Sixteen years after Al Davis infamously traded Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden is back in Oakland – again as the head coach of the most storied franchise in the NFL.
Flanked by owner Mark Davis and General Manager Reggie McKenzie, Davis himself said it best: “Raider Nation, this is a big F’n deal.”
The size and scope of the press conference – moved to the Raiders training and weights room at its headquarters in Alameda, Calif. – proved that.
Instead of being held in a standard media room, the stage was set up in one end of the Raiders state of the art training facility. Complete with video screen, complete with a Gruden hype video, it was more of the glitz and glamor of the Raiders future home of Las Vegas, and less of the blue-collar vibe of their current home in Oakland. Along with media from the NFL, Bay Area, and Las Vegas, several former Raiders players were in attendance. Over 50 to be exact.
That says something.
The most notable, and vocal player was Gruden’s very first draft pick, and Heisman Trophy winner, Charles Woodson. Woodson started a “RAAAAAAIDEEERS” chant at one point, then got a hold of a mic during the Q&A and asked Gruden if he had a “no trade clause” in his contract. It drew big laughs from the crowd, and a bit of a grin from Gruden. Gruden responded by saying he did have a no trade clause. Since the details of the contract were not disclosed, we’ll have to wait and see if it was said in jest, or if he is making sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Dressed in a slick silver & black suit and tie, Gruden was visibly happy to be a Raider again. Davis called it “a dream come true.” Gruden acknowledged the “Tuck Rule,” and even said he didn’t want his Raiders career to end that day in New England.
“For my career to end on that night, in New England….it still ticks me off,” Gruden snarled. And as I wrote just a few days ago, he said he had some “unfinished business” to take care of.
McKenzie was also complimentary of Gruden, and talked about the two working together to make personal decisions. Since they both “grew up in Green Bay” learning from the great Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren, Gruden joked about probably not getting his own way very often, however. “Look at the size of him (McKenzie)!”
Yes it was just a press conference but I thought the event was very well done. A little flash. Talk of hard work. Nostalgia in the form of former players; Charles Woodson, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Lincoln Kennedy, Jim Plunkett, Howie Long, and more.
The overall theme of the event for the Raiders and Gruden was one of homecoming.
Jon Gruden is the Raiders and the Raiders are Jon Gruden. Oakland (and eventually Las Vegas) is where he belongs. He won a Super Bowl for Tampa Bay, but he was never really was a Buccaneer. He’s always been a Raider. You could hear it in his voice. See it on his face. He’s finally home.
So, where does he go from here? Gruden said it best himself, “Enough talk. Let’s get to work.” And that’s exactly what he’ll do. He’s the ultimate grinder. The get up at 3:17 AM guy. The first one in, last one out guy. He demands perfection from every single person in that locker room and on his staff. He demands that from them because that’s what he demands of himself.
Make no mistake, Gruden has his work cut out for him. This Raiders team did not meet the expectations set by the 2016 team that went 12-4. Whether it was injuries, scheme, coaching, talent, or a combination of all four, Gruden needs to solve the problem and do what Mark Davis brought him back to do.
The one thing that Al Davis expected from every one of his coaches and players. The one thing that every Raider throughout the history of the franchise was conditioned to do.
Just Win Baby!