Mark Davis soon will move his NFL team to the gambling capital of the world. Now the Raiders’ owner hopes his $100-million wager on Jon Gruden will pay off in the form of another Super Bowl trophy . . . or more.
Davis closed the deal on what turned out to be a six-year pursuit of Gruden, signing the erstwhile Raiders coach and Super Bowl winner with Tampa Bay to a megabucks contract that finally lured Gruden out of the ESPN booth and back to the NFL sidelines.
Chucky is back, and Raider Nation couldn’t be happier.
Now for the sobering reality that faces Gruden: He would have to create a unique piece of NFL history to give the Raiders a fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The stone-cold fact facing Gruden in his latest football iteration: No coach in NFL history has ever won a Super Bowl with two different franchises.
Not Bill Parcells. Not Mike Holmgren. Not George Seifert. Not Jimmy Johnson. Not Dick Vermeil.
Not even Lombardi himself.
But that didn’t stop Davis from fixating on Gruden as the one man he believes can return the Raiders to Super Bowl glory for the first time since the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII after the 1983 season. He is convinced he has the Raiders’ savior.
“Over these six years, everyone knows that I’ve been infatuated with him, or whatever, to get him here, but they really didn’t know how deep our conversations were going,” Davis said at a news conference Tuesday announcing Gruden’s hiring. “Somebody asked me what was harder: to get the 31 votes to move to Las Vegas or to get Jon Gruden? And by far to get Jon Gruden was the toughest.”
Davis was even willing to ignore the NFL’s hiring rules by agreeing to a deal with Gruden before firing Jack Del Rio. And he now faces the possibility of a steep fine and/or the potential loss of draft picks for violating the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority coaching candidate.
Davis wound up interviewing two minority candidates after the fact, making a mockery of a rule that has gone a long way toward meaningful improvement in the league’s diversity hiring practices. He therefore deserves to be sanctioned, even if it means paying significant draft-choice penalties.
Al Davis was one of the NFL’s pioneers in promoting minority hiring, but his son is willing to accept any public criticism in exchange for hiring the coach of his dreams. “I felt for six years that Jon Gruden is the person I want to lead this team,” Davis said of his time as the Raiders’ chief executive since his father’s death in 2011.
He spearheaded the team’s deal with Las Vegas, where the team will move in 2020.
Now for the hard part: Gruden will have to rewrite history to get the Raiders back to Super Bowl glory. Not a single coach in the 51-year history of the Super Bowl has ever won the title with different teams. And only two coaches — Parcells and Holmgren — won a Super Bowl with one team and got back to the title game with another.
Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants, led the Patriots to the Super Bowl after the 1996 season and was beaten by Holmgren’s Packers. Holmgren led the Seahawks to the big game after the 2005 season and lost to the Steelers.
Not the same fire-in-the-belly mentality for the coaches who have tried and failed to win elsewhere? Not the same players? Or is it simply too tough a league to start over elsewhere and win it all? All these factors may come into play at some level. Whatever the case, it’s a daunting challenge ahead for the Raiders’ coach.
There’s something else that Gruden will have to overcome: his own legacy. Despite having won a Super Bowl with a Bucs team that had been built by Tony Dungy, Gruden, who went 38-26 in his first stint with the Raiders from 1998-2001, had limited success in his later years with Tampa Bay. After winning the title in his first season, Gruden went 43-51 and was 0-2 in the playoffs.
So yes, a lot to prove.
Gruden, 54, will be coaching for the first time after a 10-year run as ESPN’s Monday Night Football analyst. He insists he’ll expend every ounce of energy getting the Raiders back on top.
“I’m all-in,” he said at his news conference. “This is something I feel deeply, strongly about. I’m going to do everything I can to hire a great coaching staff and put the Raiders back on track.”
Two of his former players — Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice and future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson — foresee good times ahead, albeit with a price.
“I hope these players are ready, because they’re going to get Chucky,” said Rice, a reference to Gruden’s nickname associated with the “Chucky” doll, which bears a striking resemblance to Gruden’s facial expressions. “They’re going to get him, and how they deal with that could tell the whole story. But Chucky’s going to come out, and either you buy in or you’re not going to be part of it.”
Said Woodson: “Whenever you saw him, you saw that scowl on his face and it was intense, but he just knew how to talk to you in a way that motivated you. The guys here on the team now, they’re going to get a chance to experience that.”
And if the players don’t respond appropriately?
“If you don’t respond, you’ve gotta go,” he said. “I don’t think Gruden’s going to come in here favoring or babying anybody. He’s going to try to hit the ground running, and if you’re not ready to jump on that train, there’ll be another team for you or something else to do. It’s got to be all-in or nothing.”
It’s the ultimate boom-or-bust move for an owner who hopes to emerge from his father’s shadow and a team that’s about to call Vegas home.