Gruden has shredded his last bit of coaching credibility
This Raiders season has provided little – if any – joy on the field.
But as this team bottoms out, there is one thing I have found to be truly enjoyable about the Raiders’ season: Jon Gruden’s film breakdowns on the team-produced “Silver and Black Show.” I’m not even half-joking. Gruden’s press conferences have become combative, uncomfortable, delusional and depressing.
But when he does his five-to-10-minute breakdowns of the pertinent All-22 film for the week’s game, I can’t look away. They’re really good.
And about halfway through every segment, without fail, you can see Gruden — who usually starts in an I-can’t-believe-I-gotta-waste-mytime-doing-this funk — flip a switch.
He starts to feel it. His eyes light up and he starts bantering with the host, Raiders radio sideline reporter Chris Townsend.
Gruden’s charisma and charm – rarely seen around Alameda these days (when it does show up in pressers, it comes across as parodic) – reemerges in those clips.
And that makes sense, right? Those videos are he has been doing for the last decade. It’s what he’s good at. There’s a reason he was ESPN’s highestpaid on-air talent.
But halfway through his first season in charge, there is no evidence that he is good at the thing the Raiders are reportedly paying him $100 million to do: coach the team.
In fact, the evidence is mounting that this whole peculiar arrangement was a catastrophic mistake.
On Thursday night, Gruden’s team was annihilated by one of the two other teams in the NFL with one win – a team that has lost two games to the lowly Arizona Cardinals.
The Raiders were
schooled by the 49ers in all three phases of the game Thursday. The NFL should have invoked the mercy rule early in the third quarter.
Sure enough, the Raiders subbed in backup quarterback A.J. McCarron and a bunch of other second-stringers late in the game, but the Niners’ third-string quarterback was the one who authored the blowout.
Football is a complicated game, but this is empirical: When you let Nick Mullens and that bangedup, out-of-sync Niners team beat you 34-3, you shred the last bit of credibility you had as a coach.
And to build it back to respectability could take years.
But there’s every reason to seriously question if he’ll ever come close.
Good thing Gruden has 152 games remaining on his contract.
This Raiders team isn’t merely a tire fire – it’s an entire landfill engulfed in flames, and Gruden is holding the gasoline and matches team owner Mark Davis handed him.
I’ve seen and covered a lot of bad, dysfunctional football teams in my day. Hell, I covered a Florida Atlantic team that fired its coach because he was snorting cocaine in Key West during the bye week.
But I swear, this Raiders team – particularly after Thursday – could give any of those rotten teams a run for their money.
Because at least that mess of a team at Florida Atlantic beat Nick Mullens that season.
Gruden’s defenders – who disproportionately seem to be on the Raiders’ payroll or fanatical past the point of saving – will say that the coach-slashdefacto general manager has a ton of salary cap space and five first-round picks to work with over the next two seasons.
These are the lumps you have to take for future success, they’ll say.
I’ve worked in construction, doing demolition. I can tear out drywall and strip flooring. I’d never allege that I can build you a house, though.
The same logic should apply to Gruden: We know he can tear it down – to pawn Amari Cooper for a first-round pick was no doubt good business – but that’s the easy part.
It’s exponentially more difficult to build.
When Gruden took the Raiders job, the warning from those who remembered his previous NFL job in Tampa Bay was loud and clear: you can let him cook the meal, but don’t let him buy the groceries. Also, he might not even be a great cook.
If you’re going to let him coach this team, don’t also let him pick the players. The drafts he led in Tampa Bay are legendary in league circles – for all the wrong reasons – and his desire to sign over-the-hill veterans bordered on obsession.
His GM work alone should have been enough to be extremely skeptical of the hire. Add his decade away from the sidelines, and you have a whole other problem.
Being a coach or a GM in the NFL is a grind – you get hours, not days, off. The league is constantly changing and will gladly leave anyone who isn’t fully committed behind.
Take a year off? Fine. That’s probably good for a coach or GM’s longevity. But a decade?
Gruden unquestionably works his butt off, but this isn’t like riding a bicycle. Both of his jobs have changed drastically since he last time he wasn’t all that good at them.
And he has made some concessions, some adaptations – shorter play calls, a practice-field DJ during camp (he called the latter “analytics”) – but it doesn’t seem that the 10 years away from the grind changed his personality or demeanor much.
I can understand how Raiders owner Mark Davis was duped. Gruden is charming as hell when there are no stakes involved, and he strung Davis along for six years, stoking false Grumors that artificially drove up his price, and then pouncing when his ESPN job didn’t seem totally stable and Davis was at his most desperate. Gruden landed the most outlandish coaching contract in the NFL. Masterful stuff, if we’re being honest.
I can understand why the veterans Gruden signed before this season started were duped, too. Gruden came in with a win-now mentality.
Then, Gruden changed his mind. He quit on his team before the season started; of course this team quit on him.
Gruden didn’t step into a massive rebuilding project; he made it one and no one stopped him.
Whether the rebuild works or Gruden continues to flounder while blaming everyone else, I know he’ll get paid the full amount of his contract.
All he has done over the last 10 months is made his defenders look like fools.