Everyone here knows how much I loathe Jon Gruden, although getting us a Lombardi would earn him forgiveness of course. Him coming back for a 2nd go around as our coach was not a happy development for me, and I feel like I owe my fellow Raider Nation residents an explanation. Now I realize that all you non-Raider fans and hell even most Raider fans probably don’t really care, but fuck you I am telling the story anyway.
The scene is the end of the 1996 NFL season, one that saw the Raiders finish up a disappointing 2nd season back in Oakland at 7-9, which would cost coach Mike White his job and spell the end of Jeff Hostetler’s time with the Raiders. The ensuing search for the next coach would include a certain young up and coming OC from Philly, and by all accounts made quite an impression on Al Davis during his interview.. But ultimately the job went to Joe Bugel, who promised “multiple Super Bowls” at his introductory press conference. Well, that did not work out so well for him or the team as he lasted one miserable season, finishing 4-12 despite some gaudy stats from QB Jeff George. The lowlight came in week 2, a MNF game in Oakland against the Chiefs where the Raiders led for pretty much the entire game and were up by 5 in the waning seconds when Terry McDaniel somehow let Andre Rison get behind him for a long TD with 3 seconds left to lose. After the game Bugel did not even come out to face the press, leaving McDaniel to cover for his gutless coach. It was all downhill from there.
So now the next search gets underway with most correctly assuming Gruden would get the job, Al hired him even after his agent opened the interview with the following statement – “This team is not one win from the Super Bowl it is 4 games away from zero wins”, something Al normally would not tolerate under any circumstances. Despite a DUI in Pleasanton during October of that year the worship starts when he somehow got the team to 7-3 with Donald Hollas at QB after George was injured early in the season, but they lost 5 of their final 6 games to finish 8-8. Then Gruden talks Al into signing a journeyman QB in Rich Gannon, and another 8-8 season follows. But the direction of the team was changing, punctuated by a week 17 win at Arrowhead where the Raiders wiped out an early 17-0 deficit and knocked the Chiefs out of the playoffs. 2000 saw a return to glory, the Raiders finish 12-4, win the AFC West to return to the playoffs for the first time in 7 tears. A 27-0 romp over Miami in the divisional round had everyone talking Super Bowl, but a turbulent loss to the Ravens in the AFC title game ended that dream. But optimism remained high, and in May of 2001 Gruden somehow earns a spot in People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people. But even after a very successful start to the 2001 season the tide was once again changing, Gruden’s name becoming linked to every major job opening in the college ranks, most notably Notre Dame where Gruden himself has to address the constant rumors. The team wins the AFC West for the 2nd year in a row but loses their last 3 games to cost them a bye. They beat the Jets in the Wild Card round but then they go to Foxboro and lose a certain infamous snow game there. In the aftermath of that bitter moment that his agent calls a press conference to announce that despite Gruden saying many times he wants to coach the Raiders for years he is going to leave after the 2002 season when his contract expired, the agent making another ballsy statement saying that there was zero percent chance he coaches the Raiders beyond next year, this is not a leverage play here. The fact that all this is aired publicly was bad enough, but to do this only days after the most bitter moment in franchise history was especially galling. So Al does the only thing he can, trading him to TB for 2 1st rounders, 2 2nd rounders and $8M in cash. He proceeds to go 12-4 and then beating the Raiders in the Super Bowl, a moment I am sure he savors to this day. But after that he is very mediocre, only making the playoffs twice in the next 6 years, losing his 1st game both times. We all know his antics in the MNF booth, and nothing he did inspired any confidence that he was ready to lead anyone back to glory. What will happen? Guess we’ll see.