Years of rumors about the possibility of Jon Gruden returning to coaching were annually shot down, but the Oakland Raiders finally did the impossible and convinced the ESPN analyst to return to coaching.
The team announced Gruden as the new head coach Saturday night, just a couple hours after he wrapped up his final broadcast as a color commentator at ESPN.
It didn’t come cheap with Gruden reportedly fetching a 10-year, $100 million deal from the Raiders, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. And it’s not just Gruden either.
The #Raiders coaching staff under Jon Gruden will be the most expensive in @NFL history: Jon Gruden will make $100M over 10 years. Coordinators are getting 4 year deals, sources say. 2 years in Oakland, 2 in Las Vegas.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 5, 2018
The Raiders plan to formally introduce Gruden at a press conference on Tuesday, but three days earlier the news was all but confirmed by Gruden during ESPN’s broadcast of a playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans.
Announcer Sean McDonough said the game will be Gruden’s last in the booth, although the coach said “nothing is official yet.” Still, he essentially said his goodbyes. Shortly after the game, it became official.
Gruden, 54, will resume his coaching career after a 10-year hiatus and become the new head coach of the Raiders, the team that gave him his first head coaching job way back in 1998. The team is expected to announce its decision at a press conference on Tuesday, as Steven Corkran first reported.
What are Gruden’s coaching credentials?
In his four seasons as the coach in Oakland, Gruden led the team to a 38-26 record, including back-to-back trips to the playoffs in his final two seasons. After a 10-6 record in 2001, Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for multiple first- and second-round draft picks.
The Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in his first season as the team’s coach, defeating the Raiders, 48-21. Oakland didn’t return to the postseason again for 14 years.
Gruden was eventually fired as the Buccaneers’ head coach after seven seasons with a 57-55 record, but just two trips to the playoffs after the team’s Super Bowl victory. In his final year, Tampa Bay finished with a 9-7 record but lost the last four games of the season to blow what looked like an easy path to the postseason.
Why did the Raiders turn to Gruden?
It’s a tough question considering how well most felt Jack Del Rio did in Oakland. After a 7-9 season in his first year on the job, Del Rio led the Raiders to a 12-4 year in 2016 and received a handful of votes for the Coach of the Year award.
The Raiders regressed in 2017 to finish 6-10, but the firing of Del Rio still came as a surprise to most.
Full Jack Del Rio statement on being fired minutes after today's game: pic.twitter.com/SxvpcuDYXh— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) January 1, 2018
The biggest problem for Del Rio was likely the performance of the Oakland defense. The former NFL linebacker spent three seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos before getting the job with the Raiders, but the defense struggled to pick up the slack in Oakland.
In 2017, the unit finished below the league average in yards and points allowed, and was one of the worst at forcing turnovers.
But Gruden’s top priority will be getting the Raiders offense back on track in 2018 after it took a significant step back. Derek Carr’s ascension toward being one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks slowed dramatically in 2017, after the Raiders gave the quarterback a $125 million contract in the offseason.
Carr finished the year with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while the Raiders struggled to consistently run the ball with Marshawn Lynch.
Who is he bringing with him?
Greg Olson: The man credited with Jared Goff’s development in Los Angeles is reportedly being targeted by Gruden as the Raiders’ next offensive coordinator. Olson previously worked with Gruden in Tampa Bay and has spent the last season as the Rams quarterback coach.
Before that he spent two seasons with the Jaguars, helping Blake Bortles to a 35-touchdown season in 2014, and the two seasons before that with the Raiders where he worked with Carr during his rookie year.
Rich Gannon: It’s been a while since Gruden has discussed it with him, but former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon is a possibility for the quarterbacks coach role.
“We talked about it in the past – a year ago, two years ago, three years ago – every time he’s always mentioned to me that he wants to get back into coaching,” Gannon told Greg Papa of 95.7 in Oakland. “My focus is just on ensuring that he will take the job and that he’ll get to Oakland after this playoff game. Then at that point I think it’d be an appropriate time to sit down – if in fact he has interest in me being a part of it – to sit down and have a conversation.”
That’d be a career change for Gannon who hasn’t coached and has spent his post NFL career as a color commentator for CBS Sports.
Paul Guenther: Gruden will have some work to do defensively, which is not something he’s known for. His Buccaneers Super Bowl team was built on defense, with Brad Johnson under center doing enough to get them wins, but Gruden is known for his offensive mind.
Reports say that Gruden plans to hire Paul Guenther as his defensive coordinator. Guenther has been with the Bengals since 2014 after Mike Zimmer left to coach the Vikings. The Bengals had a down year defensively, finishing No. 18 in the NFL this past season, but that was largely due to injuries.
Gary Brown: The Cowboys running backs coach spent five seasons in Dallas and coached several backs to strong seasons, including his most recent work with Ezekiel Elliott, but his contract expired after the 2017 season. He is expected to take the same job in Oakland.
What should you expect from Gruden, and what if he doesn’t have it anymore?
Gruden’s arguably never had a quarterback with higher upside than Carr. The Raiders made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL during the summer after going 12-3 in his 15 starts last season before getting injured. Carr had a down season by all accounts, but with Gruden considered a quarterback whisperer, that downplays worries.
If Gruden is able to fix the offense and Guenther lives up to his potential defensively as well, the Raiders could be a problem in the AFC for years to come.
But if it doesn’t work out early in his tenure, the gigantic contract could loom over the franchise for a while. The good news for the Raiders is that there’s no salary cap for coaching contracts. If it’s a disaster, it’s only a disaster for the pocketbooks of Mark Davis.
Still, the pressure is on for a coach who hasn’t been on the sideline in a decade. In the time since then, football has changed plenty and Gruden even promised once that he’d be done with huddling if he ever returned.
Gruden is coaching again, but does anyone remember this? pic.twitter.com/skHBMXWSbX— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) January 5, 2018
There are some kinks to iron out before we know if Gruden is ready to lead a team to the Super Bowl again. But much of the hard part of building a winning team has been done in Oakland.
Finding a franchise quarterback isn’t an easy task, and that’s already in place. It might not happen right away, but pieces are in place for the Raiders to bring plenty of excitement as they prepare for their move to Las Vegas.