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One year into his NFL coaching career, Mike Tomlin was at a crossroads when Jon Gruden replaced Tony Dungy as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Gruden could have cleaned house and gotten rid of Dungy’s assistants. Instead, he kept most of the defensive coaches intact, including Tomlin, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Gruden, who has returned from a 10-year hiatus to coach the Oakland Raiders, explained his reasoning this week on a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters.
“I met Mike previously through Monte Kiffin,” Gruden said. “When I got the Tampa job, I was well aware of the kind of personnel we had, the kind of defense we had, and I wanted to keep that band together — not just the players. I wanted to keep Marinelli, Tomlin, Monte Kiffin and the whole defensive coaching staff together.
“I’m really fortunate to say I was able to coach with those guys, and those are some of the best memories I have in football.”
Tomlin worked under Gruden for five seasons before leaving to become the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator. One year later, he was hired by the Steelers.
Gruden, whose specialty was offense, recalled his competitons with Tomlin on the practice field.
“We used to call each other out. We used to go after each other on the practice field,” Gruden said. “He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s got a great enthusiasm for football. He’s a tremendous leader and great competitor, man.
“He wants to win every drill. He wants to win every single thing he goes up at you against. He brought out the best in me, and I think I brought out the best in him and I think he would tell you we had some fun battles.”
Tomlin referred to his old boss as a “top-notch strategist.”
“I am sure he spent a lot of time analyzing us, not only this week in preparation for the game, but just largely,” Tomlin said. “Our defensive schemes are kind of prevalent throughout ball. He’s the kind of guy that studies and digests football.”
Bye, bye Bryant
When the Raiders placed wide receiver Martavis Bryant on injured reserve Wednesday, it was another move that didn’t work out as planned for Oakland, which gave the Steelers a third-round pick in exchange for the mercurial wide receiver.
Bryant was inactive for three games with a knee injury before the Raiders ended his season. In eight games, Bryant had 19 catches for 266 yards and a touchdown. He will become a free agent in March.
“One of the more disappointing things that’s happened to me really since I’ve been here,” Gruden said about the Bryant trade. “We had high expectations for him with Derek Carr and our offense. Unfortunately, he never really got healthy and stayed healthy long enough during offseason or training camp to showcase his stuff.”
CBS usually carries NFL games involving two AFC teams, but the Steelers-Raiders matchup Sunday will be televised by FOX-53 at 4:25 p.m.
The NFL switched the game to FOX a few weeks ago when the game was flexed out of the NBC prime-time slot and replaced by the 11-1 Rams at the 8-4 Bears.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.