Does Raiders HC Jon Gruden Belong Among The Elite?

Heading into his fourth year as the Las Vegas Raiders head coach, does Jon Gruden belong among the NFL’s elite?

The $100 million dollar man; a QB whisperer; Mark Davis’ White Whale; Chucky. Gruden is not short on nicknames. He’s also not short on recognition, good or bad.

What he is short on though (other than stature) is success in his return to the Raiders. His second tenure donning the Silver and Black could be described, lightly, as a roller coaster. Very little has gone to plan. When his Raiders have made headlines, they’ve usually been negative – especially if they came at the back end of the season. Put simply, while he may have been a clear-cut top coach in his original stint with the team, Gruden’s current ranking among NFL coaches isn’t as flattering. 

Where exactly does he rank? Let’s break it down.

Avoids the bottom half

Most analysts would agree that Gruden avoids being in the back-end group of the current 32 NFL head coaches. Bringing out the rear is some mix of the six new dudes, headlined by everybody’s favorite “football guy,” Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions. That’s not to say this group (also including Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley and the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh) won’t eventually be respected headmen. But right now, they haven’t earned anything with that title. 

Clumped in with them are the coaches who are still getting their footing, or haven’t brought any success yet to their clubs (i.e. Joe Judge of the New York Giants or Vic Fangio of the Denver Broncos). In truth, based on his experience alone, Gruden avoids a below-20 ranking.

Yet not upper echelon 

But experience can only take you so far, especially in this ever-evolving modern NFL. Obviously, Gruden doesn’t touch the likes of Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, or Bruce Arians. He also is a good distance behind Mike Vrabel, Sean McVay, and Mike Tomlin, the latter two being former assistants of his. All those men have a shared trait: postseason victories or division titles in recent memory. Furthermore, given how quickly they’ve turned around their downtrodden franchises, Ron Rivera and Kyle Shanahan both edge out Gruden as well. 

Landing in the middle 

That leaves the lovable and maniacal Gruden right in the middle; let’s say, 15th overall. He ranks ahead of up-and-comers Matt Rhule and Kliff Kingsbury, and light years ahead of Mike McCarthy and Zac Taylor. Thanks to his play-calling prowess, and the fact he has a Super Bowl ring on his finger, Gruden is placed around the likes of Brian Flores, Frank Reich, and Mike Zimmer: undeniably solid leaders who don’t have the recent accolades to vault them into the upper tier of today’s head coaches. But similar to them, Gruden can fly up this list with a postseason run this season. 

He’ll just have to avoid yet another second-half collapse.

Closing thoughts on the Raiders head coach

It’s fair to say that Gruden is the best Raiders head coach since… well, Gruden. Only Jack Del Rio could challenge that, and he had his share (and then some) of flaws. When you’ve struggled as much as the Raiders have this century, no head coach wearing their logo will be viewed highly. Being average, like Gruden has, is actually an improvement.  

Now comes the hard part: taking the leap from mediocre to good. We’ll see soon enough if Gruden can do that in ’21. 

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*Top Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal

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