Column: Could “Gruden Mania” become a distraction?

Let’s get one thing straight, if those “Gruden” jerseys we saw in the Oakland Raiders’ press conference were on the shelf, I’d buy two, but I can’t help but feel like Jon Gruden’s return could be a distraction for the locker room.  

Call me a cynic but if you’ve endured the last twelve seasons as a fan of the Oakland Raiders, the last thing you want is a distraction. Been there, done that.

Does anyone remember the player’s protest distraction that arguably was the turning point in the Raiders’ season? It seemed all too familiar having Michael Crabtree and Aquib Talib brawling yet again ending only how we all knew it would – with Talib snatching his second gold chain.  

May I remind you of Marshawn Lynch’s sideline dance that seemed to flip the switch in the Coliseum as the Raiders shellacked the Jets in Week 2? Looking back at a season plagued with disappointment this was one of Oakland’s most memorable moments of 2017 – hardly anything to be remembered for.  

Even at the slightest hint of “Chucky’s” return to coaching gave the Raiders a spark and made them interesting again. Bay Area writers, analysts, radio hosts, and fans were talking “Grumors” and had bought into the hype. It gave fans something to feel good about after being dragged through the mud of a 6-10 season and bearing witness to an almost unrecognizable Derek Carr.

What is it about Gruden that gives fans all the right feels? He hasn’t even coached a game since 2008. Simple. Gruden is a Raider. He exudes passion, intensity and demands respect. His love for Al Davis and the city of Oakland brought him back. Looking back at the Raider’s history of head coaches (and there are a lot) Gruden will go down as one of the most memorable of all time.

When you think of the Silver and Black over the years, Gruden is embedded in those memories. That evil scowl pacing the sidelines, his Raider visor being thrown on the ground in disgust and his ability to seemingly create tension out of thin air. Admittedly, Gruden considers himself “borderline insane” and if you’ve ever seen the Black Hole on game day, you know what insanity looks like. It’s a match made in heaven.  Has anyone researched Chucky doll sales this week?

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Now that it’s been made official, Coach Gruden is back and according to that ten-year 100 million dollar contract, he’s here to stay. So, now what? Where do we go from here? What will the Oakland roster look like? What personnel stays, comes and goes? Which players stay for that matter? All fair questions, but will they be the ultimate distraction come training camp in July? The expectations are huge for Gruden and this team. Players know they will be held to a higher standard and that they’re expected to win and win fast. As we all know, we saw what these types of expectations did to the Raiders in this past year.  

The offense was a shell of what it was in 2016 and as the season went on, it was clear that last year’s 12-4 record is a long-gone distant memory. At times the offense looked uptight and unmotivated. Fans are ready to see this team in the Super Bowl after a sixteen-year absence and at the very least, get to the AFC championship game. Anything less would be considered an underachievement, right? Should they take any kind of step back, 2018 would feel like a complete embarrassment. No pressure.   

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