Clearly the star and main character of Hard Knocks this year is Head Coach Jon Gruden. I will pinpoint what Coach Gruden in doing right.
First of all, again this week, Coach Gruden has the players welcome each other to the second week of training camp. Where is this going and why this is important? I am confident this series will end with the players welcoming each other to the final roster. This is important because Gruden is using a step by step approach to help create comradery and team bonding. We have never seen anything like this in Hard Knocks.
It is very obvious that Coach Gruden is passionate about football. He has a high standard and expects things to be done a certain way. Clearly, this is what has made him a great coach.
A very important aspect of Coach Gruden’s style is how he constantly praises the players and points out when they do things right. This is not a trivial matter, this is at the heart of great coaching. He is constantly working to build each players confidence.
Notice Coach Gruden’s interactions with Alameda native, and former UC Davis player Keelan Doss. Gruden tells Doss: “Two days in a row, you made big time catches.” Gruden points out that Doss made catches against good defenders, and says: “That ought to give you confidence.” “You’re doing great – keep it up.” Later in practice Doss makes a great catch and Gruden yells: “Keelan Doss – yeah!” Then Gruden jokes with Doss at a team meeting “I’m more excited to see you play than I am to see my wife and I haven’t seen her in two weeks.” Think about how undrafted Keelan Doss felt about himself after hearing these things – he probably felt like he belonged and that could play at this level.
The other important aspect of the Keelan Doss footage is when Doss asks for clarification on drills and running pass routes. Gruden and his coaches have created an environment where Doss is comfortable asking these questions. This could be Doss’ personal make up – or a combination of his personal make up and the environment Gruden has created – either way, this is a great thing.
Gruden tells players exactly what he wants and expects from them. He tells the backup quarterbacks that they need to bring more energy and confidence into the huddle. He stresses that when these quarterbacks exude confidence, it matters to the others in the huddle.
When other coaches, at any level, watch this program, they may focus on Gruden swearing and yelling. They may see Gruden as a tough old school coach, unfortunately they may only copy the yelling and swearing. This behavior comes from Gruden’s passion and his anger flares up quickly when things are not done the way he wants them to be done.
Too many coaches only swear and yell and do not praise the players as Gruden constantly does. We have seen this type of behavior in many episodes of Hard Knocks over the years – coaches who yell and threaten but do little teaching and give little praise. These coaches think they are being tough. They fail to notice that their players do not improve and blame this lack of improvement on players not being tough enough.
The other standout from this episode is Defensive Line coach Brenston Buckner. When the players are having problems in the first day of scrimmage against the Rams, Buckner gives clear, firm instruction. He says: “You get lower than him.” “It’s never about them – it’s about what we do.” Only then does Buckner add; “If you keep that up you won’t play for the Raiders – we have a standard here.” What is very important to note here is that Buckner states what he expects first. In previous episodes of Hard Knocks we have seen coaches only emphasize that the players will be cut – they do not focus on what the players need to do.
During the second day of practice against the Rams, Buckner is very vocal in pointing out when the lineman do something right. He says to Clelin Ferrell: : “There you go.” Like Gruden, Buckner will criticize what the player is doing, or not doing, without taking the criticism to a personal level. This type of coaching builds confidence.
Before the preseason game against the Rams, Gruden says: “Show us you know what to do and then show us that you have the discipline to do it play are play after play.” The key word here is “us.” The coaches seem to be working as a unit with no dissension noticeable at this time.
During the preseason game we see both sides of Gruden with backup quarterback Mike Glennon. When Glennon leads the team on a scoring drive, Gruden says: “Hey Mike, that’s good football right there, good job on third down.” Then later he yells at Glennon after he throws an interception. Again, it’s the combination of both the praise and the yelling that is important to notice.
In the press conference after the game Gruden shows his support for Anthony Brown: “I support this guy, we’re supporting him.” When addressing the topic of cutting players, Gruden says: “It’s gonna be hard to makes a cut here.’ “You’re rooting for them like they’re your kids.” Again, everyone knows cuts are coming. Gruden does not use the possibility of being cut as a threat. These players do not fear that Gruden will “throw them under the bus.”
Overall, all the things that Gruden does helps build team unity. The coaches are united and he is working to unite the players.
This team unity will be very important after the first four games. There are players who will not be available for the first four games. And, the Raiders have many young players. If the Raiders have three or four losses after these first four games, this team unity is what can help the team succeed and not give up. An example of this comes from last years Hard Knocks team – the Cleveland Browns. Notice how different the Browns played AFTER their coach was fired. The same players played at a much different level.