Nearly seventeen years after he coached the Oakland Raiders, Jon Gruden remains a beloved figure. Yet, many tend to fictionalize and overrate his accomplishments. He holds a mythical place in Raiders history. In the hearts of some, Tom Flores does not earn that kind of love. Granted, Gruden did win a Super Bowl in Tampa. However, segments of RaiderNation forget other aspects of the man.
Without question, Gruden could coach offense. During his formative years in coaching, he learned from Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid. As a result, Gruden brought that mindset to his stops in Oakland and Tampa. Meanwhile, Tony Dungy and Rich McKay built an all time great defense. In the year before Gruden’s arrival, the defense set the tone as the leaders of that franchise. In 2001, Tampa Bay picked off 28 passes, forced 11 fumbles, and knocked down99 passes. NNoGruden Gruden arrives to a readymade defense. All he needed to do was ensure that the offense did just enough. To his credit, the offense improved from 20.3 points/game to 21.6.
Tampa Bay destroyed the Raiders in Super Bowl 37. Rich Gannon, under intense pressure, faded and never recovered. If you listen to Tim Brown, he thought that Bill Callahan affected the game more than Gruden. Brown stated that Oakland received the gameplan on Monday, featuring ground and pound attack. On Friday, the gameplan changed to a passing oriented attack. Jerry Rice actually corroborated Brown’s claims. He thought that since Gruden and Callahan were friends, something odd could have happened. Now, I doubt that Callahan would tank a Super Bowl, but why did players voice that concern years later? One thing not in dispute, Callahan changed the gameplan, forty-eight hours before the biggest game of his career. As a result, the Tampa Bay defense stomped the Raiders. The overwhelming Tampa defense and Callahan’s ineptitude played a bigger role than Gruden.
Post Super Bowl Blues
When the Bucs won the Super Bowl, many thought a dynasty would begin. On the contrary, as the Tampa under Gruden’s leadership faded quickly. Star wideout Keyshawn Johnson publicly argued with Gruden. This action resulted in Johnson’s deactivation for the most of the 2003 season. In essence, Gruden sent his best receiver home for calling him out and questioning him. Raiders’ fans forget that the temper behind the Chucky faces was not for show. That year, the Bucs crashed to a 7-9 record.
Behind the scenes, Gruden’s need for ultimate control clashed with Rich McKay, the general manager. McKay, regarded as the architect of the Super Bowl roster asked for his release. When McKay left to join the division rival Falcons, Gruden assumed total control of the franchise. He attempted to recreate the 2001 Raiders by signing a few former players like Tim Brown and Charlie Garner. Under Gruden, Tampa Bay never won another playoff game after 2002. In addition, Gruden’s coaching record in tamps sits just two games above .500 (57-55). Why do the Raiders need that?
To enjoy success, coaches must exhibit strength of character and mental toughness. Jon Gruden possesses these traits in ridiculous amounts. Yet, there remains one obstacle that prohibits his return to the Raiders. General Manager Reggie McKenzie is equally strong-willed and tough-minded. Could these two work together? No. McKenzie will never tolerate a coach interfering in personnel decisions. By nature, Gruden appears to want full control, with the general manager working for him. Reggie McKenzie would never cede any power to Jon Gruden. If you think differently, show me one Raiders coach during the McKenzie that contested him. Moreover, how did Mark Davis view the rift between Gruden and his father? Like him or not, Mark Davis owns the Raiders.
Now, Jon Gruden collects 6.5 million dollars annually from ESPN. He flies in, meets with teams, works on air for 4 hours, and goes home. He remains close to the game without the stressors of coaches. In the booth, he can give a coach’s viewpoint without consequences. Wrong choices will not affect his record.
If Jon Gruden does return to the sidelines, a team will receive the fruits of his extensive knowledge. Sticky history, couple with a need for power should cancel any chance. The Jon Gruden Raiders are a part of team history. He helped restore luster to the team. At the same time, these Raiders were built differently than the franchise he left.