Shortly after Jon Gruden was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009, he set his sights upon returning to the NFL. He had two stipulations.
One, Gruden confided in longtime Raiders scout Bruce Kebric, the team had to have national prominence. He wasn’t interested in jumping at offers from teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.
Two, he wanted to go to a team that had an established quarterback in place. Gruden spent his entire 11-year career with the Raiders and Buccaneers making do with veterans such as Jeff George, Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson and Jeff Garcia. He didn’t have any interest in searching for and developing a quarterback.
Naturally, the Raiders offered both criteria, given their status as one of the league’s marquee franchises and the presence of four-year veteran Derek Carr.
There’s one other thing that Gruden is adamant about: having a certain amount of control. He wasn’t in a position to demand that during his first stint with the Raiders because of Al Davis’ tight rein and Gruden being a little-known, first-time head coach.
When Davis traded Gruden to the Buccaneers after the 2001 season and Gruden brought a Super Bowl to the Buccaneers in his first season, Gruden suddenly had the clout to structure things his way. In 2004, Gruden brought in Bruce Allen from the Raiders and made him the general manager.
In doing so, Allen received the prestigious title that he lacked in Oakland, where he was called a senior assistant, and a huge raise. And Gruden had someone in place who wouldn’t challenge him on things he wanted full say on, such as personnel decisions, and was there to take the criticism when certain things didn’t go well.
That leads us to today, where Gruden is back for a second stint with the Raiders and forced to accept Reggie McKenzie as his general manager.
Raiders owner Mark Davis hired McKenzie in 2012 but only after Davis assured him that Gruden wouldn’t be hired as the replacement for fired head coach Hue Jackson. In turn, Gruden told Davis that he didn’t want the head coaching job at that time, in part, because he didn’t want to cede some power to McKenzie. The same held true a couple years later.
Davis has remained loyal to McKenzie, his first big hire as owner, for the past six years despite a 36-60 record and five losing seasons. If he wasn’t going to part ways with McKenzie before, he certainly wasn’t about to fire McKenzie before hiring Gruden, one year after McKenzie was named NFL Executive of the Year, either.
So, what gives? McKenzie takes on the role of Allen, and everyone is able to save face. Davis can keep McKenzie, Gruden will receive much of the power he desires and McKenzie is there as a buffer.
When Davis and McKenzie say otherwise, keep this in mind: Davis instructed McKenzie to tell the media in 2012 that it was he who fired head coach Hue Jackson, when, in reality, it was solely Davis’ decision and that decision was made before McKenzie was hired. Davis had McKenzie take the credit as a way of making McKenzie come off as a powerful figure right out of the gate. Ignore the smoke and mirrors this time, too.
Gruden’s the one in charge.