A ton of Raiders talk this offseason surrounds the Raiders head coach and general manager relationship.
There are a lot of reasons for that. Reggie McKenzie’s contract runs through 2020, which could be Oakland’s first year in Las Vegas. Jon Gruden was signed to a 10-year, $100 million contract that surprised many people.
McKenzie is often credited with turning around the Raiders dire cap situation, which he inherited after late qwner and legend Al David died. RM was also an NFL LB whose career includes four years with the Silver and Black. It was also reported that Reggie turned down a chance to interview with the Green Bay Packers, a team he spent years with.
On the other hand, Gruden is known as the face to the last era of Raiders greatness as well the coach who defeated the Raiders in their last Super Bowl appearance. Gruden essentially ended the greatness he created in the process of getting his Super Bowl ring. He was also a media personality for ESPN after he left coaching nearly a decade ago. Jon also has Green Bay roots on his NFL resume.
Can these two co-exist? That really depends on whom you ask.
If you believe McKenzie and owner Mark Davis, getting Gruden was always the plan. The two supposedly wrote notes to each other about Gruden long before his hiring. Also, that occurred possibly during the unveiling of their last two coaches.
On the other hand, Gruden may want one his own people. Professional networks are real in the NFL as people want to work with people they are familiar with. This is one of the reasons Bruce Allen was rumored to succeed Reggie McKenzie as soon as Gruden was rumored to be the Raiders front man. For all we know, Gruden may want to handle roster and scouting decisions himself.
Thus, it will be incredibly important to watch how these two interact over their first season together.
How this can succeed
There is no doubt that both of these men know a lot about football and both want to win. They can use that as well as their connection to the Raiders to build a winning culture. More common ground exists since they both boast connections to Green Bay. Therefore, their philosophies and visions can easily merge.
It is also important to mention, Mark Davis has loyalty to both these men. Davis has given McKenzie the keys to overturn his franchise. The results have been mixed in terms of drafting, win-loss record, and free agent signings. However, there is no doubt McKenzie has done a lot to modernize the team’s operations and get them out of salary cap hell.
On the other hand, Davis has always been very fond of Gruden. He tried to tempt him out of retirement multiple times due to Gruden’s connection to Oakland and the Raiders.
Thus, Davis can also help these two men build a strong relationship. That starts with him defining lines for both Gruden and McKenzie. Davis is the boss of both and he is the one who will have to deal with any sort of power struggle between RM and JG.
Moreover, success can happen if both men stay in their lane, focus on their strengths, draw lines, communicate, and do their jobs. Just like any other work environment, professional relations thrive with transparency and communication. It is easy to work with someone when there are lines and no one is stepping on each other toes or undermining each other.
The Raiders can do this if Gruden handles the x’s and o’s and Reggie deals with the scouting, salary cap and contract negotiations. Both men will do what they do best and they easily complement each other.
How this can fail
It is safe to say Gruden does not want to deal with Khalil Mack’s contact and agent more than McKenzie wants to be up at 3 a.m. working on a game plan. Therefore, the two should be able to coexist when it comes to Gruden leading and executing on Sundays while McKenzie handles salary cap and contracts.
Where the two may step on each other’s toes is on roster decisions. McKenzie has worked close with the previous head coaches on draft picks, roster cuts, and free agency signings but RM always gets the final word. Will that be the case with Gruden getting a huge contract?
We are already seeing subtle differences in the two men’s strategy. In the past, McKenzie has had the final say on roster decisions. He has leaned on under-the-radar veterans, rookies and draft picks to build his team.
Gruden on the other hand, is doing things we have not seen Reggie do since he took over. This year the Raiders are bringing in veterans closer to the age of 30. They are taking fliers on draft picks with not only injury concerns but character concerns too.
Based on those observations, it appears Gruden is winning the power struggle over roster decisions in Oakland early. This division and figure pointing will only get worse if Oakland does not get some wins fast.
In addition, Gruden has the longer contract so he will probably have the longer leash from Ownership. However, if Davis consistently takes Gruden’s side and continues to undermine McKenzie that could spell the end.
Ultimately, the success of this relationship measures in wins and losses. If the Raiders start losing, it would not be very surprising to see Gruden and McKenzie point figures at each other forcing Mark Davis to pick a side.
Nonetheless, getting to the playoffs may make both of these men content with doing what they both do well. Perhaps then, they can focus on their similarities in philosophies, collaborate over roster decisions, and not focus on who makes the final call.