Why The Oakland Raiders Need (But Don't Need) Jon Gruden.
Terrell White – Jan 7, 2018
Holla At Me Raider Nation!
First and foremost - let me say, I'm really missing Al Davis. So, (deep breath) I think it's pretty safe to assume at this point that we've all heard the news about the Raiders (and when I say the Raiders you know I'm really saying Mark Davis) looking to bring back former head coach Jon Gruden. Personally, I can understand the thinking behind the decision; However, I'm not too crazy about the idea. Forget about the hype surrounding Jon Gruden for a moment. We're talking about a guy who has been out of coaching for quite some time now. When Jimmy Johnson came back to coaching, things didn't work out too well. When Joe Gibbs came back to coaching, things didn't work out too well. Champions Tony Dungy, and well as Bill Cowher never came back. Things did work out for Dick Vermeil but, I'm of the mind that he's what we would call an exception to the rule.
Speaking of rule, what happened to the Rooney Rule? Al Davis, a man with accolades too numerous to number which include the hiring of Art Shell; The man who holds the distinction of being the first African American head coach in the modern era. Along with Amy the Princess of Darkness Trask as the first female Chief Executive Officer. Al Davis, was a man who was always searching for the next great coaching mind. I don't believe he would be supportive of the way that this hiring has been handled. I'm also not too sure if he would even be supportive of the hiring in general. As I said, I'm really missing Al Davis.
As for Jon Gruden, he first appeared in Silver & Black after the 1997 season. Back in the 90's the Seattle Seahawks were actually a member of the AFC West; Which means that, it's been a while. In 1997 the Raiders were a hot mess. The offense was led by quarterback Jeff George. The squad had Larry (the bust) Brown starting at defensive back. Special teams were dependent upon the kicking skills of (where are they now star) Cole Ford. Moreover, the head coach at the time was Joe Bugel. As I said, the Raiders were a hot mess.
The franchise would end the 1997 season by missing the playoffs, for the fourth consecutive time; While sporting a 4-12 record. Those of us who remember current general manager Reggie McKenzie foolishly hiring (and bring back) Dennis Allen are quite familiar with the team sporting a 4-12 record. However at that time, this was the worst record the team had to end a season in about 40 years! Needless to say, Al Davis was going to (and needed to) make some drastic changes.
Enter Jon Gruden; Who, at the time of his hiring by Al Davis was a young, up and coming offensive mind. A branch from Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers coaching tree. Under Gruden the Raiders would end the 1998 & 1999 seasons with matching 8-8 records. Numbers that Raider Nation should also be familiar with from the coaching days of Tom Cable and Hue Jackson. Then he (Gruden) would team up with veteran quarterback Rich Gannon. With Gannon at the helm, running Gruden's (conservative) west coast offense the Raiders would win a division title, and see a return to the playoffs.
Now, to this point it all sounds like a beautiful fairytale. However, that's not exactly the truth. I'm quite sure this has happened to you; Have you ever seen someone from a distance, be it a man or a woman, and thought that the person was attractive? Then once they got a little closer, and you got a better look, you realized it was only an optical illusion? That, I'm afraid might be Jon Gruden. What he did looks good, from a distance; However, upon closer inspection you start to have questions.
It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter what position you play; Even the sport that you participate in is irrelevant. There is one universal truth when it comes to sports: You make your money during the regular season, and you make your fame in the playoffs. Let me first say that I'm not going to blame Gruden for that 2001 divisional round playoff robbery we suffered at the hands of the New England Patriots. We all KNOW that the Pats (as they so often do) got a major (and I'm down playing this to the maximum) break in that game!! As for the Super Bowl, I'm not saying it would have been easy but, I have no doubt in my mind that despite the Rams having a prolific offense, (the Washington Redskins had one too, and remember what we did to them in the Super Bowl?) they (the Rams) had a suspect defense, and the Raiders would have won the championship (just as the Patriots barely did) that season. A victory that would have changed many of the decisions Al Davis made subsequently (as well as his overall perception), but I digress.
As for the 2000 season, that year the Raiders were in an even better position, sporting a 12-4 record. Moreover, they were the AFC West Division Champions and were hosting the AFC Championship Game; A contest in which they would unfortunately get their eye patches handed to them by the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens would go on to smash Tom Coughlin and the Kerry Washington led New York Giants; A feat that I'm quite sure our Raiders would have been able to emulate.
Now I wouldn't say that the Raiders weren't improved under Gruden. I also wouldn't say that the Raiders haven't had their struggles since his departure; However, I can say that Gruden wasn't able to get the team over that last hurdle. Moreover, I can say that I understand why Al (Davis) might have been hesitant to pay him (at the time) a huge money contract. Let me also say that I personally (despite their record) found it hard to watch the Raider offense under Jon Gruden. I was not a huge fan of his play calling style; I felt he squandered numerous opportunities to seize games by the throat.
