The Return of Jon Gruden
The Raiders entered the 2017 season with very high hopes. Some even thought that they would possibly reach the Superbowl with a healthy Derek Carr. Well, as many of you know, that wasn’t even close to what happened. The talent was there – Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and newly acquired Marshawn Lynch. So, what went wrong?
A lot did.
For starters, the Raiders offense ranked No.6 in the league last year under then OC Bill Musgrave and that was really the cornerstone of their 12-4 season and the reason why they reached the playoffs. They were a different team without Derek Carr. But, in the offseason, the Raiders decided to move on from Bill Musgrave and promote their QB’s coach, Todd Downing, and the offense struggled. Everyone on the offense regressed and at times, it seemed like Lynch was really the only bright spot.
There were also clear leadership issues. This wasn’t the same magic that we saw in 2016. Something was different and something happened. What was it? I’m not exactly sure but it leads to this report late on Saturday night (right before the teams season finale).
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 31, 2017
Who even thought this was possible? It’s brought up every single year but this is the first time that it has felt legit and for good reason. There are many reasons and many fingers to point as to why the Raiders regressed significantly in 2017 and owner Mark Davis wasn’t putting up with it.
Immediately after the team’s 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Mark Davis pulled JDR aside and told him that he wouldn’t be returning next year to coach this team. The sad part is is that Del Rio had to announce his own firing, minutes after it happened to a room full of the media. He held an immense amount of class and I tip my hat off to him. He handled a bad situation with a lot of respect and he helped turn this Raiders team in the right direction.
So, Jon Gruden, huh? It can’t be true. It just can’t. He hasn’t coached a game in 10 years…
Well after JDR was released, it looked all the more likely. Here’s a report from The Athletic’s, John Middlekauff, about what he had heard:
Raiders assistant just now to me- Gruden is coming, 99%
— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) January 1, 2018
It seems all but imminent that it is going to happen. But, the Raiders must comply with the “Rooney Rule” which was established in 2003 and states that teams must interview minority candidates for either head coaching vacancies or upper management positions. Gruden will most likely be calling his final game in the booth this Saturday as the Chiefs taken on the Tennesee Titans. An early look at an AFC West rival? Will he announce it live on air? Who knows but. . .
Gruden is back.
So, what does this mean for the Raiders organization? Is this a good hire? or is this a PR stunt to help the transition to Las Vegas be a little smoother?
Let’s take a little look back down memory lane. Gruden took over for the Raiders in 1998 (the Raiders finished 4-12 in 1997) and lead them to a record of 8-8 for his first two seasons. Then Gruden led the Raiders to the AFC championship game in both 2001 and 2002. He brought the Raiders back and kept them competitive.[the_ad id=”73518″][the_ad id=”61518″]
While things were rolling with Gruden and Co. in Oakland, the Raiders traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their first-round picks in 2002 and 2003 first round picks, 2002 and 2004 second round picks and $8 million in cash. Gruden replaced Tony Dungy and was highly sought after as you can see. Gruden’s contract was set to follow the following year with the Raiders and Al Davis wasn’t sure if they would re-sign him. So, Al Davis got a lot in exchange for an uncertain future.
Raiders then QB, Rich Gannon, who worked under Gruden’s offense had some comments about the decision Al Davis made…
Gannon: "When the Raiders decided to trade Jon Gruden, that was the biggest mistake Al Davis ever made."https://t.co/tvLc8I2kWg
— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) December 31, 2017
So, If Gruden were to return it really would be the perfect Cinderella story and would ease the transition for fans as the team moves from their longtime city of Oakland to a new market in Las Vegas. But, is it just a PR thing or does Gruden still have it?
Looking back at his coaching records, here are his regular season records with both the Raiders and Bucs.
- 1998: 8-8
- 1999: 8-8
- 2000: 12-4
- 2001: 10-6
- Total: 38-26 (.594 win %)
- 2002: 12-4 (Superbowl Champions against OAK)
- 2003: 7-9
- 2004: 5-11
- 2005: 11-5
- 2006: 4-12
- 2007: 9-7
- 2008: 9-7
- Total: 57-55 (.509 win %)
Gruden posts a total record of 95-81 for a win percentage of .540. In comparison, Jack Del Rio posts a total record of 93-94 (.497). They’re pretty similar. So, why does one have a job and one doesn’t?[the_ad id=”73965″][the_ad id=”63198″]
First and foremost, Gruden is an offensive-minded head coach and one that has had success in this league. For example, In 1999, Gruden went out and got then journeymen QB Rich Gannon to be his starting QB. Gannon was a fourth-round pick in 1987 and had never made the pro bowl before coming to the Raiders.
Gannon went on to be an NFL MVP with the Raiders in 2002, went to four-straight pro-bowls (1999-2002), 2 times first team all-pro (2000,2002) and led the Raiders to two consecutive AFC West championships before making the Superbowl in 2002. His success was in large part to the system that Gruden had established for him.
Gruden loves his QB’s as that is well-known in the NFL. That in large part is why his tenure in Tampa Bay was so up and down – He never had that franchise QB. Here is a list of his starting quarterbacks during his time there:
- Brad Johnson
- Brian Griese
- Chris Simms
- Jeff Garcia
- Luke McCown
- Rob Johnson
- Bruce Gradkowski
- Tim Rattay
All of these guys certainly had their ups and downs but no one really fit Gruden’s system like Rich Gannon. But, does he have his guy in Oakland?
He certainly does. Derek Carr.
