Subject: Jon Gruden brings excitement to Raiders, but questions abound
Now that Jon Gruden is on his way to becoming the Oakland
Raiders' next head coach -- with the team expected to announce
the hiring at a press conference Tuesday -- a word of caution:
temper your expectations.
Gruden is a star coach, a charismatic and compelling offensive
mind who has remained alluring for the nine years he has been in
the broadcast booth, particularly for the franchise that traded
him away after the 2001 season. He is, perhaps, the one person
for whom Mark Davis would have fired Jack Del Rio, who had the
Raiders in the playoffs in 2016. So Davis deserves credit for
reeling in his man after others had failed to entice him.
But what, exactly, is Davis getting for the reported 10-year,
$100 million contract he will give Gruden?
Gruden has not coached since 2008. In a league that evolves year
to year, that is an eternity. He has studied tape and met with
players, particularly quarterbacks, in his role as a
broadcaster. But he has not coached the generation of players
coming out with the current college skill set. He has not run a
team under the practice rules that were put in place with the
current collective bargaining agreement. There are certainly
adjustments ahead for Gruden.
And most importantly, in the latter half of his first coaching
tenure, Gruden never again enjoyed the kind of success he did
immediately after he arrived in Tampa.
In his first go-around, Gruden was an NFL head coach for 11
seasons -- four in Oakland and seven in Tampa Bay. His overall
record was 95-81 and his teams made five playoff appearances,
winning five division titles. But after the Buccaneers won the
Super Bowl in 2002 -- Gruden's first season after taking over a
team that had already enjoyed consistent winning under Tony
Dungy -- Tampa made the postseason just twice more with Gruden,
and did not win a playoff game. From 2003 through '08, Bucs had
three winning seasons and three losing ones. Their overall
record after the Super Bowl was 45-51. Gruden's history, then,
is one that elevates the team already in place, but has not put
together winning seasons year after year.
It might be instructive to look at the success rate of coaches
who have had long layoffs before returning to the game.
There have been five coaches who have experienced a break of at
least nine years between NFL head-coaching jobs. Pete Carroll
was out for 11 years -- although he was a highly successful
college coach in the interim -- and his post-break record is 79-
48-1 (with a Super Bowl title and another NFC championship), by
far the most successful of the group. Chan Gailey was out 11
years and he was 16-32 after his return. Art Shell was 2-14. Joe
Gibbs, a legendary Super Bowl winner, did no better than 30-34.
Dick Vermeil went 66-62 (with a Super Bowl title).
Still, for as many hurdles as Gruden will have to overcome to
fully deliver on the Raiders' hopes, this could still be the
right move for Davis.
The Raiders are banking on two things from a coach with a career
..540 winning percentage. One is that Gruden will maximize Derek
Carr's talent. Carr clearly regressed this season -- his
statistics in every category that matters were down from a
sterling 2016 campaign -- a decline hastened in part by injury
and by Del Rio's misguided decision to not bring back Bill
Musgrave as the offensive coordinator. Carr was so good in 2016
that the Raiders entered this season as highly publicized Super
Bowl contenders. Then they went 6-10. Getting Carr back to that
level is right in Gruden's wheelhouse and could make for a quick
Gruden has made no secret of his interest in Carr, and this is
where the Raiders will be on the surest footing. Gruden's acumen
is in getting the most out of quarterbacks -- he brought Rich
Gannon to the greatest heights of his career and then won a
Super Bowl in a season in which he used Brad Johnson, Rob
Johnson and Shaun King as starters. And Gruden has surely paid
the closest attention to the evolution of offensive play over
the years he has been gone.
The most obvious allure of Gruden will come in the headlines.
Gruden brings undeniable star power to a franchise that needs
it. The Raiders will likely spend two more seasons in Oakland
while they wait for their new stadium in Las Vegas to be built.
The Raiders need to keep fans interested in both places -- in
Oakland, the spurned suitor, certainly, but in Las Vegas, too,
as the Raiders must give fans a reason to ignore all of the
other entertainment offerings.
When the NFL was planning the Raiders' relocation, they
envisioned the team being so good right now that fans in Oakland
would continue to support it even though they knew the Raiders
were leaving. The franchise's long-time slogan is "commitment to
excellence." Mark Davis and Co. need Gruden to elevate the
Raiders the way he once did Tampa Bay -- and then to keep them
there all the way to their new home.
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @JudyBattista.