Wearing an ill-fitting suit, sitting at the far right end of a press conference podium large enough for an ice cream truck, Raiders owner Mark Davis struggles through tears to introduce the family of new head coach Jon Gruden before saying that this next moment was his “dream come true.”
Davis lets out a deep breath, like one might before giving a eulogy at a funeral. The lights dim. A montage of news clips breathlessly reporting Gruden’s potential return into coaching play on the video screen. Now, a movie voice-over voice splices in.
“WHISPERS BECAME RUMORS…
“NOW THE RUMORS ARE REALITY.”
The video screen shifts to straight Gruden highlights. Clips of him yelling things like “YEAH YEAH YEAH,” and “YOU BETTER LIKE THE TASTE, GUYS. YOU BETTER LIKE THE TASTE.”
The beginning of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells plays as the video stops and Davis, borrowing a line from America’s former vice president when he helped passed a bill providing healthcare for all Americans, said, “This is a big f-ing deal,” before introducing Gruden to the stage.
For some people out there, this might have registered as a cool moment. Hey, Jon Gruden is back! Chucky! That's cool! He won a Super Bowl, right?
For others, it felt not like a dream come true, but a dream that occurs during an accidental overdose of cold medicine. Here is a fine football coach who works at the craft, but spent the final three years of his career middling through a 22–26 record with no playoff victories being deified like a cryogenically preserved Vince Lombardi.
If that was more your reaction, feel free to read on. These are the five most insane moments from Jon Gruden’s introductory press conference:
1. Jon Gruden says he isn’t really sure what the terms of his contract are: “I don’t really know the terms, all I know is that this year I’ll be coaching in Oakland and next year I’ll be coaching in Oakland,” he said.
This has to be flat-out untrue. This man isn’t really sure he’s guaranteed $100 million over the next 10 years of his life? Gruden said that he returned for four reasons: he loves football, he loves Oakland, he loves the Raiders and he loves to win. Yes, that—and one owner’s willingness to literally empty the club’s emergency coffer to pay him more than any head coach in the NFL.
Davis went into some meandering explanation about how there’s no salary cap for coaches, but in staging an event like this, why sidestep the fact that you just made such a gargantuan commitment? Why sweep it under the rug like it’s something we shouldn’t be talking about? No, you’re right. Let's move on with the NFL’s equivalent of a Guns N’ Roses reunion tour.
2. If you watched on ESPN, the cameras on site seemed to be struggling with focus issues and, for a few minutes, shakiness as well. It gave the press conference the feel of something taped secretly by an undercover journalist stashing their VHS recorder inside a trench coat, and it was … appropriate? It probably matched the dystopian vibe around the league. Coaches who have been grinding for the past 10 years, even coaches who have been to more Super Bowls in that time but make half as much, had to be watching this wondering what kind of profession they’ve gotten themselves into.
Football has always been a bit nepotistic, but the cream tends to rise to the top. Imagine how much money John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin and Mike McCarthy would be worth if they just acted like a football’s Guy Fieri for three hours a week on television? We now live in a world devoid of critical-thinking skills. We get sold things. Herm Edwards was a fine football coach, but should he be in charge of a college football program at age 63, 10 years after he last held the title of head coach? LaVar Ball used to play basketball, but should he be manipulating a professional Lithuanian team with his 16-year-old son?
3. “Technology is incredible”: Gruden says he plans to have conversations with his players about various social media platforms that were invented largely after he left coaching. Facebook was just four years old when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers parted ways with him. Twitter was two years old, Instagram wouldn’t be invented for another two years and Snapchat for another three. It opened the door for a strange few moments where I realized just how different the NFL has become since 2008. There is a new collective bargaining agreement that limits practice time. There is a salary cap jumping millions of dollars each year and a race for teams to figure out how to build a foundation not only through the draft, but also with in-prime 27- and 28-year-old players. There is a new crop of athletes who are used to vastly different forms of coaching. There have been massive strides made in the realm of health and safety. Jake Long, the player drafted No. 1 overall in Gruden’s final year with the Buccaneers, is now 32 and retired.
4. Jon Gruden has never met Marshawn Lynch: Gruden says over the years, he’s requested the running back in production meetings, but Lynch has never agreed. In that way, Gruden is cool. He’s just like the rest of us.
5. The Raiders are still pretending they’re above board in regards to the Rooney Rule: General manager Reggie McKenzie said he interviewed tight ends coach Bobby Johnson and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin for the head coaching job before the club decided to hire Gruden.
Who actually believes that Davis, who talked about this being a dream come true, who recalled many instances of him traveling to Tampa to pick Gruden’s brain and hope that he’d one day come back to coaching, had to mull this one over? As Tony Dungy told me last week it’s the spirit of the Rooney Rule that is under attack more than anything else.
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Greg Bishop's piece on the Steelers defense is a special one. A look at Ryan Shazier preparing for the Bengals game is heartbreaking...Jenny Vrentas on weather Doug Pederson can win with Nick Foles under center...I was lucky enough to get to work with Jonathan Jones on this piece about what happens when fans speak: Do teams listen?
LATER TODAY: We know left-handed people (like yours truly) are more creative than right-handed people, but are left-footed punters better too? Vrentas explores...The Vikings wide receiver tandem tearing up the NFC...Andy Benoit on the pocket passers ruling the playoffs.
1. Mike Pettine is the Packers' new defensive coordinator. He's had an interesting career, from Rex Ryan protege to head coach steamrolled by Johnny Manziel. Now, he gets a chance to do what he's best at again.
2. Matt Nagy completes step one as new Bears head coach: Win the press conference.
3. This Jaguars team is delightful and unafraid. A.J. Bouye warns Ben Roethlisberger about wishing for a rematch.
4. In additional Raider insanity, owner Mark Davis says Oakland probably would have gone the same direction if the Raiders finished the year with a winning record.
5. Metrics suggest the most likely Super Bowl is New England vs. Minnesota. But a Patriots-Falcons rematch is not far behind. Hold on to your butts.
6. A Norv Turner-Cam Newton pairing could soon be reality in Charlotte.
7. The Canadian Football League is struggling with its players hiding concussion symptoms, the Canadian Press reports. While about a quarter of CFL players estimated they had a concussion, more than 80 percent of the time they "did not seek treatment."
8. A star quarterback from Hawaii, Tua Tagovailoa, made his entrance on the grand stage Monday night in Alabama's National Championship victory. Marcus Mariota is proud.
9. The Chargers had two former head coaches as coordinators under first-year head coach Anthony Lynn in 2017. The trio will remain in place for at least one more year.
10. Is Steve Wilks the favorite to become the Giants' next head coach?
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For your Wednesday, a spectacular cover of one of my favorite songs. Tomorrow, newsletter founder Jacob Feldman returns to this space for an extended residency. A few days after that, the most wonderful day on the NFL calendar -- the divisional round -- arrives. The cold spell up here in the Northeast is subsiding. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate, let's pick one and run with it. Stay positive and do something kind for someone today.
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