How loud and annoyed Stephen A. Smith was when Mike Mayock landed the Oakland Raiders General Manager gig. Lambasting the Raiders, Smith boisterously denounced the hire and said he should be given the job due to being a TV guy himself and having zero experience running NFL team operations, like Mayock.
Smith was one of many naysayers in the media — myself included.
In fact, the only group that had a differing opinion were the cats Mayock worked with at NFL Network. So it’s no surprise Mayock, a very loquacious type during draft coverage is now on radio silence. He rarely gives interviews and his most extensive one to date was with NFL Network cohort and friend Rich Eisen.
Plenty of jokes abound about the Raiders’ “TV” guys Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden. But what they’re showing is how drafting players, and then coaching and developing them, is critical to an NFL team’s success. It’s a trait that eludes many teams in the league, including the Raiders for decades.
Just look at the previous man who held the GM title in Oakland — Reggie McKenzie. He took player’s based on the coaching staff’s preference and said coaches couldn’t develop said prospects. Of course, it doesn’t help when the draftees are always on the mend in the training room.
Yet, when in Gruden’s lone year with RM as GM, McKenzie noted how refreshing it was to have a coaching staff know exactly what they want and communicate that to the personnel man.
That dynamic exponentially grew with Gruden landing his handpicked general manager in Mayock.
I’ll be straight up: In my mind, this was Gruden’s ship all the way. Mayock was nothing more than GM in title and simply a draft film junkie who would tell Gruden A to Z on a prospect but the head coach would be the final decision in that room in Alameda.
This is my way of saying — I was completely wrong.
Gruden still likely has final say but boy, does Mayock have some sway. You must have heard by now Mayock saying he told Gruden way early the Raiders were going to take oft-used Alabama running back Josh Jacobs in the first round.
“He’s doing all the interviews, taking all the credit for Jacobs,” Gruden joked during Wednesday’s post-practice press conference. “He can have all the credit, but Jacobs wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have the picks.”
(That last line, by the way, was a dig at the trade the NFL world claimed the Chicago Bears “undoubtedly” won.)
Mayock and Gruden have a crystal clear checklist of ideal Raiders and the team is not only adding to the organization, but the staff has done an incredible job of teaching and imparting knowledge that allows them to assimilate.
I dubbed the Mayock-Gruden pairing affectionately as the TV Twins. I say affectionately because it’s working out. If the relationship had gone the other way, the moniker would be a mocking one. But the two have weathered some tumultuous early shenanigans (that would be Antonio Brown) and an absolutely brutal 2019 schedule (the Raiders had to make concessions as part of getting the palace in the desert that is the brand-spanking new stadium in Las Vegas, but damn!).
In between all that malarkey, noted film junkies Gruden and Mayock — including scouts and staff — put in absurd hours to meticulously navigate the draft and free agency (both prior to the 2019 campaign and during it).
The Raiders draft class is exceptionally good and is spearheaded by impressive Jacobs, defensive end Maxx Crosby. And contributing while free agent adds (Trent Brown and Richie Incognito, namely) have helped accelerate the team cohesion.
What Gruden and Mayock have been able to do thus far has blown my expectations away. There’s always caution in cases like this. Both head coach and GM must continue this stupendous trend. This can’t be a flash-in-the-pan draft and free agency period.
The bar has been raised but the team must continue to leap and reset it to an even higher plain.
However, the early returns are so favorable, things should only improve when the Raiders embark on the Las Vegas chapter of their storied existence.
When I’m wrong, I’m more than happy to eat crow. I can most definitely tell you it tastes like chicken.
Follow Ray Aspuria on Twitter @jackasspuria