Gruden re-ignites old flame in Oakland

Jon Gruden sporting an Oakland Raiders visor during pregame Sunday at O.co Coliseum in a game against the Saints - Thearon W. Henderson

The Raiders have not had a good season by any stretch. And compounding the issue is the fact that they were 8-8 just last season. And today a Raiders icon of the past was in the house as a reminder of what the Raiders once were.

The last "great" Raider coach, Jon Gruden was here Sunday. It was his third trip to O.co this season. The last time was the opener when the Raiders played on Monday Night Football. He was greeted as a local hero back then. And that was before the Raiders had embarked on a 3-7 season.

It may seem odd that he was here being that this was not Monday Night Football. But his presence was not without good reason. He was in town anyway as the Monday Night Football crew is in San Francisco this week. So while he was here, he was tabbed to light "The Fire the Burns Brightest" torch at pregame in honor of Raiders late owner, Al Davis.

Prior to the torch lighting, he took the field to greet the Black Hole just as he had done when he was the head coach and just as he did in the opener. The sentiment was a steady stream of "Come back home" and variations of that. It is clear the fans love for him has only grown stronger as the team continues to struggle.

After his handshaking, picture taking, and autograph signing (and general ego boost session) was over, he made a bee line to the Raider sideline where Mark Davis was standing. The two of them talked for quite a while. They were soon joined by Willie Brown and then later Reggie McKenzie and others.

Gruden visited Raiders training camp in Napa this offseason for the first time in ten years when the Raiders opened the preseason on Monday Night Football. He made his way around speaking to Mark, Reggie, Willie, and Dennis Allen that day.

It is safe to say Gruden's presence around the Raiders this season is more than he has had since he wore the shield on his visor on the Raiders sideline.

This alone would not be cause for speculation. But lately questions have arisen about whether Gruden has interest in returning to coaching. And with the Raiders struggling, combined with the fan and organizational respect for him, it just makes you wonder: Could he come back?

That question came up a lot during the Raiders coaching search last offseason but I never asked it. In fact, I was quick to shoot down the idea because Gruden had said that he was not leaving television. Now, he has apparently been getting the coaching itch and it opens that door once again.

The Raiders are not the same organization without Al Davis. Which is to say the coach is not on an automatic hotseat every season. But that doesn't mean it isn't still possible if the team were unhappy with the current coaching situation that they would not make a change as any team would. And along with the passing of Al Davis passed away the apparent bad blood between the Raiders and Gruden.

Those bygone feelings are what had Gruden as a guest at training camp and lighting the torch on Sunday.

"Maybe some people thought there were unresolved feelings, but very close to my mom and myself," said Mark Davis. "And part of the Raider family. And once a Raider, always a Raider. I've had trouble with my dad at times. [laughs] Once or twice. But it's fantastic. These people are all part of our family, and love ‘em. It's a good thing."

Mark is not his dad. He would be the first to tell you. But the passion for the Raiders still runs through his veins and his disappointment in this year's team is great.

"I can just feel how [the fans] feel, because I feel the same way," said Davis. "I'm a fan. And I take responsibility for it, gonna get it right."

"I'm patient. I'm patient. But I want to see progress. I don't want to see regression. Nobody does. And that's why I'm unhappy today."

Regression is exactly what has happened this season with these Raiders. They lost a few players due to salary cap reasons but the core of the team is still intact. This leads to the change in coaches as the primary reason for the team's current problems. That could be simply the change in scheme does not fit the players. Or it could be something that is deemed a coaching problem.

The answer will certainly be discovered by season's end-- if not already. The honeymoon is over for the Raiders and Dennis Allen. The old flame is hanging around and the mutual feelings between them are heating up. It's enough to make Allen feel pretty insecure. If the Raiders find their feelings for Allen have gone cold, just a word by Gruden may be all it takes.

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