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Jon Gruden’s back with the Raiders, and he might be better than ever

Jon Gruden is back after a decade off the field. He might end up better than ever.

Oakland Raiders Introduce Jon Gruden Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Jon Gruden — like your favorite trend from years ago that has resurfaced — is back. And much like your favorite trend from years ago, he’s similar, but he’s not exactly the same.

Gruden spent four years in Oakland (1998-2001) rebuilding a Raiders franchise in the dumps, but would be traded to Tampa Bay after Tony Dungy’s firing.

After winning a Super Bowl in his first year with the Buccaneers in 2002, he never got close to reaching that pinnacle again in his coaching career. He only had one more double-digit win season for his next six seasons, making the postseason just twice. It led to his firing after the 2008 season, putting his coaching career on hold.

Now he’s back after a decade-long hiatus. Assumptions have been made about him, but when it comes down to it, none of us really know what to expect.

He isn’t as behind the times as some have assumed.

The easy assumption on Gruden was that because of his decade out of the NFL, he was going to have to adjust to the modern game. That’s simply not true.

Marc Trestman was on staff for Gruden’s final year in Oakland, and believes the time off the field and in the booth has only given him an arsenal that nobody else possesses.

“I think there’s nobody more qualified to be a head coach today in the National Football League than Jon,” Trestman told SB Nation. “He has spent 10 years studying the game in tremendous detail from a science standpoint.”

While we only saw Gruden in the booth, Trestman said that everything that went into those three hours each Monday night is what’s going to help him not miss a beat. “He has probably — you can argue — watched more tape from more different teams, from more different styles of play, and had relationships integrated along the way than anybody in the game.”

Trestman believes that while Gruden’s going to be prepared because he was still studying the game from a coaching standpoint, he also had to look at it from an analytical standpoint.

“He’s calling a game every Monday night, and he’s got to comment on game management decisions every week. And he’s studying tape every week of the teams that he’s playing, and he’s got to assess game management situations there.”

Trestman feels — if anything — the time off the field was an incredible benefit to Gruden that should serve him well.

We can’t be certain of what we’ll see offensively.

One thing everybody knows about Jon Gruden — whether that’s as a coach or with ESPN — is that he loves quarterbacks. He’s an offensive-minded coach, and while there are 11 years of Gruden teams to give us an idea of what his 2018 Raiders will look like — we really just don’t know.

It’s because of everything he’s been able to absorb in the years he’s been away from the game. He’s been doing it not just at the professional level, but at the college level as well.

“He has also been able to study not just what would be his team with his players, but every team with every coach,” Trestman said. “Think about the informational encyclopedia, so to speak, or database that he has from what he’s learned over the last 10 years.

“It’s arguable that nobody has that informational database that Jon has.”

Because of this, Trestman thinks that Gruden, as a coach, will only evolve from what he did his first time around in Oakland, and later in Tampa.

His level of education now, Trestman said, “Has arguably surpassed any coach that has taken a job in recent years.”

The hire was everything the Raiders and Gruden wanted and needed.

From Gruden’s standpoint, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. His children are grown (one’s even joining the Raiders’ strength staff). And the Raiders have something he never had in Tampa — franchise quarterback, Derek Carr.

Carr’s 3,496 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions made for a down year compared to his 2015 and 2016 seasons. He suffered a transverse process fracture in his back, but missed just one game. It was his second injury in as many seasons, after breaking his fibula in Week 16 during the 2016 season that would require surgery. Yet we know what Carr is capable of. He was an MVP candidate in 2016.

“Carr is the kind of guy that — he loves the game,” Trestman said. “It’s important to him. and when Jon walks in the room, Carr is going to see that the coach he has loves the game, and is going to be very well prepared to coach him.

“I think that energy between the two of them will exponentially grow, and we’ll see it on the field.”

Gruden’s done it before, as Tim Brown testified on Tuesday in Alameda. “He was able to take me to another level because he was showing me how much better I could be,” Brown said. “And I thought I was pretty good at that time, but you can be better. Sometimes you’ve just got to turn your brain off and buy in, and I think if you can do that great things can happen.”

Aside from Gruden’s coaching expertise, the Raiders are getting a charm to hang over the fans in Oakland before their send off, and something for fans in Las Vegas to get excited about before the team’s scheduled relocation there in 2020.

In more recent years, football fans grew to know Gruden as the football-loving, sometimes odd and quirky broadcaster. But in Oakland, there’s an entirely separate memory that’s even stronger and more intimate.

Jon Kingdon worked with the Raiders for many years as the director of college scouting. He told SB Nation, “The Chucky thing became big. We became such an identifiable product, the Raiders, such as it was.” It gave an already solid brand a bigger boost. For the Raiders, that was worth the $100 million price they will be paying over the years for Gruden. They’re about to be tasked with attracting an entirely new fan base, and needed to do the most to help bring those fans into the fold.

Kingdon said, “I don’t think another team would have paid that kind of money for Jon.”

“I never wanted to leave the Raiders,” Gruden said at his introductory press conference. “I never thought I’d be back, but here I am and I’m ready to get to work.”

He’s the fun guy you see on TV. But he will put his foot down.

We’ve all heard the soundbites on NFL Films of Gruden from his Raider days. That translated into the booth — a television-appropriate version, of course.

“He’s exactly what you see,” Trestman said. “He’s extremely passionate about the game. That passion is combined with a work ethic that is as strong as anybody I’ve ever been around.”

Defensive back Larry Brown was a favorite of Al Davis’ and had been a disappointment for a couple of years after signing a big deal with the Raiders coming off of a Super Bowl MVP performance with the Cowboys. Kingdon said that Brown tried to tell Gruden how he was going to practice, play, and how he would be treated. According to Kingdon, Gruden then called an assistant in and said “Will you buy this guy a ticket and send his ass home right now?”

Because of that, Charles Woodson ended up wearing No. 24, and Gruden, who had yet to be establish himself, sent a message showing his passion and work ethic was expected from the rest of the team.

When Gruden first came to the team, Kingdon said, the Raiders were “about as dysfunctional an organization as there was.” He himself, who worked closely with Al Davis, said the 1997 season was the worst the team had been since he had arrived. He told Davis as much.

When discussing how fast Gruden’s turnaround was felt, Kingdon said, “Right from the first day.”

Gruden had a good first practice with the team, according to Kingdon. His passion, work ethic, and meticulous attention to detail were evident. How he got that message across was always unique.

Kingdon gave Gruden a compliment as the coach headed to his office after the first practice. Gruden then told him, “Jon, I’m going to make these players hate my fucking guts.”

“Some people can curse, and it just doesn’t come out naturally and it’s forced,” Kingdon said. “But Jon — it came out very naturally and it wasn’t a fake toughness.”

We don’t know how his hard-nosed and honest style of coaching will translate with today’s players, much like we don’t know how his work in the broadcast booth will impact his connection to the game. For everyone who worked with him in Oakland, the respect came in the preparation, which is something both Kingdon and Trestman both said he did better than anyone.

One thing is certain though — Gruden won’t have to send a message as a young coach trying to make his mark this time around. Everybody knows who he is.

“He’s coming in as Jon Gruden,” Kingdon said.