One of Jon Gruden’s first move as Raiders new head coach was to hire former Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. As one of the most respected defensive minds in football, he was highly sought after by a number of teams, but eventually decided to join Gruden in Oakland.
Guenther sat down with Sports Illustrated recently and there was some pretty interesting details that came from it.
For instance, the two coaches began deep discussion in late December. The two coaches — who had known each other for years — met for dinner, where Gruden broke the news that he was considering a return to coaching. Guenther had heard the line before but “he had a little different look in his eye this time,” the defensive coordinator told SI.
As the season came to an end, Gruden was calling Guenther 15 times a day to discuss possible schemes and assistant coaches, but also to find out for certain whether Guenther was “in or out.”
With turnover imminent in Cincinnati, Guenther decided it was time for a change and moved his family to California to join his longtime friend in the East Bay. Now the two coaches are neighbors in the East Bay city of Danville and actually carpool to work.
As an offensive specialist, Gruden will heavily rely on Guenther to run the defense making him essentially the head coach for half of the roster.
Because of this, the new defensive coordinator had a strong voice throughout free agency and the 2018 NFL Draft. After watching all of the 2017 Raiders games including every snap for each defender, Guenther created a list of which players he wanted to keep, and potential targets in free agency.
“You make a list of five or six guys at each position that you want to pursue,” he explained. “You have to understand what we can afford. Our cap guys try to give us an idea of that...if you really like a guy, you bring him in and test his knowledge. If it’s a match, you try not to let him out of the building.”
As for the draft, Guenther and the rest of the position coaches evaluated each player on a system where grades were broken into three parts per round: A, B, C.
A player with a 1A grade, for example, is worth taking in the top third of the first round. A 1C grade means bottom third of the first round. A 3B grade would be for the middle part of the third round.
Once prospects were graded, Guenther and his staff evaluated them across positions. Human nature says the defensive line coach’s 1B grade will carry a slightly different criteria than, say, the linebacker coach’s 1B grade. Plus, with different positions, those grades don’t fully relate to one another. To work through this, the entire staff would watch that 1B defensive lineman together, and then that 1B linebacker. Then, they’d re-grade the players.
Guenther went on to point out that third round defensive end Arden Key and fifth round defensive tackle Maurice Hurst were both ranked by his staff in the top-five of their positions.
In the aftermath of free agency and the draft, the Raiders defense is almost unrecognizable from 2017. “It’s basically a half-new roster,” Guenther said. But it is an assembly of players put together by Guenther, one that can effectively fill the mold of his 4-3 defense.
While Jon Gruden is the more recognizable name, Guenther could very well be the most impactful addition to the Raiders.
You can read the entire SI article here.