It’s hard to believe it’s only been seven months since Mark Davis successfully lured Jon Gruden out of the broadcasting booth back onto the sideline, but it has. It’s been a long, exciting, and interesting off-season.
There’s a lot of hype and even more doubt surrounding the team, and everyone’s excited about September 10th, when Gruden calls plays as Oakland’s head coach for the first time since January 19th, 2002. However, after having the same four or five conversations about what scares and excites me as a fan, I’ve decided to consolidate them all into one article. So here it is, the quintessential guide to everything Jon Gruden.
The Gruden Guide: A Raiders Fan’s Guide to Jon Gruden’s Raiders
First Thing’s First: The 1998 Joke
“I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998.”
At this year’s combine, Chucky uttered these words with that trademark smirk during an interview and all of his critics leaped all over it. The biggest argument of Gruden is that the game has passed him by, and saying that he wants to coach like he did twenty years ago? Was music to their ears.
However, this statement has been ripped away from the interview and presented without context so often that most people don’t even know what Gruden was referring to. Here’s what Gruden actually said.
“I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998, there’s a stack of analytical data … that people don’t even know how to read. It’s one thing to have the data, it’s another thing to know how to read the damn thing. So I’m not going to rely on GPS’ and all the modern technology. I will certainly have some people that are professional that can help me from that regard. But I still think doing things the old-fashioned way is a good way. And we’re going to try to lean the needle that way a little bit.”
We’re not talking about overhead projectors or running the Tampa 2, he’s just not crazy about using too much technology when it comes to coaching, and who is? He’s not even completely opposed to the idea, claiming he’ll have people who understand the cutting edge technology, but that he’d prefer to coach the old-fashioned way. If you don’t believe us, just check out some of the pictures and film from training camp, where Derek Carr has been wearing a helmet cam. Bill Belichick went on a similar tirade about technology, but nobody seems to be complaining about how out of touch he is.
To his critics, there are easier shots to take at Gruden, you don’ have to manipulate his words and take a harmless joke out of context.
Sometimes, we get a little carried away when discussing the shortcomings of the previous administration. As bad as the 2017 Oakland Raiders were, the 2016 team was the most entertaining squad that the Nation has had in a long time. It wasn’t so long ago that those who wear Silver and Black were calling the ol’ coach Captain Jack, saying he deserved to win Coach of the Year.
His biggest failure wasn’t the inadequacy of his coordinators, nor was it the timing of fourth down conversion attempts. What ultimately forced Captain Jack Del Rio to walk the plank was the loss of his locker room. Maybe it was his criticism of players, maybe it was how he handled political division in the locker room. For whatever reason, Del Rio lost his locker room, and the players didn’t respect him anymore. If they don’t respect you, you can’t hold them accountable when they fail on the field.
If Gruden is anything like the coach he once was, that won’t be a problem in Oakland anymore. During his time with the team, journeyman quarterback, Rich Gannon, was a viable top ten quarterback. However, that wouldn’t stop Chucky from screaming at him coming off the field after an interception. Gruden doesn’t care how much money you make or how valuable you are to the team, if you’re not doing your job, he’s not going to be happy about it, and he’s going to let you know.
Chucky hasn’t even coached a game yet in his second stint with the Raiders, but this is already true. Just look at the roster moves he made upon his arrival. He released players that were talented but displayed rebellious or potentially troublesome personalities.
King and Crab
Marquette King averaged nearly 47 yards a punt during his time in Oakland, but his funny, if immature, antics on the field had cost the team penalties in the past, and Gruden wasn’t having it. King is one of the NFL’s best punters, but if there was even a chance he was going to potentially cost the team yards with penalties, Gruden wasn’t going to keep paying him.
Another example is Michael Crabtree. Crabtree led the Raiders in catches and touchdowns during his time with the team, but after a tumultuous season where he was suspended for his feud with Aqib Talib and reportedly wouldn’t speak to quarterback, Derek Carr, Gruden didn’t want any part of it.
This mindset is reflected in the free agents he’s brought in as well, which leads to my next point.
Veteran Leadership and Competition
Gruden believes the cream rises to the crop, and the free agents he’s signed reflect that, if not in the way that most would expect. Many critics have been very vocal about the age of the players that Gruden has brought in, and it’s hard to disagree with them on the surface. He brought in Jordy Nelson (33 years old), Derrick Johnson (35 years old), Breno Giacomini (32 years old), Leon Hall (33 years old), Shareece Wright (31 years old), and re-signed maligned safety, Reggie Nelson (34 years old).