Gruden was one of those coaches, you know the type; The ones who would NEVER go for it on fourth down, and who ALWAYS kick the field goal, instead of going for the touchdown. It was frustrating to watch the Raiders fail to step up, and put their opponent in the dirt (no pun intended) because Gruden, and his play calling wouldn't show some balls! The Raider offense (that I grew up on) was bred to stretch the field vertically (i.e. the big play). A style (like much of what Al Davis brought to the table) that has been copied throughout the league. In Gruden's conservative west coast offense however instead of looking to stretch the field vertically, he would employ a more dink and dunk (horizontal) offensive style.
A style that quite frankly had no chance of true survival; As was illustrated, and exposed in its loss against the top flight Baltimore Raven defense back in 2000. Other then tight end Shannon Sharpe turning a short pass into a 96 yard touchdown what I remember the most about that contest was that the Gruden & Gannon offense got shut down bad. Gruden was his usual conservative (unhelpful) self. Meanwhile, quarterback Rich Gannon threw a couple of interceptions (there would be a total of 4 thrown) had a costly fumble, and was knocked out of the game. The offense would score a grand total of 3 points. They would rush for a total of less than 25 yards; While amassing less than 200 total yards. After that performance can you really blame Al Davis for not being in a rush to throw millions of dollar at the coach?
After his departure from Oakland, Gruden would spend the next 8 seasons as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; As we know he was traded to Tampa Bay after the 2001 season. As we also know Gruden took over after Tampa Bay architect Tony Dungy was let go. Before moving on to the Colts in 2002 Dungy along with defensive Cover 2 genius Monte Kiffin had spent the past six seasons building the Bucs into a damn good team. Unlike the 4-12 team Gruden would inherit in Oakland, the Bucs were coming off of three consecutive playoff appearances before his arrival.
An unfortunate (for Raider Nation) set of circumstances (led by the Eagles home loss in the NFC Championship game) would find Oakland matched up against Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl Championship in 2002. As I just stated Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin had spent a number of years together preparing the team for just such a moment. Jon Gruden, as was Barry Switzer just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The Raider head coach, Bill Callahan had served as the teams offensive coordinator under Jon Gruden. Furthermore, Raider quarterback Rich Gannon had been hand picked by Gruden to run his west coast offense during his time as head coach in Oakland; With those two factors working in his favor is there really any question as to why the Buccaneers were able to dominate the Raider offense with such ease?
Callahan couldn't call a play that Gruden hadn't seen before. Moreover, Gannon couldn't call an audible that Gruden didn't have the Tampa Bay defense prepared for. Gruden's intimate knowledge of the Raider offense virtually destroyed the team from within. The prolific Oakland offense was held to 21 points. The squad would rush for a poultry 19 yards. While Raider quarterback Rich Gannon would throw a Super Bowl record 5 interceptions; He would see 3 of those picks run back for Tampa Bay touchdowns.
However, what is of real interest (especially now) is what happened after the 2002 Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Under head coach Jon Gruden Tampa Bay would end the 2003 season with a record of 7-9. The Buccaneers would end the 2004 season with a record of 5-11. To my knowledge the Gruden led Buccaneers were the first team in NLF history to win the Super Bowl, and follow it up with back to back losing seasons. At the time of his release from Tampa Bay after the 2008 season the Buccaneers has a record of 9-7; Which was the same record they had the year before. Which was a marked improvement from the 4-12 they would have the year before. Not exactly what I would call a legacy of greatness.
All things considered however, you can't blame Mark Davis for trying to reach out to the last man he remembers rebuilding the Raiders. What else can Mark Davis do? We all know that he's in possession of less than 1 tenth of the football knowledge his father lost (let alone remembered). He has, and never will be mentally capable of being in a position to dominate player personnel decisions; Which is why he placed Reggie McKenzie in charge of football operations in the first place. The problem is that McKenzie quite frankly has failed us all. Moreover, his failures are numerous as well as egregious.
The firing of offensive innovator Hue Jackson. Kicking quarterback Carson Palmer out the door. His ignoring the existence of Terrelle Pryor, until desperation forced his hand. The loss of Jared Veldheer. The failed signing of Rodger Saffold. His incompetence as it pertains to the Raider defensive secondary; Wasted money on trash defensive back free agents like Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. Speaking of wasted money do you think Mark Davis wishes that he didn't let McKenzie give quarterback Matt Schaub an $8 million dollar deal? How about the $6.5 million that was wasted on quarterback Matt Flynn? Remember the signing of running back Maurice Jones-Drew? What a waste that was. Speaking of waste, how about the drafting of D.J. Hayden with his first round pick? The hiring, and bringing back of head coach Dennis Allen. I could go on, and on, and on, but do I really need to? Mark Davis has given Reggie McKenzie plenty of time to make a name for himself; Unfortunately for Raider Nation all the man has done is mainly dig his own grave.
After the death of Al Davis, A loss quite frankly the franchise will never fully recover from adjustment had to be made. Someone has got to make the tough football decisions; We know that it's not going to be Mark Davis. We've already seen that Reggie McKenzie's judgement is questionable. As I stated I understand the appeal of having Jon Gruden; I'm just wonder if Jon Gruden is really who we need right now. If we're to believe the reports that have been going around, then for better or worse we won't have to wait too long before we find out.
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