2018 was supposed to mark a return to glory for the Oakland Raiders organization. After a 6-10 record in 2017, the Raiders parted ways with head coach Jack Del Rio to make way for the return of their former head coach, Jon Gruden.
On Jan. 6, 2018, Gruden signed a 10-year $100 million contract, making him the highest paid NFL coach not named Bill Belichick.
Gruden’s first run with the Raiders came between 1998-2001. He led the team to back-to-back 8-8 records in ‘98 and ‘99 before finding some success in 2000 and 2001 going 12-4 and 10-6 respectively. Never making it farther than the AFC Championship in 2000, the Raiders traded Gruden to the Buccaneers following the 2001 season.
In 2002, Gruden led the Buccaneers all the way to the Super Bowl where he took down his former team, the team he failed to lead to the big game during his four-year stint, the Oakland Raiders.
But there is one thing we must consider before calling Gruden a great coach. When Gruden signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 he adopted an all-time great defense put together by his predecessor, head coach Tony Dungy. That same year, the legendary defense held teams to 12.3 points per game (ppg), second in NFL history only to Brian Billick’s 2000 Ravens (10.3 ppg). Gruden was a passenger, not the conductor of the 2002 Super Bowl champs.
Since that Super Bowl run in 2002, Gruden has posted a cumulative record of 49-63 (43.8 winning percentage). Dungy went on to win a Super Bowl in 2006 with the Indianapolis Colts and ultimately the Hall of Fame.
Now, we are in the midst of Gruden’s “Raider Rebuild,” something that has been highly criticized, and rightly so.
Prior to the 2018 season, Gruden traded arguably the league’s best linebacker in Khalil Mack along with 2020 second and fifth-round picks to the Chicago Bears. In return, Oakland received 2019 first and sixth round picks and 2020 first and third round picks.
Just less than two months later, Gruden shocked the football world by trading his only remaining star in Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2019 first-round pick. Clearly, Gruden’s intent was to rebuild through the draft. However, after news of the Raiders trading a pair of draft-picks for the egomaniacal receiver Antonio Brown, I’m no longer sure what to make of Gruden’s plan.
The Raiders have sacrificed most of their homegrown assets for the ability to virtually control the draft for the next two years. Why would you trade any of those draft picks for a player who not only will clash with your young talent, but also create locker room issues based on his selfish tendencies?
The problem started when the Raiders gave Gruden total control. He was given the powers of both a general manager and head coach, or in the words of the Raiders themselves, “consolidated power.” At the time, it made him the only NFL head coach with these unique abilities not counting Bill Belichick.
Shortly before the Raiders officially introduced Gruden in 2018, their General Manager Reggie McKenzie was fired after multiple reports of Gruden disliking the players he had drafted—which included Mack and Cooper.
Although the Raiders have recently hired former NFL player and broadcaster Mike Mayock to fill the general manager duties, the past year has shown us who truly has the power in this organization. Only time will tell if Mayock ends up just like McKenzie—one of Gruden’s scapegoats.
Gruden’s unimpressive and overstated coaching résumé, seemingly petty trades and misuse of draft-picks leaves me with very little hope for the Raiders organization as we look ahead to the 2019 season. As two of the strongest personalities in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how the Gruden/Brown relationship unfolds and, more importantly, if it will last.