A Questionable Decision: Raiders Fire Brentson Buckner

In a surprising move, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden fired defensive line coach Brentson Buckner on Tuesday afternoon. A man that joined the team’s coaching staff in 2019 is now out the door in favor of former Cowboys defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

The Raiders offseason was experiencing calm and quiet seas when a sudden bolt of lightning struck the coaching staff with Buckner being the casualty, who is 48 years old and was largely responsible for a top 10 rush defense in 2019. The replacement? Rod Marinelli, a castaway from the recent Dallas coaching staff implosion. He will have a slight demotion from the Cowboys defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, to strictly Las Vegas defensive line coach. Jon Gruden reunites with his former assistant coach that was a part of his Super Bowl Championship run in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Yet again, Gruden has stated one thing but his actions dictate otherwise.

This is eerily similar to two situations that occurred in 2018. Gruden stated that he would not trade wide receiver Amari Cooper:

Gruden, 8 days later, determined Cooper was not worthy of a future with the Raiders based off his inconsistency in his tenure with the Silver and Black. 2018 was also the year of the infamous Khalil Mack trade after the coach said that the defensive end would stay with the team. Fast forward to 2019, when the Raiders defense, without Mack, had the same amount of sacks as the Bears with 32. Addition by subtraction proved that defensive line production can still occur without him. In addition, Oakland had a top 10 rushing defense, unlike the Bears, thanks to the meticulous work of Brenston Buckner, the Raider defense made significant leaps in the following areas.

  • 13 sacks in 2018 to 32 in 2019
  • From 29th ranked rush defense in 2018, to 8th in 2019.

Considering the youth and lack of premier talent that Buckner was working with, that is quite the productive turnaround in one season. Unlike Cooper and Mack, Buckner showed up and produced on a consistent basis. The justification for his departure is inexplicable.

Related: A bust? Year in Review: Clelin Ferrell

So Why?

This begs the question, why part ways with Buckner? Clearly, it wasn’t a scarcity of production from his unit. In fact, without the efforts of their defensive line, it is quite possible that the Raiders would have repeated as 32nd ranked defense again as they did in 2018. You’d be hard pressed to find any coach to come in and replicate that type of production increase in one season with a specific unit anywhere. Ultimately, today was a shock for Buckner.

Similar to a breakup, Buckner was told by Gruden “I need to make a change, it was nothing you did.” A questionable display of the ‘Good Old Boy’ system is in effect with the Raiders going into 2020 with Marinelli’s arrival.

Is Marinelli an upgrade for the Raiders?

The 70 year old veteran coach does bring a plethora of value with 23 years of NFL defensive coaching experience. In 2019, this is what Rod Marinelli accomplished with the Dallas Cowboys front:

  1. Sacks – Cowboys 37| Raiders 32
  2. QB Pressure % – Cowboys 23.4 |Raiders 19.9

Considering the Cowboys had veteran talents such as Demarcus Lawrence, Michael Bennett and Robert Quinn, a point of concern is whether Marinelli can replicate that type of production in Las Vegas, where the youth movement is in full effect and it won’t be stopping anytime soon. Their development, will be critical to the revitalization of the defense moving forward. While Maxx Crosby is talented, he does not bring the knowledge, experience and savvy of the veteran rushers that he has familiarity with in Dallas. Another cause for concern, is his age. At 70 years old, a legitimate question is just how much longer he is going to continue coaching. The last thing the Raiders need is a coach retiring after one year with the team as they try to create a consistent winning culture with continuity in Las Vegas. There is also speculation that his arrival is a preemptive supplanting move for current defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. In reality, it is hard to fathom that the front office is realistically envisioning a long term future with the long time defensive mind. If Guenther were to be relieved of his duties, Marinelli is a potential upgrade as a defensive coordinator, but ultimately, he is not a long term fixture that the Las Vegas Raiders can realistically build around.

Forging Ahead

At the end of the day, Buckner did a fantastic job with the 2019 Raiders given the circumstances. He was an assistant coach that both players and fans loved, not just for his energy, but his accountability.

Marinelli, is a great defensive mind in his own right and Raider Nation should be excited for his acquisition. However, the future in Las Vegas won’t be built around a 70 year old coach. It will be built around the youth that is currently on the defensive line and throughout the roster. Buckner is a man of accountability, character, effort, production and players were impacted by his sudden departure.

You don’t easily replace a man like Buckner in your organization. As the team transitions to the desert, he would have been a incredible influence for young players to confide in a wild Las Vegas scene. It is a cause for concern that Gruden’s former associates are blurring his vision of the future.

Raider Nation thanks you, Brentson Buckner, for your commitment to excellence and representing the Raiders to the highest degree, and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

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