Jon Gruden can be a bit of a divisive media personality. He has a schtick and can be either very entertaining… or very painful. I’ve enjoyed Gruden’s foray into sports media and in particular love his QB Camp series. As a guy who played football and loves the X’s and O’s to the point where I wish had access to the “All 22″ game films for college and NFL teams, the show is unique and telling as we get a more thorough introduction to the next class of signal callers.
With that said, I don’t know if I’m going to complete viewing the 10 episode series this year as my DVR above indicates I have some work left that I am not motivated to power through. The reason why: The show has An Undercover Boss problem. I’ll explain after the jump…
Undercover Boss debuted on CBS after the Colts vs. Saints Super Bowl and exploded out of the gate with nearly 40 million viewers. The first episode showed the CEO of Waste Management doing some real grimy work. The following episode featured Dickie V’s favorite eatery, Hooters, which obviously was going to be a must watch. Maybe 2-3 episodes after that, I completely turned off the series. Why? It was boiler plate and blatant PR that really never varied whatsoever episode to episode. If you’ve watched the show, tell me what episode doesn’t follow this recipe:
- A rich well to do executive is a bit out of touch with the middle class, laments the disconnect, and offers to go “undercover” to find out more about his company and HIMSELF. He’ll inevitably get back in touch with his blue collar roots and be inspired by those he meets who he’ll grow compassion for.
- The worker-bees the executive meets are obviously hand picked as all of them fit into some type of bucket. Single parent working two jobs, young ambitious employee also going to school, long term employee dealing with health problems, well liked employee who moonlights doing charity work, recovering alcoholic trying to save his house or pay for kids college, etc. It’s just all so conveniently warm and fuzzy.
- The last 10 minutes of the show is where it gets really annoying. The executive recalls the people he worked with while “undercover,” tells them how great they are, and usually throws around money or gifts to help them deal with their struggles. Everyone cries and then the show wraps up with a rah rah speech in front of all the employees where it becomes apparent that THIS company is not a ruthless Fortune 500 entity ruled by its board and shareholders BUT THEY ARE A FAMILY! A family that is going to make the changes necessary to get better usually by way of high level closing captions saying “7 Eleven will look into using less napkins” or “Hooters is now considering pre-screening male employees for previous sex crimes.”
So by now you can tell that I hate Undercover Boss. I don’t hate Gruden’s QB Camp, but the show needs avoid falling down this hole where it’s carefully orchestrated “brand building/promotion” that the agents and managers lean on the QB’s to participate in. Similar to Undercover Boss, Gruden’s QB Camp has grown from a handful of episodes to a much higher number with seemingly no quarterback balking at the chance to get 30 minutes of mostly positive airtime.
Foles is a great QB. Spoiler: They all are.
In addition to the growing amount of episodes, the structure is so regimented that it becomes stale over time. Film review/chalk talk with Gruden with a lot of probing questions going over 2-3 key things that he sees. A couple of “hard” questions that are really softballs for each guy to say their perceived weakness isn’t really something teams should worry about. Usually this wraps up with a throwing session where we only see maybe 10 throws and all of them are usually followed with “THERE WE GO!” and “THAT’S WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!”
I don’t want to sound too harsh on a show I generally like. The thing for me is that the show has to offer some level of authenticity and insight. Gruden always gives a pretty good endorsement of each QB, not just their playing ability but their personality and drive to improve and to me that doesn’t sit right. RG3, Luck, and others can certainly get a thumbs up endorsement from Gruden but Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Nick Foles, Russell Wilson, and Kellen Moore can’t ALL get Gruden’s blessing as capable NFL quarterbacks. That’s Gruden’s main critique as a broadcaster, he likes everybody.
If it were up to me, I’d recommend these changes:
- Less episodes. QB’s believed to be first round draft picks make sense. After that, guys who were extremely prominent in college as Heisman contenders or players with a following. Then, maybe 2 more guys that Gruden just thinks are being undervalued in the draft. In the end you would have 5-7 episodes and not 10.
- Give me some more stats and infographics. The visual of two guys sitting at a table talking gets old. A pie chart of distribution of throws, completion % on different downs, QB rating when in the no huddle, etc. These things are interesting and insightful for the football addict and usually not widely known. If you hit on 3-4 stats in an episode, that gives fans a nice quantitative look at some of these guys they might not get elsewhere.
- Have the QB’s do some drills in which they record a score. Measure something for crying out loud to tie the episodes together and get people talking. It can even be something half silly. How accurate can you throw the ball with a blindfold on or something that the agents won’t get scared about having their guys do.
- If ESPN is going to stick to doing 10 QB’s or more, mix up the format where you have 2 players featured in an hour long episode. Shows like 48 Hours, True Life, The Pitch, and others bounce back and forth between characters in order to liven up an hour long reality program.
- Spread the episodes out. A new one everyday seems a bit much. 2 a week for a month would be better.
Although writing this article may seem like I dislike QB Camp, the truth is I like it and want to see it tweaked to have more staying power. It speaks to the hardcore football fan in me who spends his falls working 80 hours a week yet still watches between 20-30 hours of football. I love the draft, I love evaluating talent, and I love breaking down film and diving deep into offensive systems. Hopefully ESPN is proactive here as I can’t imagine a lot of fans opting to stick with the series through its entirety if it continues to follow a rather predictable boiler plate process.