ALAMEDA, Calif. — I’m not certain Jon Gruden likes shorts.
I absolutely know he doesn’t like them on football players.
Spring might be a symbol of rebirth, when the days become longer and hotter and bears everywhere awaken from long slumbers, but it’s not the most alluring of times for the Raiders coach.
He concluded a three-day mandatory minicamp Thursday and sent players on their way, to again see them when training camp commences in late July north of here in Napa, where patio tastings offer grand views of vineyards and mountainous hillsides, and the sort of football Gruden breathes for is again allowable by league rules.
He wants, needs, desperately craves the image of guys in full pads hitting one another, meaning he won’t be all that enamored with any award-winning Cabernets.
“I mean, the way we practice (in the offseason) nowadays is tough,” Gruden said. “You’re not allowed to have any contact, you’re not allowed to play bump and run, you’re not allowed to be on the ground. It’s hard to do when you’re trying to make a football team.
“Guys are tired of it. They’re ready to play some real football. We need competition, we need depth, we need leadership, we need players — hard, tough football players.”
He hasn’t coached since 2008, but was lured from the TV booth by Raiders owner Mark Davis and a 10-year, $100 million contract back to the team he led from 1998 to 2001, and nothing during weeks of spring activities and minicamps suggested Gruden has in any way lost an ounce of focus or passion or fiery competitiveness.
He’s crazy about the game, which might explain why he hired a staff that mirrors his tireless ways.
A popular storyline since his hiring in January has wondered how well players in 2018 might relate to Gruden, if they could handle his intense personality and reputation for a workload that begins in the dark and ends when it’s even darker.
But while it’s up to each individual to ultimately adapt and conform — it’s Gruden’s way all the way now — those on his staff understand the sort of grind he embraces.
There is no better example than assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who was with Gruden in Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers won a Super Bowl and who left two years on his contract with the Cowboys to join his former boss on this renewed adventure.
“I will say this — I love Jon Gruden,” Bisaccia said. “We share an early morning philosophy. My dad used to say, ‘Every great man has one thing in common — he gets up early.’ So we kind of share that. We’ve had many conversations at 4:30 in the morning. I’m real fortunate to have the chance to be back with him on a daily basis and to be in the same room. Are we alike some? I sure hope so.”
On the same page
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson also spent time with Gruden in Tampa Bay. Assistant special teams coordinator Byron Storer played for Gruden with the Buccaneers. Offensive line coach Tom Cable has a Super Bowl ring with Seattle and returns to a Raiders organization at which he was a head coach and assistant. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has known Gruden for years.
All around the room, there are either coaches who have lived the Gruden Way or heard enough about it to want a place at the table. It doesn’t mean anything in regard to last season’s 6-10 record, doesn’t ensure things will get better overnight, doesn’t guarantee the Raiders will move or stop the ball with any level of improvement.
But it means the journey begins defined by a united mindset, that if there is a silver and black page, those teaching scheme and technique and formation are all on it.
“These coaches, they’ve been in there every day at 5 a.m.,” Gruden said. “There’s been no May this year, no April. Nobody’s a very good golfer, I can guarantee you that.
“The acquisition of coaches is as important as acquiring players. I’ll take my coaching staff against anybody’s in football. They’ve worked hard, and progress has been made because of them.”
Next stop: Training camp in Napa, with all its grand views of vineyards and mountainous hillsides.
And, far more important to Gruden, pads and helmets crashing.
Said Cable of spring camp: “This is underwear football.”
There is no way Gruden wants the Raiders playing in just those.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.