishing himself on TV, Gruden hasn't settled into the cushy broadcaster's life. He rented office space so he can get up early every morning and watch tape, just as he did as a coach. He is as freakishly obsessed with football as ever.

But he's also been able to gain some perspective. He's taken the time to meet with other coaches - including Eagles target Chip Kelly - and pick their brains. Through his ESPN show, he has developed insight into and relationships with, many of the best quarterbacks who have come into the league in recent years.

The day he fired Reid, Lurie said he would search for a head coach who was "innovative. Somebody that looks and studies the league and studies the college world . . . a student of the game who is obsessed and who absolutely and, on his own, is completely driven to be the best, that's what you're looking for."

That's a pretty good description of Gruden, who at 49 is the same age as Chip Kelly, younger than Brian Kelly, and just three years older than Gus Bradley.

So what about the collapse of the Buccaneers? Gruden was fired on merit after the 2008 season, but look a little deeper.

To get Gruden in 2002, the Buccaneers gave up two first-round and two second-round picks to Oakland. To win right away, which they did, they gave up four players who would have helped Gruden to continue winning later.

Second, Gruden clashed with general manager Rich McKay, who was then replaced by Bruce Allen, Gruden's ally from Oakland. The Bucs' next few drafts were not very good, and the team's record suffered accordingly.

In his years there, Gruden's quarterbacks were Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, and Jeff Garcia - after Garcia's stint with the Eagles. That is not a formula for sustained winning.

Was that Gruden or the GMs or both? Probably both. Howie Roseman is going to continue to run the Eagles' personnel department. If Roseman is good, Gruden will have quality players. If Roseman fails, it won't matter who is coaching the team.

Where it will matter is in a locker room that rotted and collapsed in Reid's final years. This Eagles team needs a strong personality with NFL cred, someone who can command immediate respect.  In that sense, their three strikeouts with college coaches may be a blessing. 

Am I saying Gruden or bust? Not exactly. Lovie Smith, who interviewed Thursday, is a strong contender. Maybe Lurie can find a similarly commanding personality in interviews with Bradley, Mike McCoy, or even Jay Gruden.

He'd better succeed. Eagles fans will not forget that Jon Gruden is sitting there. If the next coach isn't a success, Lurie will never live that down. At best, he'll get a coach who can energize this team, get the most out of its talent, and seize a championship.

At best, he'll get a coach who can do what Gruden already did.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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