Raiders Pursuing Jon Gruden To Return As Coach After Firing Jack Del Rio
The Raiders on Sunday fired coach Jack Del Rio immediately after a season-ending loss to the Chargers, and and his vacancy "likely won’t be filled as abruptly as it opened," according to Matt Kawahara of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Speculation has risen that ESPN's Jon Gruden has interest, but neither he nor the Raiders have "confirmed interest between the parties." Gruden coached the Raiders from '98-'01 before being traded to the Buccaneers. An ESPN spokesperson yesterday tweeted that Gruden is "scheduled to work" Saturday’s Titans-Chiefs AFC Wild Card game (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/2). In Oakland, Jerry McDonald notes it is "not known" how Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie's role "would be affected by Gruden taking over as head coach" (EAST BAY TIMES, 1/2). USA TODAY's Mike Jones writes the "charismatic Gruden would seemingly give the franchise the shot in the arm that it needs following this year’s regression-riddled 6-10 campaign." Gruden brings a "well-respected name and great football knowledge that’s on display every 'Monday Night Football' broadcast." Talking from the booth is "way easier than actually coaching," and he "no doubt has some rust to knock off" after being fired by the Buccaneers after the '08 season. However, he has "remained plugged in while studying teams for his TV work" (USA TODAY, 1/2).
BACK TO THE FUTURE: In Las Vegas, Ed Graney wrote if the Raiders can "convince Gruden to put down his 'Monday Night Football' microphone and again start tutoring a specific roster of NFL quarterbacks instead of several college prospects at the position for an annual made-for-television draft preview, you make this move with zero hesitation" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 1/1). NBC SPORTS BAY AREA's Scott Bair noted Raiders Owner Mark Davis "has to believe that Gruden’s ready" to return to the sidelines. Firing Del Rio was "made with confidence" about Gruden's future, which is why the "axe fell swiftly and without remorse" (NBCSPORTS.com, 12/31). ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez wrote despite a 6-10 season in a year that began with Super Bowl dreams, Del Rio "wouldn't have been fired unless" Davis "felt that he has Gruden locked up" (ESPN.com, 12/31). FS1's Colin Cowherd called Gruden returning to the Raiders a "real risky move," as nine years is a "long time to be away from any industry." FS1's Tony Gonzalez noted this has "been done before," as Dick Vermeil "has shown you can take some years off" and return to coaching at an elite level. Gonzalez said of Gruden, "If he's ever, ever considered actually coming out of retirement and coaching, this is the best situation for him. It is primed and ready" ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 1/1).
ENERGIZING THE FAN BASE: The EAST BAY TIMES' McDonald noted the price for Gruden "will be steep." He will get "a lot more" than Del Rio’s reported $5M per year. Where Davis would "make back his money in theory would be keeping fans in the seats in Oakland for the next two years and then selling expensive personal seat licenses, sponsorships and suites in a new stadium in Las Vegas" (EAST BAY TIMES, 1/1). CBSSN's Amy Trask noted Gruden potentially returning to the Raiders "will excite the heck out of the Oakland fans in the Bay Area." She noted the team also is trying to sell a "very, very expensive product in Las Vegas -- suites, club seats, sponsorships and more -- and this will help if it happens" ("That Other Pregame Show," CBSSN, 12/31). ESPN's Matt Barrie said Gruden will be the “face of the franchise,” so when the team relocates to Las Vegas, the franchise will have a “star power coach who can make that transition” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/1). FS1's Shannon Sharpe: "They’re getting ready to move to Vegas. They’ve got to get a splashy hire" ("Undisputed," FS1, 1/2). ESPN’s Mike Golic: “They’re trying to keep a fan base in Oakland until they leave for Vegas. They need a bit of a splash, they need to keep interest in Oakland. They don’t need to sell tickets the year they go to Vegas, they need to sell tickets now in Vegas." Golic added, "It will certainly be a splash going back to Oakland if this comes to fruition to keep the fan base hyped there. This year it was on Marshawn Lynch to do, so now it could be on Gruden" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 1/2).
OWNERSHIP STAKE IN PLAY? ESPN.com's Schefter & Mortensen cited sources as saying that the Raiders' offer to Gruden includes an "ownership stake." Sources said that Davis has "offered Gruden an ownership stake in the past," and if Davis were willing to do so again, the contract would have to be "approved by all 32 NFL owners." A source said that owners "might not be so quick to approve the deal, because they wouldn't want to establish a precedent." The NFL finance committee also would have to "vet Gruden; it would be that body, along with input from several owners, that would be responsible for raising an objection to an ownership clause." Even if Gruden's deal is "not approved because of the ownership condition, his contract could be negotiated in a way that would pay him a commensurate amount if fellow owners or the finance committee did not approve the deal." The Raiders have long "appealed to Gruden for a variety of reasons." He would get to "coach a team that is slated to move" to Las Vegas, where he would "not have to pay state income tax." Additionally, Gruden's contract could be "backloaded to pay him more in the Nevada years of the deal and lessen his tax burden during his years in California" (ESPN.com, 12/30). FS1's Danny Kanell said, "If you're the Raiders and you're willing to give up ownership to move all these parts to bring Jon Gruden there, why didn’t you go after maybe Pete Carroll? Why not Sean Payton?” ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 1/1).
STRANGE SITUATION: THE MMQB's Peter King wrote he has "never seen a head coach, minutes after his season ends, announce his own firing." It was an "odd situation" to have Davis and McKenzie nowhere in sight Sunday, while Del Rio announced that the owner "had just whacked him" (SI.com, 1/1). ESPN’s Jay Harris said, “I cannot remember anyone announcing their own firing.” ESPN’s Sage Steele: “That’s crazy” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/1). ESPN's Adam Schefter noted it was "really amazing" for Del Rio to learn his fate "right after the game, to come in to face reporters, and to deliver an impromptu press conference just like that where you admit that you’ve been fired and that it hurts you and you salute the team.” Schefter: “Props to Jack Del Rio for the way he handled it" ("NFL Live," ESPN2, 1/1). NBCSN's Mike Florio: "The class and the grace of going to the podium after a season-ending loss, after being told that he's losing his job, and handling it the way he did -- I was impressed by that" ("PFT," NBCSN, 1/2).