‘A good night for Dayton’ on Monday Night Football

UD Athletic Director Neil Sullivan watches in person as two former Flyers coach against each other.

The rich tradition of Dayton Flyers football had never produced a moment quite like what fans across the nation saw this week.

On Monday Night Football, two former Dayton quarterbacks, separated by 20 years and at opposite ends of the experience spectrum when it comes to being a head coach in the NFL, coached against each other. It was the 345th game in the NFL as a head coach for Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, a 1986 UD graduate, and the fourth for Brandon Staley, Dayton’s starting quarterback in 2003 and 2004 and now a rookie head coach with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Neil Sullivan, UD’s athletic director, watched from a field-level suite at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood with a group of alumni from the Los Angeles area. The group posed for a photo with a Dayton flag before the game.

“It was a good night for Dayton football,” Sullivan said Wednesday during an interview in his office at the Frericks Center.

Josh Postorino, a former Dayton basketball player who has served as director of athletic development at UD since July 2015, accompanied Sullivan to California. Abigail Barany, a director of development at UD who’s responsible for major gift fundraising on the West Coast, helped organize the gathering.

The group saw Staley’s Chargers improve to 3-1 with a 28-14 victory, moving into a tie in the AFC West with Gruden’s Raiders, who suffered their first loss, and the Denver Broncos.

Staley and Gruden were both coached by Mike Kelly, who let them know Dayton would have a presence at the game with Sullivan and the alums. Staley and Gruden met only once before the game, Staley said last week, but shook hands at midfield after the game.

Their connection was mentioned during the Monday Night Football broadcast on ESPN.

“A couple of head coaches who have a special connection,” said Steve Levy, the play-by-play commentator. “They are 20 years apart. Both Brandon Staley and Jon Gruden grew up in Ohio and went on to play quarterback at the University of Dayton. From everything we’ve heard, Staley apparently was the much better quarterback of the two. Hard to find Jon Gruden quarterback stats.”

“Yeah, give me those,” analyst Brian Griese said.

“I don’t have them handy,” Levy said.

“Why not?” Griese asked.

“I get the sense he was more of a backup quarterback,” Levy said.

“I noticed he didn’t bring that up when we talked about it yesterday,” Griese said. “I love how they described Brandon Staley: a taller Doug Flutie.”

The 6-foot, 180-pound Staley earned the starting job as a junior in 2003 and generated 1,961 yards of total offense, then the fourth-highest total in school history. He led the Flyers to a 9-2 record.

As a senior in 2004, Staley shared the job with redshirt freshman Kevin Hoyng, who would finish his career as Dayton’s all-time leading passer. Staley threw six touchdown passes and averaged 99.2 passing yards per game in his final season with the Flyers. He had one more year of eligibility because he redshirted as a freshman and transferred to Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., where he played his final season with his twin brother Jason.

Gruden played high school football in South Bend. Ind., where his dad Jim was an assistant coach at Notre Dame. Jon started his college career at Muskingum University, picking it over Dayton, DePauw and Wabash. He then transferred to Dayton, where his dad was an assistant coach from 1969-72, in 1983.

Gruden had at least one touchdown, on an 18-yard run, as a sophomore in 1983. He completed his only pass attempt for six yards in that game. That’s the only mention of Gruden in a box score from that season, according a search of the Dayton Daily News archive on Newspapers.com.

In 1984, when he was the third quarterback on the depth chart, the only mention of Gruden was about him catching a snap and placing the ball for kicker Greg French, who made a 50-yard field goal in a 24-0 victory against Otterbein at Welcome Stadium.

As the backup quarterback in 1985, his senior season, Gruden rushed four times for 33 yards and completed 1 of 2 passes for minus 13 yards in a 51-6 victory against Wabash. He scored on a 12-yard run in that game. He also saw action in a 45-14 victory against Saint Joseph’s, losing 16 yards on two carries and failing to complete a pass on three attempts. He rushed three times for five yards in a 63-13 victory against Samford.

Despite his lack of playing time, even as a senior in 1985, Gruden won the Lt. Andy Zulli Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the “senior football player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship and character.”

“I got a real respect for football there,” Gruden told the Dayton Daily News in 1998. “I learned how to prepare, how to get that feeling of what it’s like to win. It was just a great experience for me as a student-athlete.

“I was coached by good people and good coaches. I just wasn’t good enough. I was a ham-and-egger. We got a lot of leads in a lot of games because we were a good team, and I got to play a little bit because of that. When they needed me, I was there. I loved UD.”

Almost 40 years later, Gruden remains loyal to Dayton, Sullivan said, and keeps in touch with his former coach Kelly. Sullivan has met Gruden at events over the years but has yet to meet Staley.

“Dayton football has a lot of tradition,” Sullivan said, “and those in the business, when people talk about Mike Kelly and and his coaching tree and Rick Chamberlin, it doesn’t matter the level. I mean NFL coaches that I’ve heard from multiple times, the amount of respect they have for Dayton football would blow most people away. I just thought it was important to be present.”

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