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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Raiders go all-in with monumental signing of Gruden

JOHN E. WOODS / PUBLIC DOMAIN

Oakland inks ex-head coach to largest coaching deal in league history

After many years of speculation and rumors, Jon Gruden has finally returned to the NFL as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Gruden began his head coaching career for Oakland in 1998, but was abruptly traded away after the 2001 season. He was an immensely popular figure during his time in the Bay Area, loved by both players and fans alike, and never truly wanted to leave. Raiders owner Mark Davis tried to lure Gruden back to Oakland for the last six years, but to no avail. Finally, after 16 years away, the man that Raiders fans affectionately called “Chucky”, is back in silver and black once again.

The hiring became official on the night of Jan. 6, just hours after Gruden had finished broadcasting the AFC Wild Card Game, his last call for ESPN after a nine year run in the booth. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he will receive a 10 year contract worth $100 million, making him the highest paid head coach in NFL history.

The move comes just two years before the franchise plans to relocate to Las Vegas, Nev., where a new stadium will open in 2020. However, Gruden is most excited about the immediate future and putting on a show for the fans of Oakland, a city he fell in love with during his first stint with the team.

“Big reason why I’m here is the passion I have for the city of Oakland and this franchise,” said Gruden during his introductory press conference at the team’s headquarters in Alameda on Jan. 9. “I love football, and I love the city of Oakland. I had a son here and some of my great memories in life are in Oakland and I want to give them two of the best years of football that I can possibly help deliver.”

When Gruden took over for the Raiders  in 1998, he quickly led the team to back-to-back division titles in 2000 and 2001. The Raiders fell one win shy of reaching the Super Bowl in 2000 and lost to the New England Patriots in the 2001 divisional round in one of the most infamous, controversial games in league history, known as the “Tuck Rule” game. Despite the heartbreaking results in consecutive seasons, Gruden had truly reenergized the organization for the first time since it moved back to the Bay Area in 1995 and had the team poised for further success in the very near future.

Hall of Fame owner Al Davis opted to trade Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2001 season, partly due to a deteriorating relationship and power struggle between the two. Nevertheless, Davis simply could not turn down a jaw-dropping return from Tampa Bay that included two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft picks and a sum of $8 million.

Gruden promptly returned the favor by leading the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory over the Raiders in the very next season, setting the stage for a dreadful downfall in Oakland that produced 11 losing seasons in the ensuing 13 years.

Gruden has undoubtedly been one of the most popular, trendy options on the open market ever since the day he was fired by Tampa Bay in early 2009. His name had been linked to seemingly every high-profile heading coaching opening in both college and professional football since then, but he wanted to wait for the right situation before pulling the trigger.

“Obviously, this is very emotional for me,” Gruden said. “I never wanted to leave the Raiders. I never thought I’d be back, but here I am and I’m ready to get to work. In my heart, I feel this is the thing to do. This is the organization that I want to be a part of and I am all in.”

Gruden will look to get the Raiders back on track in 2018 after an extremely disappointing, drama-filled season that saw the team finish in third place in the AFC West with a record of 6-10.

“I think we have to improve in all areas,” Gruden said. “No matter what our record is, we’ve got to continually find ways to improve. We’ve got to improve the ways we practice. We have to improve the way we meet. And we have to improve the way we play. We have got to improve our roster, no question.”

Expectations for the Raiders were at all-time high heading into this past season, after the team finished with a 12-4 record in 2016 and broke a 13 year playoff drought, but Oakland struggled to live up to the lofty predictions or find any sort of consistency. Former head coach Jack Del Rio was fired immediately following the team’s season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, ending his three-year run at the helm.

“There were some things that went wrong, but you can’t solve all the problems today,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to come up with a plan to put the Raiders back on track and build this football team back.”

Regardless of how the Raiders performed in 2017, there is a lot of talented pieces on the roster, especially on the offensive side of the football. In addition, the team still has a pair of cornerstone players, in quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack, that are prepared to lead the franchise for years to come.

Gruden is especially excited at the prospects of working with a young, skilled franchise quarterback like Carr, the type of the player he never had the luxury of coaching in his two previous head coaching stops.

“He has great arm talent, he’s athletic, he’s got natural leadership skills, he’s young, he’s in his prime, he’s healthy now,” Gruden said. “I think there is a huge ceiling in Derek Carr. I think he has proven that. It’s up to us as a coaching staff to improve around him, get more consistent, and come up with an offense that really allows him to soar into another level.”

No matter what happens on the field, this monumental signing promises to create a remarkable amount of buzz and attention around the organization, as it slowly transitions away from Northern California.

 

Written by: Brendan Ogburn — sports@theaggie.org

 

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