Jon Gruden returned to the NFL armed with the longest and richest coaching deal in league history. It isn’t going so swell.
His Oakland Raiders are 1-5 and, after a 27-3 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday in London, the best thing you can say about the Raiders is that this is their bye week. So far on the week off, Gruden has had to deal with questions about whether the Raiders might be tanking to get a high draft pick next spring and his decision to trade a generational defensive player. The week has also seen the creation of an IsGrudenGoneYet website that counts down just how much time is left on the coach’s 10-year, $100 million contract, plus several shots of disrespect from ESPN, his former employer.
“I’ll say this: We aren’t tanking anything,” Gruden told reporters Tuesday, via ESPN. “I hear the hatred out there, some of the rumors that we are tanking it to get a first-round pick or a higher pick. We are not getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning to tank it. Ain’t nobody tanking it.
“I don’t know who wrote that or who said that or who thinks that, but that isn’t the case here,” Gruden said. “We are going to continue to work hard, continue to build our team, and that was part of the message.”
It’s understandable why Raiders fans might think the team is tanking, particularly after the preseason trade of linebacker Khalil Mack, who was holding out for an improved contract. Oakland sent Mack to Chicago for first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2019; all Mack has done is elevate the Chicago defense at a time when offenses are ruling the NFL. He also became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player ever. With the Raiders struggling to pressure opposing quarterbacks, Gruden has already offered a gobsmacking answer about his team’s lack of a pass rusher.
“It’s hard to find a great one,” Gruden said last month. “It’s hard to find a good one. It’s hard to find one; you just said it. With college football, they aren’t dropping back to pass and throwing anymore. They’re throwing laterals and bubble screens and running read options. You have to train these guys, and it takes a little time to learn how to rush the passer. We have some guys who are in that process right now.”
Of course, he had one, in Mack, but ... bygones.
Meanwhile, ESPN, where Gruden toiled as a game analyst on “Monday Night Football for nine years, has been offering some pretty tough love. The “First Take” guys this week debated “Is Gruden in over his head,” along with a helpful “Grude Awakening” chyron. Stephen A. Smith said no, but acknowledged that Gruden needs to “look in the mirror” because “one thing he can’t get a pass on is his arrogance.”
Max Kellerman took the higher road, saying it’s too soon to judge Gruden because this is a rebuilding project. Mack won’t be the last to go; Kellerman predicted the Raiders “will trade Derek Carr.” Wonder how Oakland fans would react to that?
Over on ESPN.com, Gruden placed 86th in ESPN’s ultimate coach draft, a rating of the top 100 coaches across all sports. He may have won a Super Bowl, but that ranking put him 17 spots behind his brother Jay, who coaches the Washington Redskins (and has never won a playoff game).
And then there’s the recent launch of IsGrudenGoneYet.com, a cheeky little doomsday-clock site that runs down how much time is left on Gruden’s contract. (Hint: it’s a ton.)
With all those upcoming draft picks, it’s certainly seems plausible that all this talk is premature. Maybe the game hasn’t overtaken Gruden. And if it has?
“If I can’t get it done,” he told USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, “I’m not going to take their money.”
Read more from The Post: