Jon Gruden was the only coach Mark Davis ever wanted.
Shortly after Davis’ father, legendary Hall of Fame maverick and Raiders founder Al Davis, passed away during the 2011 season, Mark set out on a mission to lure Gruden back to the Raiders, where he’d coached from 1998-2001. Finally, after years of cajoling and the promise of a $100 million contract, Davis got his man.
Less than four years later, Davis accepted Gruden’s resignation after one of the most spectacular falls from grace in sports history.
Gruden announced Monday night in a brief statement that he was out, the result of intense pressure brought to bear by the release of several emails he’d written to then-Washington Football Team president and close friend Bruce Allen. The emails were laced with racist, homophobic and misogynistic messages as Gruden ripped into NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, commissioner Roger Goodell, Buccaneers team owner Bryan Glazer and others.
He ripped Goodell in 2014 for countenancing the selection of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted. He suggested former 49ers and Panthers safety Eric Reid should be fired for taking a knee during the national anthem. He used a racist trope in describing Smith during contentious labor negotiations in 2011. He and Allen exchanged racy photos of women, including one of two Washington Football Team cheerleaders.
In the end, Gruden and Davis agreed it was time to part ways.
"I have resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders," Gruden wrote in a statement the team posted on its Twitter account late Monday night. "I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone."
Gruden could have fought back, refusing to step down over emails that he believed should be kept private. But as part of an investigation into workplace misconduct Goodell ordered on the Washington Football Team, the emails were among those that investigators had gathered. And once they were leaked to the media — first to the Wall Street Journal on Friday regarding Gruden’s racist comments about Smith and then on Monday in the New York Times with a vast array of emails detailing the coach’s homophobic and misogynistic remarks — Gruden realized that remaining as coach was not a viable option.
He was right.
How could he deal with a roster comprised mostly of African-American players when they know what he said about Smith? How does he square his views on women at a time when the league is trying to increase opportunity in front offices, in coaching rooms and on the field with officials?
And how could he look Carl Nassib in the eye?
Nassib had the courage to announce earlier this year that he is gay, thus becoming the first openly gay player in NFL history to play a regular-season game.
Gruden knew he couldn’t do it. And so did Davis, whose dream of returning the Raiders to the glory years once presided over by his father was now over. At least when it came to having Gruden lead the way.
A disappointment through his first three seasons with the team, Gruden didn’t get to the playoffs and made a series of ill-fated roster moves, highlighted by his trade of All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Bears. And now he leaves behind a legacy of hate-filled opinions, even if he believed that those opinions wouldn’t be aired publicly.
How much further this all goes, we don’t know yet. But it stands to reason there are more incriminating communications in the emails that the NFL received from investigators looking into malfeasance at the WFT. And that includes the potential that team owner Daniel Snyder, who was forced to relinquish day-to-day control of the team and was fined $10 million, may have his reckoning one day. In fact, the NFL must seriously consider drawing further attention to misdeeds on Snyder’s part that rise to the level of further censure, and perhaps even forcing him to sell the team.
The NFL has attempted in recent years to better understand the needs of its players and executives, and Goodell has made strides in promoting diversity and inclusion. But with all the painted logos of "End Racism" on the field and slogans on the backs of helmets promoting social justice, none of it means anything unless the NFL acts to drive hate and racism from its ranks.
The message to Gruden was clear. So is the message to any other like-minded individuals in the NFL.