By Clark Judge | Aug. 31, 2018
When Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis introduced Jon Gruden as his next head coach, he said having him lead his team again was “phenomenal.” Well, it’s going to be something, but based on the history of coaches who returned to the game after years away, phenomenal is not the adjective I’d choose.
Dubious is more like it.
Look, the expectations for Gruden are high because … well, because he’s Jon Gruden, and he put the Raiders back on the map nearly two decades ago. But the guy hasn’t coached since 2008. That’s nine years away from the game, people, and that’s long enough to make him a longshot for success.
Granted, he won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, but so what? Joe Gibbs won three in Washington. And look what happened when he returned to the Redskins after 12 years away.
Yes, he reached the playoffs in two of his four years there, but he never won a playoff game, didn’t win a division title and finished those four seasons with a losing record (30-34). And this from a Hall-of-Fame coach who won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, none of whom is in Canton.
Mike Ditka won a Super Bowl, too, but he was a bust when he returned to the NFL with the New Orleans Saints after four years out of the game. In his three seasons with the Saints, he was 15-33.
Then, there’s Dick Vermeil, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1980. St. Louis took a flyer on him in 1997 in an out-of-the-box hire, and he couldn’t win (9-23 in his first two seasons) until some guy named Kurt Warner rescued him in Vermeil’s third year there.
I know Gruden’s been in and around the game since he left coaching, but serving as a “Monday Night Football” analyst and quarterback whisperer is not the same as walking the sidelines. And the last time Gruden coached, the New England Patriots failed to make the playoffs and the Arizona Cardinals were in a Super Bowl.
A lot’s happened since then, and Gruden wasn’t there for any of it.
But then there’s this: Look at his record after winning Super Bowl XXXVII. He was 45-51, with two playoff appearances and no playoff victories in six seasons. There is nothing “phenomenal” about that, nor about the fact that the last time he coached a team that won a postseason game was 2002 … 16 years ago.
Nor is there anything “phenomenal” about the ballclub he inherited, and, no, that’s not a knock on Derek Carr, Amari Cooper or Marshawn Lynch. But it is a criticism of an organization that can’t keep its best player on the field.
That, of course, would be 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, who not only is AWOL but reportedly hasn’t spoken to the Raiders in months … months … about a contract extension that is nowhere close to happening.
Sorry, but that makes no sense.
(UPDATE: This makes no sense, either, but two days after this story was published, the Raiders traded Mack to the Bears.)
When you have great players, you find a way to keep them. Green Bay just extended Aaron Rodgers, making him the game’s highest-paid player. The Giants shelled out a gazillion bucks for Odell Beckham Jr., making him the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver. Jr. And the L.A. Rams are close to a massive extension with defensive tackle Aaron Donald, last season’s Defensive Player of the Year. (Editor’s note: Donald signed a six-year, $135-million deal making him the highest paid defensive player in the league.)
Gruden is now in charge of the oldest team in the league (average age of 27.4 years), which is never good when you’re coming off a 6-10 season. The Raiders ranked 23rd in defense last season, with Mack producing one-third of their 31 sacks and named to his third straight Pro Bowl. So now they’re going to try to win without him?
Bottom line: There’s too much against Jon Gruden to believe he … and the Raiders … will experience anything but hardship this season. And there’s nothing “phenomenal” about that.