November 30, 2008. That was the last time Jon Gruden was on the winning end of a football game as an NFL head coach. After that he lost 7-straight. Although the last three came a long time after the first four and for two different teams. That streak ended today.
It wasn’t easy. And at times it looked hopeless. And in fitting fashion, it simply couldn’t come in regulation. After starting his return to the Raiders with three straight losses. Jon Gruden finally notched his first win, beating the Browns 45-42 in overtime.
Tasting victory as ahead coach is something Gruden hasn’t felt in a very long time. A decade in fact. That’s when he last roamed the sideline as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After that he was a mainstay for nine years in the Monday Night Football booth, while running his Fired Football Coaches Association and pouring over NFL game tape. All that time, he knew he would eventually want to take another shot at being a head coach. He had to know that playing Monday morning quarterback and second guessing other coaches’ decisions was a lot easier than having to make those decisions himself and have them second guessed by everyone else.
Ten years is a long time away. Made even longer when your return starts with 3-straight losses, all in heartbreaking fashion.
“It feels like my first win in 100 years. It’s great to be back. I thank our fans for hanging in there with us. There was a lot of ups and downs, but to get that field goal from our third-string kicker, back-up long snapper. I’ve never been so nervous on a 29-yard field goal in my life.”
The nervousness comes in part due to that same undrafted rookie kicker having already missed two field goals in this game, one of which in overtime. But there’s no question the bulk of it comes from how difficult it would be to come form behind several times, in unlikely fashion, only to see it all end in another loss, just like the first three.
Along with the winless monkey off his back, Gruden’s Raiders didn’t fade down the stretch as they had in their first three games. But just as he seemed to keep a positive outlook over those losses, Gruden isn’t letting this win convince him this team is past their issues.
“We haven’t fixed anything yet. We have a lot of things we have to get better at. I think it is pretty obvious,” said Gruden of the fourth quarter play. “We played some good football for stints. We played good football in Miami. We played some good football against the Rams. We had some really good tape against Denver, but we have tape that needs to be fixed. That’s the same thing that I think we will see today. We have some guys that are really eager to work, we have good leadership and we going to continue to do it. It was really fun to score and win a game and to get that monkey off our back.”
It’s a time for celebration, mainly because of the relief of getting that first win out of the way. But it will be short lived. The season goes on and one win doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t lead to more.
“We are going to celebrate tonight, but we have to get ready for Philip [Rivers] and the Chargers,” sad Gruden. “We are really happy, we are proud, we are excited. There is a lot to be thankful for.”