OAKLAND, Calif. – Jon Gruden had plenty of opportunities to return to an NFL sideline over the past several years. Until Tuesday, though, he opted instead to stay in the friendly, and well-compensated, confines of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth.
What pulled him back after nine years away from the game was not the lucrative contract offer of the Oakland Raiders, he says, but rather, unfinished business as the team’s head coach.
“Yeah, there is unfinished business,” Gruden said Tuesday at his introductory news conference, again taking the reins of a team that traded him away in 2002, four years after giving him his first head coaching job. “As a coach, I’ve been traded. I’ve been fired. I’ve missed the game terribly.
“But I’ve really missed the Raiders. For my career [here] to end on that night in New England, it still ticks me off.”
Gruden is referring to the 2001 AFC division playoff game between the Raiders and New England Patriots – a now legendary game played on a snow-covered field that began Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s historic run of five championships with the Patriots. After that season, the Raiders made the rare move of trading away Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he won Super Bowl XXXVII in his first season.
After agreeing to a massive $100 million contract that spans 10 years, Gruden will now have a chance to write a new ending with the Raiders. He will also help author the beginning of the team’s time in Las Vegas when it relocates there, likely for the 2020 season, pending the completion of a new stadium. Still, Gruden said it was his love for the city of Oakland that helped bring him back.
“I love the city of Oakland,” Gruden said. “I had a son here. Some of my great memories of my life are in Oakland, and I want to give them two of the best years of football that I can possibly help deliver.”
Gruden was introduced while sitting alongside team owner Mark Davis, who said he had pursued Gruden for six years and called this “the biggest day of my life.” On Gruden’s other side sat Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie, with over 100 media members in attendance along with more than two dozen franchise legends, including Howie Long, Tom Flores, Charles Woodson and Tim Brown.
McKenzie’s presence answered one question about Gruden’s return to the franchise – specifically, who will be working alongside Gruden in Oakland’s front office. Gruden answered another when he confirmed that he, as expected, would be calling plays for the Raiders next season.
Many other questions remain, however. Gruden himself pointed out several times during the half-hour news conference that he has “a lot to prove” after spending the last nine years outside of the game – an odd admission from a man who was just given a decade-long contract with an annual eight-figure salary.
“I have not coached since 2008,” Gruden said. “I haven’t won a game since 2008.
“I’ve got to hire a great coaching staff. … It’s about the people, it’s about the staff, it’s about the tempo we establish as a coaching staff. With that said, I have a lot to prove, and I know that.”
Gruden officially announced his selections for the team’s coordinator positions, tapping Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Greg Olson as his offensive coordinator and installing Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia in those same roles in Oakland.
Gruden’s rapid hiring — first rumored before his predecessor, Jack Del Rio, had officially been fired — prompted some question whether the team complied with the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which mandates a team interview minority candidates for any head coaching opening. McKenzie confirmed that the Raiders complied by interviewing a pair of minority candidates: Raiders tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
The league Gruden returns to will look markedly different than what he left in 2008 when he was fired as the head coach of the Buccaneers, particularly in regard to the use of social media by players and teams.
“Technology’s changed. Technology is incredible,” Gruden said. “I talk to my kids about Snapchat, Instagram, all that stuff. We’re going to have conversations about that [with players]. I think you have to monitor it. I think you have to be careful what you read because it’s not as always true and it’s not always positive. You have to be careful what you post because sometimes it backfires against you. But it’s no different than talking in a microphone. You’re responsible for your actions, and we’ll talk about that at length with our team.”
The NFL is concluding a turbulent season that saw the continuation of pregame demonstrations during the national anthem, including by a number of Raiders players, to protest police violence against minorities that divided many fans and earned the ire of President Trump. Gruden did not address a question by The Washington Post about whether he had any issue with anthem protests. Answering a prior question about the possibility of anthem protests by some of the Raiders players contributing to the team’s 6-10 record this past season, Gruden said, “I’m going to look into all that. Honestly, I’m not aware of any protests, I’m not really aware of that subject at all. When I gather some information, maybe we can cover that subject later.”
In the meantime, Gruden – in a manic fashion that typified his time in the broadcast booth – said he was ready to get to down to business.
“We need to get through this day, lock the doors and get to work,” he said.
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