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Can Raiders ‘team effort’ approach to personnel decisions between Jon Gruden, Reggie McKenzie really work?

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We examine what potential there may be for a power struggle Oakland.

Oakland Raiders Introduce Jon Gruden Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

With the commitment Mark Davis is making to Jon Gruden, both with contract length (10 years) as well as financials ($100 million), the obvious question occurs – when a personnel decision is to be made, who makes it?

It’s a reasonable question. Think about it; you have a coach who the owner has been fixated upon for at least the past six years and makes the largest investment in a head coach in NFL history.

So, when the inevitable situation occurs in which each of them feel very strongly about a personnel decision, who gets final say?

That question came up a couple times during and after Gruden’s introductory press conference without a clear answer as to hierarchy given.

“Reggie and Jon are going to be working together,” said Mark Davis.

“They’ll work their working arrangement out. They’ll figure it out. Reggie wants to win. That’s what Reggie wants to do. Jon wants to win. And I want to win.”

For what it’s worth, coaches under Reggie McKenzie have had more say in personnel matters than at any point under Al Davis. And Mark said similar things about McKenzie and Jack Del Rio working together.

How well that worked out, we don’t really know, because we’re not in that room when those decisions are made. Though if you look at the three drafts while the two of them were supposedly collaborating on personnel, the picture isn’t pretty. Gruden’s input could only improve on that recent track record.

Since leaving coaching ten years ago, Gruden has kept busy by approaching his Monday Night Football gig with the same vigor he had always treated his coaching duties. When I asked him what he has learned in the past nine years seeing the NFL from the other side of things, one of the areas he pointed to was “the chance to get into personnel more.”

This is interesting especially in light of the fact that butting heads with Al Davis is what got him traded after his first stint. Al, as we all know, had a hand in most everything to do with the Raiders, especially the personnel on the football team. He wanted to draft kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the first round of the 2000 draft. Gruden wanted either Sean Alexander or Sylvester Morris. They drafted Janikowski.

Gruden has said several times that he never wanted to be traded. He said it again on Tuesday. There were others in the organization, including CEO Amy Trask who didn’t want Gruden traded. But he an Al butted heads and he was out. So, what’s to say there won’t be any butting heads this time with he and Reggie McKenzie? Well, it could be just what Mark said — they’ll be working together.

“I don’t buy into the logic that it has to be a power struggle,” Amy Trask told me in a phone conversation this week. “And this is not a Raider specific comment. These are grown-ups and I really do believe Reggie will do everything he can to make the relationship work.”

Trask noted that in her view the primary issue with the relationship with Al and Jon was that there was an “intermediary” involved in most conversations between the two of them, adding “I wish that Al and Jon had spent more time alone together talking about football as opposed to allowing others to be involved in that relationship.”

She may be right about that, especially when you consider that Mark Davis said of Gruden Tuesday.

“I see a lot of my dad in him,” said Mark speaking of their shared passion for the game of football. How headstrong that would make him when there’s a player on the board he is dead set on will show just how comparable he is to Al.

Let’s not pretend though that Gruden is the first head coach to come into a situation with such respect from ownership and celebrity in the league. There are many examples where there could and perhaps should have been a power struggle between head coach and management and either it wasn’t a major issue or they made it work for the common goal.

The most recent example of the cracks showing in the power dynamic is the Patriots with issues between Head Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and his personal trainer, and owner Robert Kraft. But how long did it take for things to come to this and how much “success” have they had leading up to this? Gruden’s 10-year contract looks like child’s play compared to the 18 seasons Belichick has been the head coach in New England.

McKenzie experienced a similar dynamic in his long and successful stint in Green Bay.

“Seeing the relationship between [General Manager Ron] Wolf and Coach [Mike] Holmgren, I saw the way it was supposed to be,” McKenzie said. “We saw that. A lot of great decisions were made because it was a team effort. So that’s what I saw. And you see what maturated after that. The coaches who have gone on, the personnel people that have gone on, that’s instilled in me and we’re going to continue to grow from that. I can’t wait to get started with Coach Gruden. We’re fired up. I’m ready to roll.”

So, can this arrangement really work? Can there be a situation where there’s no one person with the ultimate final say if all things are equal otherwise? It’s sounds like it can. So long as you have the right people in place for it. And that would appear to the be the case with Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden.