It was pretty much a given that United Football League commissioner Michael Huyghue would be introducing Jay Gruden as the Florida Tuskers next head coach, but Huyghue had even more news at an Orlando press conference on Tuesday.
Huyghue said Orlando would no longer be sharing the Tuskers with the Tampa Bay area and that a search is currently ongoing to locate a new Orlando ownership partner.
"From the city's perspective we want to continue to support the Tuskers," Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer said. "I'm actually excited that it's going to be an Orlando-only team, so I view that as a positive aspect."
The UFL owns half of all it's teams, the number of which will grow to six in the league's second season, which will begin in September. So the UFL is seeking a 50-percent venture from an Orlando-based group.
"All of the people we have had interested have been outside the state, and certainly outside the city," Huyghue said. "We haven't found local people yet, but we've had ownership interest with people from a lot of different places who all want Florida. We won't give the head ownership position until we can find a local person here."
So there could be a for-sale sign planted in front of the Orlando offices for the Tuskers. Well, if they had offices in Orlando. That too, Huyghue said, will change in the near future. Other changes looking ahead to the UFL's second season will be a new marketing strategy, an earlier ticket-sales campaign, an 11-week season with a bye week and then championship game, an earlier start to the season (Sept. 8-9) and even local cheerleaders.
Oh yeah, and Jay Gruden.
Speaking of for-sale signs, the Gruden family had one in their Orlando front yard about this time last year as things started to take a tumultuous turn. Gruden was then head coach of the Arena Football League Orlando Predators and an assistant coach for his brother Jon Gruden's NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Arena League folded, Jon Gruden was fired and a man with two jobs suddenly had none.
"Oh my goodness, we weren't really sure about anything, and then Coach Haslett came knocking," Gruden's wife Sherry said. "We were very happy we were able to stay in Orlando and we got to take the for-sale sign out of our yard.
"We thought we were possibly moving to Tampa when the Arena League was kinda folding, and then we were shocked and surprised when the whole offensive staff got let go at Tampa. We were kinda stuck for a while."
That's where Jim Haslett stepped in. The new coach of the new UFL Florida Tuskers offered Jay Gruden an opportunity to be offensive coordinator to his team, so Gruden figure, "Why not?"
"The opportunity was granted by Coach Haslett last year to become offensive coordinator of the Florida Tuskers," Gruden said. "Not knowing much about the new league and not knowing much about Coach Haslett, for that matter, I accepted the job and we took a chance and took a stab at this new league and made a run of it."
A run indeed. Gruden's offense led the UFL in every conceivable category in the league's first season and the team went 6-0 in the regular season, falling just short of the UFL title with a 20-17 loss ito Las Vegas in the championship game.
"The players who played last year ... their success on the field, was obviously instrumental in me being here today," Gruden said of his promotion to head coach. "Their willingness to get better, willingness to learn and play hard was all very key to our success last year and without them doing that I wouldn't be here right now."
Gruden spent nine seasons as the head coach of the Predators, compiling a record of 93-61, including two Arena Bowl titles. He also played for the Predators during that span, hanging it up only after injuries push him back to the sidelines.
He's competitive and it's a spirit he carries and invokes in his coaching. The players feel it and respond to it.
"I've known Jay for a couple years now," Tuskers receiver Chas Gessner said. "We started off in Tampa. He was an assistant in Tampa and I was just a lowly practice squad guy ... and I think I can say that Jay was the first coach in the NFL to pull a hamstring throwing to receivers in practice ... that's a testament to not just his competitiveness but an an example of how involved he is in the game.
"It was a great experience to be around a coach with a lot of passion, a lot of fire and a lot of knowledge of the game."
Gessner was one of the players constantly sending text messages to Huyghue as the search for Haslett's replacement ensued.
" 'We want Coach Gruden. We want Coach Gruden' .. all these text messages," Huyghue said. "That speaks volumes to me."
"Winning is something that has been consistent about him, so his team going 6-0 last year is really no surprise because anybody who's know Jay will know that's really what his track record has been," Huyghue said. "I'm afraid he may do so well that we'll be sitting here announcing that Jay Gruden went to the National Football League next year as a head coach or assistant head coach, but that's what this league is all about. It presents opportunity."
And Mayor Dyer also endorsed Gruden's promotion.
"We're very excited about the new head coach. We consider him a local boy."