NAPA -- Jon Gruden walked into the Napa Valley Marriott on Saturday morning for the first time since training camp ended before the 2001 season.
It was a reunion of sorts, with Gruden exchanging hugs and back slaps with those who still remain with the organization 11 years later.
Traded by owner Al Davis to Tampa Bay for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million in cash, Gruden's Buccaneers blew out the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Gruden, the ESPN analyst for "Monday Night Football," returns to the Oakland Coliseum on Monday night for the first time since Sept. 26, 2004, with the Raiders prevailing 30-20 over the Bucs.
After watching the Raiders practice and going through production meetings with the coaching staff and selected players, Gruden took a break for an exclusive interview with the Bay Area News Group:
Q: What was it like walking back into the Napa Marriott after being away for 11 years?
Gruden: I didn't get much sleep last night. I was very excited all through the drive up through Napa and pulling into the Marriott. I was able to reconnect with a lot of people that are still here that I worked with. It was really exciting. I've been looking forward to this.
Q: What do you think it will be like going back to the Coliseum?
Gruden: One thing I've learned is that Raider fans never change. There's no part-time, no halfhearted Raider fans. The Raider fans that were there with me from '98 to 2001 are still around. But I'll be honest with you, the last time I was here with the Buccaneers, they had Chucky dolls that had their heads split and they were stomping them on the ground. Hopefully they've forgotten those times. But I'm really excited to go back to Oakland, where it all started for me, and reconnect not only with a lot of friends in the organization but fans that are in the stands.
Q: Any chance you'll make it into the Black Hole?
Gruden: I am. I'm going to go down there. I know some of those guys in the Black Hole. I'm going to go down there and see if I can sneak a few high-fives like I did back in the day. I'm excited to get down there, hopefully they're not too hard on me. I love those people in that area. They're legendary fans in this league. So I'm going to head down there and I'm going to look for a few of them.
Q: Your son was 7 years old when you left and now he's in college. Does it seem like you've been gone 11 years?
Gruden: No, it doesn't. My older son Deuce is now 18. He's a freshman playing football at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Michael is 15, and one of my favorite pictures in my house is Michael, who is 3 years old, and Deuce is 6, sitting in the Black Hole with Spike and all the other crazy fans. It's the coolest picture I have. One thing about Father Time, he doesn't stop for anybody.
Q: What did you see that you liked today at practice?
Gruden: I liked the place-kicker and I liked the punter. Let's start right there. Those are two decisions that Al Davis made that will go down in history as two of the greatest decisions in the history of the organization. It was really neat seeing those guys, man. It was like I'd never left. But I can't tell you how impressed I was with the type of practice Dennis Allen ran. A really sharp, young, energetic coach. I think he's done a nice job assembling his staff. Coach (Jason) Tarver on defense impressed us, as did Greg Knapp, who has a history of making first downs and moving the ball in this league. That was really impressive. But what really stands out is the speed. I know the Raiders have been known for it -- we had James Jett, Terry McDaniel on the practice field here, but when you look at Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore, Taiwan Jones and Darren McFadden, Usain Bolt better watch out because they've got some speed here.
Q: How much of a background did you have with Dennis Allen?
Gruden: I tried several times to hire Dennis when I was coaching in Tampa. I was very close with Emmitt Thomas, who is a Hall of Fame secondary man with the Chiefs, who was with Dennis in Atlanta. Emmitt Thomas recommended Dennis highly. I just couldn't get the Falcons to release him to me. So I've known Dennis for a long time. I spent a lot of time the last few years at the Saints training camp, watched him coach. John Fox is a very good friend of mine in Denver and everybody tells you the same thing about Dennis Allen -- he's sharp, he's a leader, he's going to do a good job. They've just got to continue to build this team. They've got to work through some salary cap issues, they've got to overcome the lack of draft choices and all those things that have been well-documented, but I think if they stay the course they've got the right man.
Q: Did you have a relationship with Reggie McKenzie in Green Bay when you were an assistant there?
Gruden: I've known Reggie and Raleigh forever. I coached Raleigh McKenzie when I was the offensive coordinator with the Eagles from 1995 to '97. He was our center and one of my favorite players I ever had a chance to coach. I knew Reggie when he came to Green Bay in 1994. We were together for one year. It started for me at Tennessee as a graduate coach, and that's where a lot of blood in this Raider organization comes from. Raleigh McKenzie, Reggie McKenzie, Larry Marmie, Joey Clinkscales. The Volunteer Nation is very proud of these Oakland Raiders.
Q: A lot of changes in the organization, but how strange is it to think the season is beginning without Al Davis?
Gruden: I think it's going to be tough. It's going to be really tough. It's really difficult to think about the New York Yankees without George Steinbrenner. It's tough to think about the Boston Celtics without Red Auerbach. Al Davis put the Oakland Raiders on the map, and his legacy will never be forgotten. Hopefully Dennis Allen and Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie can put their own spin on things and blaze a trail much like Al Davis did.
Q: A lot of people wouldn't have guessed you'd still be out of coaching. Are going to be back on the sidelines at some point?
Gruden: I'm kind of coaching right now. ESPN has given me a great opportunity to be around a lot of football -- college, pro, and I've enjoyed it. I've really had a lot of fun staying very connected to the game. All I really enjoy is football. Maybe some day I will coach down the road. I'm just trying to hang on to the job I have. I've been traded and fired, so I'm just trying to hang on to this job.
Q: You had Terrelle Pryor on one of your quarterback shows. Did you get a chance to see him today and what did you think?
Gruden: I've always liked Terrelle. It's going to be interesting to see if he can translate his game to the style of football he's being asked to play right now. I saw him as a shotgun, option quarterback at Ohio State that did some dropback passing, but that wasn't his expertise. He's got a way to go mastering the NFL style, and being a prototype pocket passing quarterback. And he needs reps. Unfortunately for him, there aren't as many reps to go around as when I was coaching. There's only one-a-day practices. They have (Matt) Leinart and they have Carson Palmer, who's a veteran learning a new offense. He's kind of caught right now in neutral, I think. He needs an opportunity, hopefully he gets that Monday and we'll see where is development is.