Gruden has shred­ded his last bit of coach­ing cred­i­bil­ity

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DI­ETER KURTENBACH

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.

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