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ESPN NFL analyst Gruden talks Wentz, NDSU football in trip to Fargo

FARGO-It wasn't the nicest welcome to Fargo for ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden on Friday, April 7, as the former Super Bowl champion coach took some wind to the face upon arrival from Tampa, Fla."I'm wearing a visor because my head almost blew off w...

ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden watches NDSU football practice with assistant marketing director Derrick Lang Friday, April 7, 2017, at the Fargodome.David Samson / The Forum
ESPN football analyst Jon Gruden watches NDSU football practice with assistant marketing director Derrick Lang Friday, April 7, 2017, at the Fargodome.David Samson / The Forum

FARGO-It wasn't the nicest welcome to Fargo for ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden on Friday, April 7, as the former Super Bowl champion coach took some wind to the face upon arrival from Tampa, Fla.

"I'm wearing a visor because my head almost blew off when I got off the plane," Gruden said.

But when he got by the unforgivable gust of Fargo, where he was set to be the keynote speaker at North Dakota State's annual spring football coaches clinic, Gruden could not help but remember his ties to NDSU.

Like when his defensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Monte Kiffin, told him he should look at this Gus Bradley guy out of NDSU to help coach linebackers like Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.

"I said, 'North Dakota State? Now that'll go over well in our locker room with the Buccaneers,' " Gruden said.

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It must've gone over well, because Gruden hired NDSU defensive line coach Todd Wash the next season.

"Two of my best coaches I was able to hire came from here," Gruden said.

Last season, Gruden was introduced to former NDSU and current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, along with former NDSU and current Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Joe Haeg. He became interested in the football at NDSU.

Gruden said he does seven or eight speaking engagements a year at colleges. NDSU would not disclose how much it cost to have Gruden speak for the more than 550 coaches registered, but did say it was a camp expense for the athletic department. Booking agents have Gruden listed somewhere between $50,000-$100,000 to speak at events, but NDSU director of athletic communications Ryan Perreault said the cost was nowhere near that range.

"We don't want to disclose a price tag on Jon, out of respect to him," Perreault said. "It's certainly not within that range, not even approaching that number."

It isn't just showing up and preaching football cliches for Gruden. He studies film to prepare. He even admitted to showing his sons the last few minutes of NDSU's win over Iowa last season.

"They're finishers," Gruden said. "They've been in the same program, with the same coaches. They get some reps. Repetition is the mother of learning I always felt, and a lot of these players, these Bison, they come out of here polished. They're versatile guys.

"Guys like Joe Haeg, he can play guard or tackle. He's smart. They do a lot of things at the line of scrimmage. This style of football is not for everybody. This is a real commitment, I think, to sophisticated football."

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Gruden had his critique of Wentz, though he feels the additions of receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith will help in Wentz's second NFL season.

"He got off to such a great start, beating the Cleveland Browns and then he beat the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football and you know how life is now. You can become a rockstar overnight, but the reality is there's going to be some peaks and valleys," Gruden said. "I think he ran into a couple buzzsaws, some really good teams, after the Steeler game, but he's just got to be more consistent with the football.

"I think the supporting cast has to be better. I think they got to do a better job at the playmaking positions, particularly outside, and I think that's why they brought in those receivers to impact the game."

More than anything else, Gruden was in Fargo for football, even hinting that if the right opportunity came along, he wouldn't be against coaching again.

"Our game is struggling a little bit," Gruden said. "People are taking some shots at it. We're trying to keep the game strong, encouraging kids to play. What I got from football was the best lessons I could get from life. I learned work ethic and mental toughness and dedication and sportsmanship. I don't want us to lose this game, and I think it's the great coaches that teach the sport that are also, I think, being underappreciated a little bit, so I'm trying to encourage them and support the game."

Murphy has covered sports in Chicago, Minnesota and North Dakota since 2009, working for The Forum since 2012. Contact: cmurphy@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5548
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