Jay Gruden undoubtedly received dozens and dozens of congratulatory text messages and e-mails Thursday when he was named coach of the Washington Redskins.
He can expect at least one handwritten letter.
Gruden, the former All-State quarterback at Chamberlain and Arena Football League Hall of Famer with the Storm, made his legendary high-school coach proud.
“Now I have something really good to put on my resume – I coached an NFL head coach,’’ said former Chamberlain coach Billy Turner, 76, with a laugh. “I’ve been smiling all day. I’m going to write him to tell him how I feel, but I’m sure not shocked by this. It was just a matter of time.
“Jay was always very smart and knew exactly how to handle himself. He deserves this. This is a big day for the Gruden family, a big day for Chamberlain High School, a big day for Tampa and, I’ve got to say, a big day for me, too.’’
Gruden, whose older brother Jon was a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Bucs and currently works as an ESPN Monday Night Football analyst, has deep Tampa roots.
His parents, Jim and Kathy, have lived here for three decades. The family arrived when Jim joined John McKay’s staff with the Bucs. Gruden was the leader of two Chamberlain playoff teams. He played for Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville, then won four Arena League titles as the Storm quarterback and two more as coach of the Orlando Predators.
He worked seven seasons for his brother as a Bucs’ offensive assistant, where Redskins general manager Bruce Allen ran the Tampa Bay front office.
During the peak of his Arena coaching career, Gruden never seriously pursued NFL opportunities, choosing scheduling flexibility so he could help raise his three sons.
“When I’m 50 years old, they can say they got to spend a lot of time with their dad and that’s important,’’ said Gruden, 46, who has worked for three seasons as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Gruden was accused of a lack of ambition or drive while being constantly compared to his older brother. He said it was merely different personalities.
He turned down a quarterbacks coach position with the Philadelphia Eagles when his brother was hired as that team’s offensive coordinator. Still, he had a memorable visit to training camp.
“It’s 4 o’clock in the morning, I’m half-dead and he’s watching film,’’ Gruden said. “He’s knocking on my door, ‘Are you ready to go yet?’ Shoot, no. I rolled over and went back to sleep.’’
When Gruden’s older brother was with the Bucs, he had early workdays with his alarm clock set for 3:17 a.m. Gruden often cracked that was the time he arrived home after a night on the town.
Gruden was a more natural and accomplished athlete than his older brother, who once trained furiously after issuing a challenge for a two-mile run. Gruden pulled ahead at the finish, then retreated to the couch.
“I was devastated,’’ Jon Gruden said. “But that was competitive stuff between brothers. Jay always had a lot of talent and skill. I love him and I’ve always been proud. And he has always been a smart coach. He has succeeded at every level, every place he has been.’’
In Cincinnati, Gruden worked with quarterback Andy Dalton, who passed for 3,300 yards or more in each of his first three seasons. But the Bengals, who had the NFL’s 10th-ranked offense in total yards last season, were 0-3 during the playoffs.
The Grudens are the third pair of brothers to serve as NFL head coaches, along with the Harbaughs (Jim of the 49ers and John of the Ravens) and Ted and Al Nesser (1920s).
Gruden, who will call plays for the Redskins, is the sixth head coach hired by Washington owner Daniel Snyder in his 15 years. None have lasted more than four seasons, including Mike Shanahan, who was fired after a 24-40 mark. The Redskins went 10-6 with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III last season, but regressed to 3-13 in 2013.
“I don’t know what happened last year,’’ said Gruden, who was a Chamberlain junior when the Redskins faced the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII at Tampa Stadium. “I don’t care what happened last year.
“There’s a lot of work to do. When you’re 3-13, there’s not one particular player or reason, there are a lot of reasons and there are a lot of things that need to be fixed.’’
The Redskins are counting on Gruden for creative solutions.
Turner remembered a Chamberlain game from 1983. The Chiefs were down and out, losing at Brandon. They rallied, but still were in dire shape with about 15 seconds remaining. Gruden skipped a one-hop lateral to Brian Turner, the coach’s son, who acted like it was incomplete. The defenders froze. A receiver came open and got to the 18-yard line, where Gruden delivered a game-winning pass to Turner with no time remaining.
“You’ve got to have a poised, smart quarterback to pull that off,’’ Turner said. “That was Jay Gruden. He was like a coach on the field. So where he is today, it doesn’t surprise me at all.’’