If Gruden really wants the best team, why bring in a bunch of old, supposedly slow, if admittedly inexpensive veterans? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on one or two splash free agents? Instead, Oakland got older at wide receiver, corner, and inside linebacker. Why do this? How does that help the cream rise to the top?
The older players are proven veterans that have been serviceable, even good starters in their time. The jobs still hypothetically belong to the younger, more athletic players, but they’re going to have to earn it. Last year, they could rest on their laurels and mail performances in, but now there’s very real competition.
Playing time is going to be earned, and things won’t be handed to their players like last year. The veterans should not only make younger players work harder to keep their jobs, but they can pass experience onto them as well. Ambitious players can pick the brains of veterans and get better as a result. And honestly, if younger guys can’t beat out this “old, washed up” veterans, they don’t deserve to be starting anyway.
Focused On The Field
It seemed like Gruden’s return would be the biggest story of the off-season, and then the rumors about Khalil Mack’s contract started. At first, it seemed like a non-story, a typical veteran holdout. And then, as time went on, it became more and more unsettling until now, just as training camp kicks off, he’s nowhere to be found, and apparently, not speaking with his new head coach.
Interesting fact of day: Jon Gruden and Oakland DE Khalil Mack have not spoken once since the Raiders hired their new head coach in January. No contact between two men who should be vital this season for the Raiders.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 26, 2018
This gave the people who mock the Raiders plenty of ammunition. Mack is arguably the team’s best player, and if the head coach isn’t even speaking to him? That is one very, very bad look.
However, that’s only one perspective. Because while Gruden and Mack may not have touched base, it is believed that Mack has spoken with the defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, and general manager, Reggie McKenzie. This sounds horrible, as if he and Gruden have some kind of problem, but this is actually a good thing, from a certain point of view.
This means that Gruden is letting McKenzie handle the contracts while he focuses on football. All of the rumors about Gruden usurping McKenzie appear to be false, and Chucky can focus on football. Another bright side? The Raiders drafted several defensive linemen this year, including Arden Key, who can get valuable reps with the first team during Mack’s absence.
Gruden is focused on football. Not contracts, not players who aren’t there, not anthems, but football. Having someone as fiercely committed and determined as Gruden giving 150% of his focus to Raiders football? Can only be a good thing.
Obviously, some of the fears are justified. Gruden has been off the sideline for a decade, and he wasn’t the same brilliant coach in Tampa Bay that we remember him as in Oakland. After being dubbed the wonder kid who gave the Philadelphia Eagles two top ten offenses as a coordinator, he took the Oakland from 18th in total offense to three consecutive top ten seasons.
Unfortunately, in his time with the Buccaneers, he only had one top ten offense, and it was in 2003. It’s fair to wonder if he’s still got it, especially after being absent from the sideline for so long. Even the great Joe Gibbs, a man who won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, was a shadow of himself when he returned to the Washington Redskins in 2004, and he was a Hall of Famer.
Fear is justified. In fact, fear is wise. While there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, there are a ton of variables that we won’t see until kickoff in September. While the likes of Colin Cowherd say the Raiders are likely to be a train wreck just to upset fans and steal views or clicks, there’s a very real chance the team could struggle.
Back in Black
For many, Gruden epitomizes the last time the Oakland Raiders were contenders in the NFL. He was brash, real, and everything the Nation wants from a head coach. Many, myself included, thought this day would never come. Maybe the game has passed him by, like many fear.
Or maybe, just maybe, all those years in the booth, with the best seat in the house, have done the most competitive coach in football good. Maybe he comes back more centered, but just as driven, with more insight than ever before. This team is far more talented than most will give them credit for, and Gruden has assembled an incredible cast of assistants. Maybe Gruden being back in black is exactly what one of the most iconic franchises in sports needed.
And hey, silver (and black) lining? He said if he can’t get the job done, he won’t take the money! So he won’t bankrupt the team if it turns out that the Colin Cowherds of the world are actually right about something for once. But what’s more likely, sensationalist talking heads being right or a broadcaster with one heck of a resume being a good coach? You decide Raider Nation.