When Jon Gruden decided to return to the then Oakland — now Las Vegas Raiders’ —sideline, there was no doubt that part of his reasoning was ego-driven.
Over the years, many people have discredited Gruden’s 2002 Super Bowl Championship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by stating “it was Tony Dungy’s team” or “Gruden did it with Dungy’s players.” Dungy was, of course, Gruden’s predecessor in Tampa Bay and the latter won the Lombardi Trophy the same year he replaced the former.
This was the biggest knock on Gruden’s legacy, but it didn’t seem to bother him at the time. Even after he was let go a few years after winning it all, the coach was seemingly in no rush to return to the sideline. In fact, he even chose a different career path a few years after getting fired.
Gruden joined the Monday Night Football crew in 2009 and quickly won over football fans across the country with his vibrant personality and top-notch NFL knowledge. He was widely regarded as one of the best and most popular analysts in the media, so much so that ESPN made him one of their highest-paid employees and the network has struggled to replace him since he left in 2018.
A few years into “Chucky’s” time in the booth, the coaching rumors started to swirl again. Gruden’s name was seemingly thrown into the mix for just about every NFL head coaching vacancy and even when a few high-profile college jobs became available, and the “Tony Dungy’s team” chatter resurfaced.
However, no opportunity appeared to be good enough to pry him from his cushy, well-paid television gig, and being able to spend time with his family was also rumored to play a factor in his decision to stick with broadcasting. Both were very valid reasons that no one could really blame him for.
Then, Raiders owner Mark Davis fired head coach Jack Del Rio after a disappointing 2017 campaign, one season removed from the organization’s first playoff berth in 14 years.
At this time, Gruden’s children were much older, and he had an opportunity to return to the Silver and Black, a place where he could have won a Super Bowl with “his players.”
Before the coach even technically returned to the sidelines, one of the first actions he took was dismantling a roster that was a year removed from a trip to the postseason. Among several other moves, he opted to get rid of players like Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack in favor of Jordy Nelson, Brandon LaFell and draft picks.
It was a clear attempt by Gruden to get “his guys.” Hmmm, I wonder why?
The transactions didn’t help the Raiders. The team went from 6-10 in Del Rio’s final season to 4-12 in Gruden’s first, and 2016 remains as the organization’s lone playoff berth since losing the aforementioned Super Bowl to Gruden and the Buccaneers.
Even the draft picks the coach acquired in his two highest-profile trades since returning haven’t worked out. Clelin Ferrell, who was drafted in the Raiders’ own draft slot but was only in consideration because of Mack’s departure, has been relegated to second-string in year three, and the same goes for Damon Arnette but in year two instead of three. Josh Jacobs plays the lowest-value position on the field and struggles to stay healthy, while Johnathan Abram was one of the worst safeties in the NFL last season and is now also playing a low-value position.
Gruden has consistently gone against the consensus in the draft, and it blew up in his face nearly every time, tarnishing his legacy as a coach and talent evaluator. He finishes his return to the Raiders’ sideline with a 22-31 record, but now, the football portion of this conversation almost seems irrelevant.
Instead, Gruden will be remembered for the racist and homophobic comments that he made. And his whole “I was in a bad frame of mind during the lockout and said some things I regret” excuse is nothing but utter and complete avoidance of responsibility. The recent New York Times article revealed several more extremely inappropriate emails of his that are as recent as 2018, seven years after the lockout and the same year he was hired as the Raiders’ head coach.
Suddenly, “Gruden did it with Dungy’s players” doesn’t seem like such a bad legacy anymore.