Jon Gruden has helped shape the way football is talked about and coached, and he's even molded some young assistant coaches into successful head coaches in the NFL, for example, Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay.
Whether Gruden is aware of it or not, he's been a major influence on another young coach, his defensive backs coach, Derrick Ansley.
Ansley was born and raised in Tallassee, Ala., just a little over two hours southeast of Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama. When it came time for the 36-year-old coach to attend college, he decided to stay in his home state, and play football at Troy University. For four seasons he played as a defensive back for the Trojans, and earned all-conference honors as a senior.
After earning a bachelors degree in broadcast journalism, Ansley opted to continue his education at the University of Alabama and pursue a master's degree in sports management. Five years later — following coaching stints at Tennessee and Kentucky — Ansley returned to Tuscaloosa, and rejoined the team as the defensive backs coach.
Over the last two years, Ansley has groomed and developed some of the nation's best talent, watching a handful of them get selected in the NFL Draft. It's for this reason, Gruden decided to swoop up the young coach, and add him to his coaching staff. The decision to join the Raiders took some consideration though, but the thought of leaving home for the next step in his career was too good an offer to pass up.
"Obviously, leaving home, being from Alabama, my wife being from Alabama, going to college there, all my family there, that's home," Ansley said. "Yeah, leaving there and coming to the West Coast was something to think about, but when you talk about the Oakland Raiders and the history of defensive backs here, the culture of defense here, and the way I've always believed you should play defense, aggressive, up in your face, and then with Coach Gruden coming back it was a no brainer to come learn from him."
Coach Ansley continued:
"Always been a big fan of [Coach Gruden], when I became a young coach listening to him speak one day and talk about his video library, and the vast number of things he has in his library motivated me to start [my own], and to build those great examples from all over the place, and have things filed, organized, and be able to teach your players better. I've had my eyes on coach Gruden for a long time. I've never worked with him until now, but he's influenced me as an early coach."
I haven't seen Coach Gruden's full collection of film, but I'd imagine it'd take years upon years for Coach Ansley to replicate it. Learning from one of the best coaches in the sport was certainly a point of interest for Ansley, but the challenge of mentoring men, and helping them take the next step in their lives and careers was something that also excited him.
"Obviously this is the highest level, but coming from college — coming from the SEC — we played at a high level there too. The biggest difference is guys here may have been playing in this league a decade plus," Ansley said. "You come in here trying to get to know them, and learn what their strengths and weaknesses are, what makes them go, but football is like that at every level. Pop warner, to JV, high school, and college you've got to get to know kids, and men, to get on the same page with them. That's the biggest thing, is to get to know them, everybody is different, everybody has a different style, everybody takes coaching different, so knowing what buttons to push and maneuver, I think that really helps us get to know these guys."
In his first season as an NFL coach, Ansley will be tasked with turning a group that struggled to force turnovers last season into a defense that wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Through Organized Team Activities and the first week and a half of training camp, Ansley is still searching for guys that will rise to the occasion.
Nothing is set in stone just yet.
"We're working to find out who's our best five, six, seven guys that can play at a high level," he said. "And we haven't figured that out yet."
As the season progresses, Ansley will only continue building a relationship with his new defensive backs, and growing with the coach he's admired from afar all these years.