Oakland Raiders: Gruden’s a hit, but will he be successful right away?

At least to start, Raiders players are all-in on coach Jon Gruden, but this team still has its issues.


(Photo credit: Mate 3rd Class John E. Woods)

It’s good to hear the Oakland Raiders are warming up to Jon Gruden as their coach.

Sure, it’s hard for any team to quickly buy in to a new coach, especially one as high-profiled as Gruden, and one who has been out of action for as long as he has. Remember, the Raiders went 8-8 in each of the first two seasons (1998, ’99) of Gruden’s first coaching go-around with them before reaching the playoffs the next two years.

Maybe that’s the path Gruden’s second stint will follow? But, Raiders fans want a winner now, especially those in Oakland, who won’t have the team to call their own for much longer. However, Gruden’s charisma and over-the-top means of motivation might not be enough for the Raiders to go from a 6-10 underachiever to a playoff group in one year. 

Here’s why:

History is a trend

Since Gruden left the Raiders following the 2001 season, the franchise has reached the playoffs twice (2002, ’16). After ending a 13-year postseason drought in 2016, Oakland was the hot pick to reach the Super Bowl last season. We saw how that went, and it will carry a four-game losing streak into the beginning of this campaign.

Struggling franchises, even ones once historically significant as the Raiders, don’t tend to turnaround overnight and then maintain a high level of success. Nothing since 2002 has shown that the Raiders will get good and stay good for years to come. Maybe they should concentrate on just posting a winning record, something they’ve done only once in the last 15 years.

Gruden might bring the promise of a culture change that breeds success, and for the moment, his players are poised to fulfill that promise, but it’s probably better to wait and see.

The makeup

Give Oakland credit for some upgrades it made in the offseason, especially at wide receiver with the additions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant to go along with Amari Cooper. But, is Nelson beginning the downside of his career and is Bryant anything more than a volatile personality who has talent?

Those are natural concerns as is the productivity expected from aging running back Marshawn Lynch and his underachieving backup Doug Martin. Then there is Derek Carr, a talented but inconsistent quarterback, who went from throwing six interceptions in 2016 to throwing 13 last season.

On the other side of the ball, the Raiders were 23rd in total defense (350.1 yards per game) last season. They’ve added ex-Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson to the mix, but after 13 years in the league, how much should they really expect from him? 

The man himself

Gruden loves football, he loves his players and, for the time being, his players love him. But Gruden also loves himself, or at least loves to hear himself talk. How much of this is about trying to turn around a once proud franchise – again – and how much is about feeding an ego?

If the latter is the case, then Gruden came to the right place, at least from a personal standpoint. But too much of the focus could be on Gruden. Every move, every decision, every loss, will be scrutinized more than any other coach in the league likely will have to deal with. That might be beneficial to his players, who at least won’t be the first men through the wall.

But what about the wins? Will Gruden be praised for each one? Will he be labeled a genius for everything that goes right? He’s a larger-than-life character coaching a larger-than-life franchise and the spotlight will always be on him. Will it wear on him or will he bask in it?

These are all questions that await Gruden and the Raiders this season, and while things appear good now and Oakland is a better team on the surface, let’s wait for the games to start. Then we’ll see who’s all-in.  





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Jeff Mezydlo

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Jeff is our NFL Editor, who has written and reported on the NFL for more than 20 years and spent a decade as the Chicago Bears beat reporter and columnist for two daily newspapers. His favorite all-time player is Walter Payton and he attended the famous 'Fog Bowl' Bears-Eagles playoff game as a teenager. He's also contributing to our coverage of World Cup 2018.

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