The Jack Del Rio-led Raiders looked like they were on the rise after making the playoffs last season. A healthy Derek Carr was primed to bring his team back to the promised land after so much wandering in the desert. But this Oakland team regressed badly in 2017, which led to a 6-10 record. Now Del Rio is out in Oakland, the team announced Sunday, and the team is reportedly trying to bring back Jon Gruden to replace him.
And by all accounts, the Raiders are very close to making Gruden their next head coach.
“We appreciate Jack’s effort in building the foundation of this team for the future. Thank you to Jack, his wife, Linda, and his daughter, Aubrey, for their important contributions to the Raiders and our local community in Oakland. We wish them all the best,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said via the team’s release.
The Raiders went 25-23 during Del Rio's three-year stint, a roller coaster of a tenure in which Oakland shed its also-ran status for 15 fleeting weeks before sinking back to the deep end of the AFC. His firing comes as a surprise — NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport reported prior to Week 17 that Del Rio’s job was safe for at least one more season.
But other reports surfaced that the Raiders were pursuing Gruden, the Monday Night Football analyst and former Raiders and Buccaneers head coach, to replace Del Rio. Gruden was Oakland’s head coach from 1998 through 2001 and led the team to a 40-28 record before being traded to the Buccaneers prior to the 2002 season. Gruden took the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win over the Raiders following the 2002 season.
Gruden’s name surfaces each season as a potential candidate for head coach vacancies. But his connection with the Raiders and the fact that it was reported by Adam Schefter and Chris Mortenson, Gruden’s colleagues at ESPN, lend this one more credibility.
By Sunday night, Schefter was adamant that Gruden would take the Raiders job, pending a few things happening first.
Why did the Raiders move on from Del Rio? When Del Rio was hired in 2015, his job was to reinvigorate the team and help then-sophomore quarterback Derek Carr transform into an NFL-caliber player. The Raiders won seven games in Del Rio's debut season, and Carr improved considerably in his second year.
Then, the Raiders went 12-4 in 2016 and finished with the sixth-ranked offense in the NFL. Unfortunately, Carr suffered a broken fibula in Week 16 and missed the rest of the season. Oakland couldn't secure its first division crown since 2002, but it did clinch a wild card spot. Matt McGloin and Connor Cook both started at quarterback for the Raiders after Carr went down, but neither of them could orchestrate that offense. Oakland lost in the wild card round, but its future looked bright.
Over the offseason, the Raiders signed then-retired running back Marshawn Lynch, who many thought would give this offense a boost on the ground. Well, things didn't go as planned in 2017. Lynch looked like he missed a step but came on strong towards the end of the season. But Carr was inconsistent at best.
Defensively, the Raiders looked terrible early in the season. So, they fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. in November and replaced him with John Pagano. Oakland has been better under Pagano, but there were plenty of times where this unit could not help its offense out by creating turnovers. In fact, the Raiders set an NFL record by not intercepting any passes for the first 10 games. Oakland has one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, but the defense has to step up in the future.
Del Rio said after the game that he understands the team’s decision.
Jack Del Rio: “It’s a result business. I understand that.” Won’t be retained. Door open for Jon Gruden to become next Raiders head coach.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) January 1, 2018
What's next for the Raiders? Del Rio is a defensive-minded head coach. But while this experiment did not work, the Raiders will probably hire another coach who preaches defense. Offensively, the Raiders should be fine.
Carr took a big step back this year. But when he is healthy and at his best, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Luckily for Carr, Oakland has a great receiver tandem in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
The Raiders' defense is talented, too. Khalil Mack — the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year — is one of the best pass-rushers in the game. Linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith are also great players. The next coach will be tasked to turn this defense into a top-10 unit.
Not only will the next head coach help reinvigorate this defense, that person will have to relocate with the team to Las Vegas in 2019. Last March, 31 NFL owners voted in favor of the Raiders relocation plans. The Raiders will play in Oakland in 2018 but will compete in Vegas at a temporary home in 2019. Their new stadium is scheduled to open in 2020.