Raiders:

An ex­cerpt from Steve Corkran’s book on the team’s late owner, Al Davis.

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN -

This is an ex­cerpt from “Al Davis: Be­hind the Raiders Shield,” a book writ­ten by Steve Corkran, Jon King­don and Bruce Ke­bric and pub­lished by Rather be Feared:

On De­cem­ber 21, 1997, scout Jon King­don sat in his car at the Oak­land Coli­seum on the morn­ing of the Raiders’ reg­u­larsea­son finale against the Jack­sonville Jaguars.

King­don watched as the fans streamed past. He knew what was about to hap­pen. He knew that the Jaguars were go­ing to beat the Raiders. It was just a mat­ter of how badly.

“I had to force my­self to get out of the car,” King­don said. “I didn’t want to go in­side. I was em­bar­rassed at the prod­uct that was be­ing put out to this very loyal fan base, all dressed in sil­ver-and-black gear.”

King­don fi­nally sum­moned the en­ergy to get out of his car, trudg­ing into the sta­dium to stom­ach yet an­other loss.

The Jaguars jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quar­ter and cruised to a 20-9 vic­tory as they fin­ished 11-5 and the Raiders con­cluded a 4-12 cam­paign, the worst in the Al Davis Era up to that point.

The next day, Davis called King­don.

“What do you think?” Davis asked.

King­don replied: “Do you re­ally want to know?” Davis said “yes.”

“This may have been the first time where I went into a game know­ing that there was no chance we would win the game,” said King­don, who be­gan work­ing for the Raiders in 1978. “The whole sea­son has been a disas­ter. I’ve seen the play­ers quit and there were coaches on the staff that have long since quit. I’ve never been more em­bar­rassed to be associated with this team. These fans de­serve a lot bet­ter than what we’ve been giv­ing them. It’s not worth the ef­fort if this is the prod­uct we’re putting out.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Davis said. “I’m go­ing to turn this thing around.”

Davis had to do some­thing dras­tic. All the mo­men­tum the Raiders had built upon their re­turn to Oak­land in 1995 had dis­si­pated. The play­ers had turned on the coaches, many fans stopped go­ing to the games and whis­pers about the game hav­ing passed Davis by re­ver­ber­ated.

“Al re­al­ized that it was es­sen­tial to make the right de­ci­sion in choos­ing his next head coach,” King­don said. “He knew his legacy was at stake.”

Davis in­ter­viewed Jon Gru­den, Bill Belichick and Jim Haslett af­ter he fired Joe Bugel. … Ul­ti­mately, it came down to Belichick and Gru­den. … This time, Davis of­fered Gru­den the job, and Gru­den jumped at the op­por­tu­nity rather than wait for a bet­ter one that might not come.

Gru­den had been told what to ex­pect long be­fore he ar­rived in Oak­land, and he had a plan in place. Af­ter the team’s first prac­tice, King­don and Gru­den crossed paths and King­don re­mem­bered a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the pair: “I told him how much I re­ally en­joyed watch­ing the prac­tice, how much dif­fer­ent it was from the prior sea­sons and how he wasn’t putting up with any of the lit­tle mis­takes.”

Gru­den stopped in his tracks, looked at King­don, and, in a gruff, grav­elly voice, said: “Jonnn (draw­ing out King­don’s name), I’m go­ing to make the play­ers hate my f— guts.”

King­don and oth­ers didn’t have to wait long to see what Gru­den had in mind.

Dur­ing Gru­den’s first mini­camp — a time when coaches get a chance to as­sem­ble most, if not all, of the play­ers on the ros­ter for prac­tices over a three-day pe­riod — vet­eran cor­ner­back Larry Brown marched into Gru­den’s of­fice af­ter one prac­tice.

Brown had joined the Raiders in 1996 — par­lay­ing a two-in­ter­cep­tion, Most Valu­able Player per­for­mance in that year’s Su­per Bowl, as a mem­ber of the Dal­las Cow­boys, into a five-year, $12.5 mil­lion con­tract with the Raiders.

That made Brown one of the high­est-paid de­fen­sive backs in the league. It did not make him im­mune from Gru­den’s mas­ter plan.

Brown played in 12 games his first two sea­sons with the Raiders, and he per­formed at a level not com­men­su­rate with his lav­ish con­tract.

Yet, he still felt em­bold­ened, be it as a re­sult of his shin­ing mo­ment in the Su­per Bowl, his con­tract or the fact Gru­den was new to the job.

On this day, Brown en­tered Gru­den’s of­fice and launched into a tirade. He in­formed Gru­den that he wasn’t pleased with the way his pre­de­ces­sors, Joe Bugel and Mike White, treated him and in­structed Gru­den, in no un­cer­tain terms, about how he wanted to be used from that point.

Gru­den sto­ically lis­tened as Brown ranted. Once Brown fin­ished, Gru­den calmly called Mark Arteaga, his as­sis­tant, into his of­fice.

“Mark, would you please buy him a ticket and send his ass back to Dal­las,” Gru­den said to Arteaga.

Just like that, Gru­den jet­ti­soned Brown from the ros­ter. It wasn’t un­til that af­ter­noon’s prac­tice that the play­ers learned of Brown’s ab­sence.

Ros­ter moves were the do­main of Davis. Gru­den had cut Brown with­out con­sult­ing his boss.

Later that day, scout Bruce Ke­bric saw Gru­den in the coaches’ locker room.

“Jon, this is the best move that you could make be­cause the play­ers don’t care for Brown,” Ke­bric said. “They know he’s around here only for one rea­son. He’s one of Al’s schol­ar­ship guys. You have a con­tract, right?” “Yeah,” Gru­den said. “This will be the first big move that you make in this or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Ke­bric said in an at­tempt to re­as­sure Gru­den.

Davis was up­set but there was noth­ing he could do. Vet­eran play­ers such as wide re­ceiver Tim Brown quickly warmed to Gru­den as well.

“They jumped on Jon’s side be­cause they thought, ‘Hey, he’s not go­ing to put up with keep­ing all of Al’s schol­ar­ship guys,’ ” Ke­bric said. …

That Gru­den sur­vived get­ting rid of Brown showed not only that there was a new sher­iff in town but that Davis would give Gru­den some lat­i­tude. Just the same, Davis had been adding as­sis­tant coaches to the Raiders staff. This did not de­ter Gru­den, who had a plan in place when he ar­rived in Oak­land.

Brad Man­gin 1997

Raiders owner Al Davis knew it was time for a ma­jor over­haul af­ter a dis­as­trous 1997 reg­u­lar-sea­son show­ing.

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