Raiders owner Mark Davis called the deal a “dream come true” and a “big f-ing deal.” Jon Gruden added his own sentiment, saying that he never wanted to leave Oakland, and never thought he would be back.
But he is back. Gruden was officially announced as the 21st head coach in the history of the Raiders, 17 years after his reign as No. 12 came to an abrupt end. The man lovingly referred to as “Chucky” was reintroduced to Oakland Tuesday, bringing the franchise’s fourth-best winning percentage back to the silver and black.
Davis made the introduction, saying that “it took me six years of chasing Jon,” before he was finally able to make the dream hire come to fruition.
Gruden’s name had been bandied about every offseason in which a highly talented, perhaps under-performing, team opened its head coaching position. The 54-year-old explained very thoughtfully as to why this was the team, and this the time, for him to leave his perch at ESPN to return to return to the sidelines, saying it was the only move that felt right in his heart:
“This is the organization that I want to be a part of. I’m all in. This is something that I feel deeply and strongly about and I’m going to do everything I can to … put the Raiders back on track.”
Since the turn of the century, the Raiders had been on no better a track than they were in the early 2000’s when Gruden led them to 38-26 record (.594) and two division titles. But he was traded to Tampa Bay following a 10-6 that saw him come one play shy of a second-consecutive AFC Championship game berth. That play, the infamous “tuck rule” play that gave the New England Patriots a 16-13 overtime win.
That play is still on the tip of Gruden’s tongue, as evidence by his reference to it in his own introduction comments — Tom Brady fumbled.” He said it has left him with unfinished business in Oakland:
“For my career to end that night, in New England, it still ticks me off. I’m so thrilled to be back, and I hope people understand the emotion inside me — I fell unfinished business and also I feel a lot of loyalty and I feel a lot of responsibility to get the Raiders going again.”
Since he was shipped to Tampa, Oakland has gone 92-164 (.359) with two playoff appearances — including the first year following Gruden’s departure, when his Buccaneers beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Gruden was fired from that post after a 9-7 season left his Bucs out of the playoffs in 2008. But even given the chance to get back into a normal flow with his family — coaching his sons’ football teams and getting more time with his wife — Gruden could never walk away from the game, instead choosing his post with ESPN and the color commentary duties on Monday Night Football.
Asked if he had spent the past nine seasons out of coaching waiting for the opportunity to return to Oakland, Gruden said:
“I think I was, deep down somewhere. … I just want to be part of the Raiders again and I want to finish my coaching career as an Oakland Raider. I can’t wait to get started.”
When speaking of his return, Gruden chose his words wisely, being sure to pay his respect to Oakland not just the Raiders, who are of course uprooting from Oakland (once again) in two years and heading for new digs in Las Vegas.
The new head coach refused to discuss the move, leaving it to Davis — who also danced around Las Vegas questions. Gruden had only to say that he is a “short-term, goal-oriented coach,” and offering a call out to the “Black Hole.”
It is true that Gruden will not finish his career as an *Oakland* Raider, given that the team will spend only the next two seasons in the East Bay. But he will apparently settle for offering Oakland two seasons worth of success:
“I’m going to be coaching in Oakland, and next year I’m going to be coaching in Oakland, and I want to help deliver the best football team that we can for the people here in Oakland.”