His first game as an
“I didn’t think we were going to make a first down the whole year,”
Gruden kept his job, guiding the Raiders to consecutive 8-8 finishes before a breakthrough 12-4 record in his third season. Two years later, with the
In 2008, Gruden's final season as an NFL coach, he hired a young assistant named Sean McVay.
On Sunday, McVay will lead his own team for the first time when he coaches the
Gruden, an ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst, knows what lies ahead for McVay, 31, as he navigates his first season.
"It takes a lot of mental toughness — a lot of mental toughness — and some confidence in yourself to be a head coach in this league no matter what age you are," Gruden said. "But he will be tested."
Since January, when the Rams tabbed McVay to replace
Hall of Fame quarterback
Now he must prove something else.
"I've always felt, for me, if I was hiring a head coach, the first thing I'd want to know is that he could get in front of 53 guys and command the room during difficult times," Aikman, an analyst for Fox, said shortly after McVay was hired. "Because no matter how good you are, there's going to be a stretch of the season where it's a challenge.
"So that would be the No. 1 requirement for me."
"If you're a smart guy and you can command a room," Johnson said, "it doesn't make any difference how old you are."
McVay worked as an assistant under Jon and Jay Gruden,
"When things are not going well or somebody needs to stand up and be that strong voice and that leader that everybody can rally behind, I think I've seen it from those coaches and what it looks like," he said. "And then we've got great examples of it on our staff here."
Rams players appeared to embrace McVay's football knowledge and enthusiasm through offseason workouts and mini-camps, training camp and the four-game preseason schedule.
McVay's age has no bearing on his ability to command the room, several players said.
"I don't think it makes much of a difference," offensive lineman Rob Havenstein said. "It still says 'head coach' in front of his name.
"You're going to listen for that reason, but also just because of the energy and the focus."
Said offensive lineman Jamon Brown: "He has an aura and a demeanor about him. He gets your attention once he walks in the room."
McVay, however, has no experience as a head coach at any level.
"What an extraordinary opportunity for the guy," Carroll, 65, said of McVay. "If he can do it well and hang with it and make it through the years of formulating your program and your philosophy and all of that — and survive — then he will prove that he was worthy of it."
Temple hired Arians in 1983. In six seasons there, he had two winning seasons.
Arians spent the next 20-plus years working as an NFL and college assistant before taking over as interim coach of the Colts in 2012. The Cardinals hired him in 2013.
McVay is on the right track, Arians said.
"Hire some good old guys who know what they're doing and trust them so you can do your job," Arians said. "He's obviously very bright to get the job. But he'll do a good job."
Jon Gruden believes McVay's charisma, energy and intelligence will pull the coach and the Rams through tough times.
"I don't think he's going to buckle every time they face adversity," Gruden said.
Gruden described McVay's assignment as "a difficult job right now." The Rams, he said, are not going to contend for the Super Bowl this season, so they must strive for improvement, especially from quarterback Jared Goff.
That falls on the head coach, through good times and bad.
"You've got to keep your own confidence level up," Gruden said, "because your parents don't call you and give you a hug every time you get your butt kicked."