I recorded 2003 Buccaneers draftee Chris Simms for my podcast this week. (It drops Wednesday morning.) Simms, who played and jousted for five seasons with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, feels the way I feel. Gruden’s very likely to be named coach of the Raiders in the coming days. So I asked Simms, who sat in quarterback and team meetings, what kind of coach Derek Carr is about to get.
“He’s going to micro-manage [Carr] every step of the way,” Simms said. “He has to get used to Jon Gruden being his coach, but also being in his life on an everyday basis … Gruden will be perfect for him.”
That’s good. Carr regressed badly this year. His interception total more than doubled this season (13) compared to last (6). And his passer rating plummeted (96.7 to 86.4), as did his yards per game (262.5 to 233.1).
I asked Simms if he’d tell Raider players about what it’ll be like to play for Gruden. Keep in mind that Gruden and Simms did not part well. Simms suffered a ruptured spleen in a 2006 game, lost nine pints of blood, and was close to gravely injured. The next season, still not whole, Simms felt Gruden tried to have him declared healthy so the Bucs could cut him and not pay him. That created ill will. Simms say they’re fine now and said this about his message to Raider players:
“I’d tell ‘em it’ll be pretty awesome. … They’ll sit in team meetings and think, ‘This guy’s crazy, but he loves football.’”
What I’m hearing about Gruden and the Raiders three days into the coach-hiring cycle:
• This Gruden-Raiders discussion has happened three fruitless times prior to now. So it’s not a given it’ll happen. Very likely this time, but not automatic, 16 years after Oakland traded him to Tampa Bay and nine years after he coached his last NFL game. Mark Davis wants it to happen. Gruden wants it to happen. The money, while not trivial, isn’t going to stand in the way of Gruden returning to football. The fourth time is likely to be the charm, because the confluence of events just makes too much sense. Davis needs a ticket salesman for the 6-10 Raiders for their last year in Oakland, and he needs a headline act to sell Vegas on a team that could win or lose. And losing will not be tolerated in Vegas.
• So why is Gruden really doing this? The easy thing would be to say, Who would turn down $10 million or $12 million a year to coach football with the talent the Raiders have? And of course that’s a big factor, and probably the biggest. But do not underestimate Gruden missing coaching, being angry every time he hears how he failed his last six years as a head coach (45-53, zero playoff wins in Tampa), and thinking how much he would rather be coaching than doing TV. As CBS analyst Rich Gannon, the former Raider quarterback under Gruden, said on the Raiders-Chargers game telecast Sunday: “He’s never not thought of himself as a coach. He’s always told me, ‘I’m going to come back and do this at some point.’”
• Gruden doesn’t love doing TV. I have talked to people (the latest being Simms) who guffaw at how much Gruden praises nearly everyone—coaches, players, GMs, owners—in his ESPN games. That is not the way he is in real life. Of course, not many people would be the same on camera as they are off. But at the end of the day, doing games on TV and doing those huckster commercials just don’t do it for Gruden at this stage of his life. He’s 54. He might have 15 prime coaching seasons in him. He just can’t see being a TV guy when he wants to coach so badly.
• Gruden has been talking to coaches about a coaching staff, and he’s juiced to think of the staff he might be able to put together.Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Gannon is being discussed as one member of the staff, and I’ve heard too that Gruden is highly interested in Cincinnati defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Jason LaCanfora of CBS reported that Guenther, whose contract is up in Cincinnati, could join the Raiders if Gruden goes. One person close to Gruden said Guenther is certainly Gruden’s target to run the defense. That would be a great hire.
• Gruden might be amenable to giving GM Reggie McKenzie a one-year trial to see if they could work together.It’s the least he could do for Davis, who doesn’t want to see McKenzie whacked. Why not give McKenzie a few months, then judge in early 2019 whether to get a Gruden-friendly GM or not? But it’s not at all certain that McKenzie would be part of a Gruden-Raider reunion.
• Don’t believe the stuff about the ownership stake being vital to the deal. Someone close to Gruden said Gruden is more interested in cash than the stake, in part because of the tax and estate consequences. Not saying for sure it won’t happen, but the NFL is not going to like the setting of this precedent either.
In the end, this makes too much sense to not happen. But there are times the closest people to Gruden thought it would happen in the past too, and something always came up to snag it—mostly Gruden family issues. Now he’s really had enough of TV, and it seems to be headed toward an agreement.
You can think of the complications, and the reasons it might not work. But Gruden and the Raiders will be fun and probably give the franchise a better chance to be great than it had with jack Del Rio. The team on the field was a disorganized mess late this season. That’s not going to happen with Gruden in charge.
Now for your email...
BROWNS DRAFT CHOICES
Knowing that Cleveland has historically been horrific at drafting future quarterbacks, would you have them draft a quarterback with both the first and fourth picks of the first round? Best case scenario: They draft two studs and at some point can trade one to regain the first-round pick. Of course, being the Browns that is unlikely to happen, but maybe one of picks turns into a real player?
—Dave, Las Vegas
Interesting concept, Dave. The reason I wouldn’t do it is because the quarterback you draft fourth overall is naturally going to get very little experience, barring injury to the top pick. Then how do you figure out if the number four pick can play, and how do you figure out his market value after sitting for two or three years? But I don’t think the concept is bad. Mike Shanahan proved in the Griffin/Cousins draft that taking one high and another one in, say, the fourth round if you like him a lot can really pay off.