Gruden met Carr in 2014 when he entered the NFL Draft during his famous “Gruden’s QB Camp” where he got to sit down with Carr and pick his brain. Here is the video.
Gruden (to Carr): “I want you. What do you have to say to that?”
Carr: “I appreciate that. Let’s go win some championships.”
Also, according to Mike Sando of ESPN, he says that “I went to every Gruden’s QB Camp since ’14 and the consensus was that Carr’s throwing workout was the most impressive one.”
This is probably in large part why Gruden is finally ready to make his return. He knows that he has the tools and it seems like he is certainly infatuated with QB Derek Carr. One can assume that he must be confident in the young gunslinger and should be able to develop a good team around him.
After a down year in 2017, Carr is looking to come back to his 2016 form. There are many reasons as to why he regressed and some have labeled that it was Todd Downing’s playbook or maybe he had a lingering back injury that he suffered early in the season against the Broncos. Gruden is exactly what he needs to bring this team to a competitive level.
Another thing that Gruden brings to the table beside his offensive knowledge and commitment to the game, is his passion. Gruden has an intensity and a competitive edge like no other. He will scream and get at players for doing something wrong but will motivate guys to be better. Here is a sound clip from his early coaching days with the Raiders.
— Raider Posts (@RaiderPosts) January 2, 2018
It’s a must watch for any Raiders fan. It’s much different than what Jack Del Rio brought to the table. With all the respect to Del Rio, it’s just much different. It’s the fire that this young team needs.
Gruden is already putting his efforts into hiring the right staff and here is a report at who he is looking at.
It is speculated that Gruden is targeting Jets OC John Morton to join him in Oakland. Morton did a really fine job of maximizing the talent of veteran QB, Josh McCown, who had the best year of his career this season. Morton found ways to help with the emergence of UDFA Robby Anderson and also some good play out of RB’s Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. It was a successful season for a Jets offensive unit that lacked talent.
On the defensive side, Gruden is reported to be targeting Bengals DC Paul Guenther. His contract is expired after this season with the Bengals and with Marvin Lewis returning on a 2-year deal, it’s quite possible that he would make the move. The Raiders defense has been their weak point for a long time but has some interesting pieces. Obviously, Khalil Mack is a star but other than that, they have invested heavily in recent drafts. Karl Joseph in 2016, Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu in 2017 all were early round picks and certainly could still make big jumps under the right system. With Gruden most likely calling the offensive plays, it’s important to have a solid defensive coordinator.
Another something to keep an eye on is a growing rumor that former QB Rich Gannon will be his QB’s coach. Gannon has no prior experience in coaching and this certainly adds to the belief that this could be a PR stunt. How perfect is that story? Yeah, pretty perfect. But, Gannon excelled in Gruden’s offense and he knew it very well. He certainly worked very hard at it. This could be a positive hire or one that goes in the wrong direction, but, this really could help Carr develop.
With Gruden out of coaching for 10 years, it’s important that he really finds the right coordinators for this team. It will only make his transition smoother and help get this team back to it’s winning pedigree. So with Gruden expected to be hired, keep a look at who he is targeting for his staff. It’s just as important.
But, there certainly is a risk. Gruden hasn’t coached an NFL game in over 10 years and of course, the game changes as time goes by. But, Gruden has had the pleasure of having a lot of time to watch a lot of film and still remain up to date with the game. But calling an actual game is a new beast and one that he must be prepared for.
Gruden recently spoke with Trey Wingo and Mike Golic about if he were to return or not.
He says “I think there is a good chance. I’m excited about where I am in terms of studying the game, and being prepared to come back and coach. I just don’t want to sit here and speculate.”
The next question that surrounds this potential hire is how much will he be compensated for? He hasn’t coached in over 10 years. What is his worth? Well, Mark Davis seems to think very highly of him. It was originally reported that Davis would offer ownership stakes in the franchise… Something that hasn’t happened and would set a negative precedent moving forward with NFL teams. No numbers or anything has been finalized but Gruden put the ownership stakes rumor to rest. In that same interview with Golic and Wingo, he says “No ownership. That’s for sure.”
While this may seem like the perfect story as the Raiders head towards Las Vegas, it also is quite encouraging for this young Raiders team. Especially after the disappointing season, they had just had. After doing some research, it honestly may be a little bit of both. It’s an amazing story for Gruden and for the Raiders. But, Gruden had runs of being a fantastic coach. We’ve all seen that. But, when he went to Tampa things were so up and down and one can point largely at the QB play and that elite defense that grew of age.
If Gruden were to return, he will be with a young offense that finished sixth in the league in 2016. An elite level offensive line, a potential young standout WR in Amari Cooper and of course a budding star in Derek Carr. This is a lot more than what he had in Tampa quite frankly and that’s why there is just so much potential here.
In a lost 2017 year filled with drama and little to none leadership, Gruden’s passion, commitment and knowledge could help turn this young team around. On the flip side, things could go south. There is a lot of risk for both sides of this deal but it will be cool to see Gruden finally make his return if he decides to do so.
Jake Hamilton is a senior at SUNY Geneseo where he is pursuing a degree in Business Administration. He has commissioned a very successful and fun fantasy league for the last seven years. His friends think he has an addiction to mock drafts and it’s true. Recently, Jake finished up a 4-month internship with the Buffalo Bills where he contributed to their team blog and interviewed multiple players. Jake always enjoys good fantasy conversation so, feel free to reach out to him at anytime.