Stu Jackson / TheHoosier.com
As Jon Gruden arrived in Bloomington and drove around campus, he noticed many familiar sights from his childhood.
Cascades Golf Course, off North Kinser Pike, was still there, as was the student union at the center of campus.
For the first time in 40 years, Gruden was back in Bloomington. The former NFL head coach and current ESPN Monday Night Football analyst visited Thursday to serve alongside his father, Jim, as an honorary coach for the IU football spring game.
“Very excited to be back,” Gruden said. “It’s amazing to see the facilities, the upgrades. It’s really an exciting time at IU.”
Gruden’s family joined him for the trip, which also included breaking down film with the IU football coaching staff, a 15-minute question-and-answer session with local media and a speech given to Hoosier football players.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Gruden, whose father served as an assistant coach on Lee Corso’s staff from 1973-1977.
That time overlapped with Gruden’s childhood and early grade school years, including two years at Binford Elementary off East 2nd Street. Gruden grew up playing youth football with his dad as his coach and also won a state championship in Little League baseball. Outside of football and baseball, he also served as a ball boy for the IU men’s basketball program when Bob Knight was at the helm.
Similar to his youth football days, when Gruden arrived in Bloomington he also met a father-son coach-player relationship in IU head coach Tom Allen and his son, Thomas, a freshman linebacker for the Hoosiers who enrolled early.
Gruden said he and the elder Allen didn’t necessarily discuss family and football, but did recognized how meaningful those relationships are.
“I got to coach with my brother Jay, I got to play little league organized sports for my dad,” Gruden said. “To have an opportunity to play for your dad at Indiana University has got to be one of your greatest accomplishments in life if you’re Tom Allen.”
Six years before joining Corso’s staff, Gruden’s father earned his master’s degree at Indiana. In the fifty years since, Gruden still remembers Bloomington vividly.
“A lot of the old places are still here,” Gruden said. “The IU golf course, Cascades, Binford, the student union. A lot of things haven’t changed at all. Bryan Park, you see some things you remember vividly but then you see some structures and some facilities that are awesome. The limestone buildings are still really cool.”
After his media session ended, Gruden walked out of the Memorial Stadium team room where he was greeted by his family.
Gruden said sharing Thursday’s opportunity was his dad was a “great moment.” And perhaps one more family member will be taking in Bloomington soon.
“My youngest son, Jayson, is visiting IU,” Gruden said. “I don’t think he’s going to be a player, but the thought of him perhaps coming to Indiana, where his Uncle Jay, his Uncle Jeff and his dad grew up is really cool. My wife’s here. We’re all here to get reunited with Hoosier Nation.”
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