When Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis hired Jon Gruden to be the head coach of his team this past January, he was hoping to revive some past magic. From 1998-2001, Gruden was the head coach of the Raiders as he took an underachieving team and had them on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl Title. But a power struggle between Gruden and former team owner Al Davis led to the head coach being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Tampa Bay, Gruden would have immediate success as he helped the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl in his first year as the head coach with none other than the Raiders being defeated by him in the big game.
But after initially winning in Tampa, Gruden would never again attain the success that he was able to get early on. Gruden never won another playoff game with the Bucs, and following consecutive 9-7 seasons, he was fired by the Buccaneers in 2008.
Gruden would immediately land on his feet as he was able recreate himself in the world of broadcasting. Gruden became a fixture on Monday Night Football as he appeared to be the second coming of another former Raiders head coach in John Madden. But unlike Madden, Gruden could not resist the allure or the money of returning to the sidelines.
It took Davis to pony up $100 million over the next ten years in order to lure Gruden away from the broadcast booth and back to his team as his return brought excitement and skeptics alike.
Some people were relishing Gruden’s past accomplishments, while others were looking at the fact that he had been away from the game for a decade. And for those who wanted to chide Davis for bringing Gruden back, they are looking like geniuses right now.
A little more than halfway through Gruden’s return season to the sidelines, the Raiders are 1-8 and are completely spiraling out of control. Three of Oakland’s eight losses have come by at least 20 points with the worst coming in Week Nine on Thursday Night Football as they were throttled by the San Francisco 49ers who themselves only had one victory prior to the game. The Raiders are not competing as this roster has given up on Gruden’s rhetoric and Davis has nobody to blame for this but himself.
Immediately following Oakland’s 6-10 mark last season, Davis fired head coach Jack Del Rio. Del Rio didn’t have the benefit of a healthy Derek Carr at quarterback in 2017 as the signal caller was dealing with a back injury which reflected in the team’s mark. Davis also never gave Del Rio the benefit of the doubt for ending the Raiders playoff drought in 2016 as the players would have run through a wall for him. Instead Davis opted to go with a head coach who has not only been away from the game for a decade, but has also lacked success.
Gruden is not the brainiac that people give him credit for. Upon Gruden’s first run with the Raiders, he merely took over an underachieving team, while with the Bucs, he needed to merely fix an offense due to the fact that the defense was championship ready as it has already produced two Hall of Famers in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, while Ronde Barder, Simeon Rice, and John Lynch will one day get the nod to Canton as well. Upon returning to Oakland, Gruden inherited one of the youngest and upcoming teams in the National Football League, and he has gone out of his way to destroy it.
Just prior to the start of this season Gruden traded defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. Mack had been holding out from Raiders training camp as he was seeking more money, and Gruden never went out of his way to make things work with as aside from an introductory phone call from the head coach to the player, Gruden never attempted to make any contact with the player. And when it was all said and done, the Raiders would trade Mack to the Chicago Bears in a move that would see Oakland receive a pair of first-round picks as part of their compensation.
But Gruden was not done playing “Let’s Make A Deal” as just prior to the National Football League’s Trade Deadline last month, he traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys. And in exchange for the former Pro Bowl wide receiver, the Raiders were able to receive a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Now the Raiders will have three, first-round picks in 2019, but Gruden has sold the Raiders players and fans alike a bill of goods.
This team was ready to compete this year as veteran players such as wide receiver Jordy Nelson was signed during the off-season, while the thought was that Carr would continue to grow as a quarterback under the tutelage of Gruden. Carr is completing 71.3% of his passes which is a career-high, but he is also turning ball over at an alarming rate as he has already thrown 8 interceptions this year. And I expect Carr to become inconsistent over the second half of the season now teat he has lost his top receiver in Cooper as AC/DC is no more, while you also have to wonder how much longer that he will want to wear the silver and black after this roster has been decimated?
By giving Gruden a ten-year deal for $100 million, along with the final say in personnel decisions, Davis has made a big time no-no. Very rarely do you see it work out in the current National Football League where the head coach who is also the chief decision maker, while there is no sense of urgency from Gruden being that he knows he cannot be fired due to the length of his contract.
Davis has basically given Gruden the authority to run the Raiders like a college football team where the head coach is the star of the show as it is more about him than it is the players. Gruden returned to Oakland with an ego that is bigger than the Golden Gate Bridge and he can care less about winning due to the fact that he has a pocket full of Davis’ money regardless of if the Raiders win or lose.
The optimist will tell you that the Raiders now have three, first-round picks for next year’s National Football League Draft, but when was the last time that Gruden made a star out of one of his draft selections? If you’re a Raiders fan that resides in Northern California, there is no incentive to come out and support this team before they move to Las Vegas. And if you are a Nevada resident, where is the incentive to shell out money to support this team, other than watching the Raiders being a trendy thing to do on the Vegas strip?
The optimist will foresee the Raiders being able to turn things around under Gruden upon the team’s arrival in Vegas, but the realist knows that the chances for that are slim. And for an organization that has only produced one winning season since 2003, an out of touch head coach will only add to their angst.