Does Jon Gruden get judged by a different standard?
While previewing Thursday night’s game between the Chargers and Raiders on PFT Live, Simms and I (OK, it was mainly me) stumbled onto an interesting question: Does Raiders coach Jon Gruden get judged by a different standard than other coaches?
Gruden is finishing the third season of his second stint with the Raiders. The team has compiled records of 4-12, 7-9, and 7-6. A win tonight guarantees a non-losing season, but the playoffs may not be in the cards for the team’s first year in Las Vegas. How many coaches survive three straight years of no playoff appearances with no questions whatsoever about their jobs?
This isn’t about whether Gruden should be on the hot seat; it’s about why there’s not even a whisper of a mention of the possibility of any scrutiny regarding Gruden’s status. Any other coach would at least be the subject of chatter that change could or should be coming.
Yes, Gruden has a Super Bowl win on his resume. But that happened 18 years ago. Since then, Gruden hasn’t won a playoff game. He has a record of 63-78 in the regular season since winning Super Bowl XXXVII, and a record of 0-2 in the playoffs.
In Philadelphia, they’re calling for Doug Pederson’s job only three years after a Super Bowl win, even though he’s been to the playoffs for three straight seasons and has a 1-2 postseason record since winning a championship. If Gruden were the coach of the Eagles, would fans be clamoring to get rid of him?
Maybe they would. Maybe Gruden benefits from the fact that Raiders owner Mark Davis is happy just to have Gruden coaching the team, and that actually qualifying for the playoffs and/or winning playoff games doesn’t matter. It’s unclear whether and to what extent Gruden’s much-hyped 10-year, $100 million deal still has guaranteed money remaining on it. Surely, there’s some. But it’s surely not $70 million, the prorated remainder of the $10 million per year average for the seven years left.
Regardless of whether it’s $70 million, $7 million, or $7, it doesn’t matter if Davis is happy with Gruden. And Davis seems to be. Gruden is synonymous with the Raiders, and the team’s fans for the most part remain thrilled that he’s back.
But should Davis and Raider Nation demand more? Back to the original question, would another coach be facing more scrutiny than Gruden, who is facing none?
This isn’t criticism of Gruden, it curiosity about a football-coaching unicorn. If anything, he should be praised for finding a way to be impervious to the kind of analysis that fuels the Fired Football Coaches Association he once founded. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, for example, went 12-4 two years ago, and many believe he’ll be gone after the current season ends.
The Raiders were 12-4 in the season before Davis decided to supplant Jack Del Rio with Gruden. Del Rio had a regular-season record of 25-23 in three years as head coach; Gruden is 18-27 with three games to play in his third year. And Gruden inherited a quality team that G.M. Reggie McKenzie had compiled.
Simms, who played for Gruden in Tampa, argued that Gruden needs more time to retool the roster. But how much time does Gruden need? Look at how quickly other coaches have turned around teams that had been perennial losers. The Rams, for example, have 13 straight non-winning seasons before Sean McVay, a Gruden protege, immediately delivered an 11-5 record in 2017 and a playoff berth in 2018.
In San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan was beginning to hear some rumblings about his future until the 49ers exploded with a stellar third season. Other coaches have, within three years, cobbled together serious playoff contenders. And while the Raiders definitely are in contention for a playoff spot, recent performances indicate that they’re not ready to truly contend in January.
So, once again, back to the original question: Does Gruden benefit from a special standard? Is it his time in TV, his snarl, his penchant for profanity? Is he fundamentally no different than Rex Ryan — a telegenic entertainer whose actual job performance in an industry otherwise driven by wins and losses becomes secondary?
Again, good for Gruden if he can pull off sustained NFL head-coaching employment without suffering the same fate that routinely threatens other coaches. Maybe, for the Las Vegas Raiders, it’s not about chasing championships but putting on a good show. Gruden seems to always do that.
For how long will that be good enough? Some Raiders fans may resent the question. Others who crave a return to a time that entailed the actual pursuit of championships and who don’t view their fandom as membership in a personality cult may appreciate it.