PHOENIX — Sunday was a solemn day across New England, when Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL.
In 31 other NFL locations, it was a cause for celebration.
“I hope he has a great retirement, a great second career,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Tuesday at the owners meetings. “I hope he’s working on it like crazy.”
“I’m really looking forward to him not being in the league, and looking forward to seeing what he does with the rest of his career,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said with a smile.
For nine seasons in New England, Gronkowski was a nearly unstoppable force, catching 79 touchdown passes and helping the Patriots win three Super Bowl titles.
Tuesday morning at the head coaches breakfast, the reaction to Gronkowski’s retirement fell into three categories:
1. Thank goodness we don’t have to deal with him anymore.
2. The game is going to miss him.
3. Skepticism that Gronk, 29, will actually stay retired.
“Probably a little bit excited now that I don’t have to see him on Sundays, but I can’t totally write that off, either,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Jets coach Adam Gase said.
Count Raiders coach Jon Gruden among those who hope to see Gronk putting on the shoulder pads again.
“I hope he revisits it and comes back,” Gruden said. “He’s the most complete tight end I’ve ever seen. He can play as a receiver, he can play in the slot, he can play in-line, he can do anything. Wish him the best, and it’s great for him if he does go out to go out on top.”
Harbaugh, one of the Patriots’ top rivals, said he has “nothing but respect and love” for Gronkowski.
“Rob Gronkowski would’ve been great in any era,” he said. “He would’ve been great in the ’20s. I’d rather he’d been playing in the ’20s.”
Harbaugh called it an honor just to get to compete against him.
Harbaugh certainly won’t miss trying to stop Gronkowski. The Patriots and Ravens split a pair of AFC Championship games in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and had an epic showdown in the playoffs after the 2014 season that resulted in a 35-31 Patriots comeback win.
“You had to match him up with a special cover guy, and that was going to be 50-50 at best,” Harbaugh said. “You really had to put two people on him, and as soon as you’re putting two people on him, you’re leaving somebody else open, and Tom Brady’s pretty good at finding those mismatches. That was a great combination for those guys.”
Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who was Gronkowski’s offensive coordinator in New England for his first two NFL seasons, described how tough it was trying to find a defense that could contain Gronk.
“We would try to double him, and even in the doubles, in the last game we played him he beat a double for a touchdown,” O’Brien said. “We used linebackers and safeties usually, but one year we put A.J. Bouye on him, a bigger corner. We tried a lot of different things, guys that had a little bit of length that could run with him. If you play base defense, now they have a matchup in the pass game. If you play substituted defense, now they’re going to pound you in the run. He created a lot of tough meetings.”
The book on slowing down Gronk, so to speak, was that the defense had to chip him at the line of scrimmage and generally try to pound him as much as possible. O’Brien said that wasn’t so easy.
“He was so big and strong that a lot of those guys would bounce off of him,” O’Brien said. “And I know when I was there in New England, and I know after I left, they practiced that a lot — how to move him so it was hard to find him, especially when he was lined up out wide. They weren’t chipping him out there.”
Gronkowski spent his career tormenting the Steelers, going for 685 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games. But Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin had nothing but fond memories of Gronkowski on Tuesday, recalling how they first met when Gronk was a high school senior in the Pittsburgh area.
“In 2007 I go to a Dapper Dan banquet and sit on the dais, and he’s on the dais,” Tomlin said. “We had one of those ‘Gronk’ interactions, but I didn’t know he was Gronk at the time. I always smile when I think about that interaction and the first time having met him. He was just full of life and uninhibited in terms of how he interacted with people and really enjoyed the evening.
“I often think about that, when I think about some of the ‘wow’ accomplishments he’s had as a professional. That spirit is authentic.”
New Dolphins coach Brian Flores catches a break with Gronk’s retirement — he no longer has to worry about facing Gronk twice a year. Flores said that disappoints him, however.
“It’s a sad day, honestly, because he brings so much to the game of football,” Flores said. “The opportunity to compete against him, that would’ve been enjoyable for me as a competitor and as somebody who has a love for the game. I’m going to miss watching him go out there and have fun and play the game with the joy and the love of the game that he did.”