C'mon, Pete. You slag the Raiders for not adhering to the "spirit of the Rooney Rule," then you do your level best to turn Black Monday into White Retread Monday. Sure, Josh McDaniels deserves another head coaching gig. But the Pats D is hardly an elite unit, and you yourself pointed out Jon Gruden's liabilities. We can get the lazy Matt Patricia/Gruden chatter from any oaf at the water cooler. You're an insider, an expert. Why aren't you talking about possible black candidates out there? The Steelers hired Mike Tomlin when he was, relatively speaking, a nobody. Who's the next Tomlin? If you want to bring up the Rooney Rule, do your job. Bring it up in a meaningful way.
Mike, you’re absolutely right. I plead guilty there, and you’re right to call me on it. I would caution you on underrating Patricia, who is excellent, and who would likely have been the Rams’ hire last year if McVay hadn’t blown them away. If Stanford coach David Shaw was in the pool--he says he is not interested now--I would call him easily the best candidate. Without him, here are three to keep an eye on this cycle:
1. Steve Wilks, defensive coordinator, Carolina. He’s made this defense more attacking than predecessor (and very good coach) Sean McDermott, and Ron Rivera has given him full authority over the unit. Wilks is beloved by his players as a fair and smart coach, and he’s known inside the building as an open-minded communicator.
2. Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit. Well respected in the business by peers and foes, and a veteran of this coach-search process. The problem is, he’s been a bridesmaid seven times—seven interviews, no job offers. But when I hear this, I think of another bridesmaid of a veteran defensive coach: Tony Dungy, who was passed over a handful of times before getting his chance in Tampa. Now he’s in the Hall of Fame.
3. George Edwards, defensive coordinator, Minnesota. He’s been an NFL assistant for 19 years, and just now he’s getting the recognition as a guy who deserves multiple interviews. He’s a terrific communicator who players love playing for, and he’s coordinated defenses in Buffalo, Washington and Minnesota. Recommended as one of the prime NFL assistants to take the step to head coach by the NFL’s Career Advisory Panel.
THE RAIDERS MOCK THE ROONEY RULE
This year´s Black Monday has pointed out more than ever the hypocrisy of the Rooney Rule. I grant that owners of an NFL team have the right to hire who they want. But when it is all but signed on the dotted line that Jon Gruden is going to be the next head coach for the Oakland Raiders (without anyone else being interviewed), to say nothing of the other top candidates targeted by other teams, it makes the noble intent of the Rooney Rule a laughingstock! Unless there is some teeth put into it, then out of respect to the man who pushed to have it, the Rooney Rule should be retired.
—Dwight Z., Brooklyn
Lots of people feel this way, Dwight. Read this piece by our Conor Orr for some further enlightenment.
THE RAIDERS DO NOT MOCK THE ROONEY RULE
I completely disagree with your comments regarding the Oakland Raiders needing to follow the Rooney Rule. There is nothing honorable about trotting someone through as a symbol if there is no chance that they will be hired. That is just a mummery. If, as suspected, Jon Gruden is ready to return to the Raiders, why waste valuable time and energy?
I think, overall, that if one team is allowed to say, “We knew who we were hiring all along, and so it would make a mockery of the process to do a token interview, and so we’re not going to do it,” then it would be easy for teams to consistently ignore the rule. The spirit of the rule is terrific. It should exist. I do think the Gruden case might be special or different, and I would be in favor of considering something Orr mentioned in his piece: the Raiders funding, say, 10 minority coaching fellowships for a season through the NFL and/or college football. I’m not saying it definitely should happen. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to consider and discuss.
HAPPY NEW YEAR AND THANK YOU
Your column every Monday morning is my favorite sports writing. I look forward to it. I don’t always agree with you, but darn it, I am flabbergasted by just how much substance, quality writing and great tidbits you pack in every week. Thank you. Do you get any sleep at all on Sunday nights?
Sean, so nice of you to write and say that. I truly appreciate it. Regarding the sleep: I usually get to bed around 4:30 or 5 a.m. Monday. My goal is always 3 a.m., but then reality happens, and I can’t.
As always, respect your work, but I feel like there is a glaring hole in the "draft a QB" logic for the Giants. No QB has a puncher's chance behind that line. Drafting a stud left tackle gives whoever plays quarterback in 2018 a chance to succeed. I don't get why anyone thinks any QB has a shot behind this line.
Good points, Anil. But the issue is, what if there’s not standout left tackle in this draft? And what if there’s a quarterback in the draft the Giants love? You’ve got to trust the new GM to figure out how to rebuild this offensive line, particularly if Justin Pugh, as expected, leaves in free agency.
THE. BUFFALO. BILLS.
As a 5 year old, the very first Bills memory I had was wide right. Each year after that, the success was always overshadowed by the inevitable letdown. As the years passed, my childhood optimism slowly faded into adolescent/adult pessimism. The pessimism started all over again this offseason—trade back in the first round. Trade Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, Reggie Ragland and Marcel Dareus. It seemed like the season was over before it even began. And then, Andy Freaking Dalton brought back that childhood optimism in one throw. I don’t know if this team can pull off a Super Bowl run. But after 17 years of watching playoff football without my Bills, I finally have my childhood optimism back. I can’t wait for this Sunday and Nobody. Circles. The. Wagons. Like. The. Buffalo. Bills.
Hey, sports can be the most exhilarating thing in the world. The free world shares your joy, Rob. Everyone outside of the state of Maryland was pulling for the Bills to end this drought. It is great for western New York, and great for football.
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