"When the Raiders decided to trade Jon Gruden, that was the biggest mistake Al Davis ever made," CBS NFL analyst and former Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon said Sunday.
Davis had a head coach that loved being a Raider and a fan base that loved their coach more any fan base loves a coach. On top of that, he just brought the Raiders back to relevance after some pretty hard times. So it’s no surprise the fan base wanted to believe any recent rumor that had Gruden returning to the Raiders to coach the team.
The Raiders went through nine head coaches since Gruden’s departure. But no matter how bad the fans’ yearning for his return or how big the rumor, it just didn’t happen.
It wasn’t from a lack of Raiders owner Mark Davis trying to make it happen after he inherited the team from Al Davis. He’s already undone some of his father's other sins like bringing Marcus Allen back around the organization and developing better relationships with other owners. But undoing his father’s biggest sin would take some time.
Gruden got the itch to coach again and still considered himself a Raider in 2014. So, even though he turned down Davis’ offer that year Sports Illustrated reported per Ian Rapoport that the Raiders are the only team he would come back for. It just wasn’t right time yet.
The Raiders just started rebuilding and Super Bowl winning coaches don’t do rebuilds. There’s this thing called a career record that Gruden doesn’t want to bring to ruin.
After the Raiders sucked so bad a few years with Dennis Allen as head coach, they got the high picks they needed to upgrade their talent level. Then Jack Del Rio came along. He changed the culture of the team but can’t match wits with a coach like Bill Belichick or Andy Reid. His choice in coordinators isn’t great either so he got the Raiders as far as he could get them.
When the NFL world caught wind of this, the media was favoring the Buccaneers to be the next place he would end up coaching. But Gruden already made it known back in 2014 that the Raiders were the team he would come back for. That and the $10 million a year and a stake in ownership of the team sealed it.
Out of the running, the Buccaneers announced that Dirk Koetter will return as head coach and the Raiders fired Del Rio immediately following the team’s season ending loss to the Chargers.
The Raiders had a much more loaded team than their 2017 record showed. With average offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave in 2016, the Raiders were No. 6 in the NFL in offense. With average defensive coordinator John Pagano for the last six games, the Raiders went from playing horrible defense to playing almost Top-10 football.
So all Gruden has to do now is come in, get the offense going again with franchise QB Derek Carr and choose a good DC. He’ll inherit a supremely talented team that will have a Top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. With that, Gruden has a chance to greatly improve his coaching legacy.
Add that Gruden is getting this chance while he is the highest paid analyst for ESPN, which has been laying people off left and right these days and you have the perfect time for Gruden to get back into coaching, both for himself and for the Raiders.