Jon Gruden finally decided the time was right to finish what he nearly achieved in his first stint in Oakland and deliver another Super Bowl title to the Raiders.
Nearly 16 years after he was traded to Tampa Bay following a crushing loss in the “Tuck Rule” game in New England and after a six-year courtship by Raiders owner Mark Davis, Gruden is officially back in Oakland where he started his head coaching career 20 years ago.
Gruden was introduced Tuesday in front of a large crowd that included nearly 50 former Raiders and nine Pro Football Hall of Famers as the coach Davis believes can carry Derek Carr and the Raiders back to the top.
The Raiders nearly got there in Gruden’s first stint from 1998-2001 but the team lost to Baltimore in the 2000 AFC title game and followed that with the memorable loss in the snow against the Patriots that still haunts the franchise.
Gruden was then traded to Tampa Bay the following month for four draft picks and $8 million. He beat Oakland in the Super Bowl the next season but always identified with the Raiders.
“For my career to end that night in New England, it still ticks me off,” Gruden said. “I’m so thrilled to be back here. I hope people understand the emotion inside. I feel there’s unfinished business. I also feel a lot of loyalty and I feel a lot of responsibility to get the Raiders going again. It’s been a while since we consistently performed at a high level. That’s all I care about.
“I’m going to do everything I can to help this team get right again.”
Davis said he had been trying to bring Gruden back for six years ever since taking over the franchise following his father’s death. He said he thought he had been close four times before and the opportunity was finally right this year after more than a dozen cross-country recruiting trips to Tampa, Florida.
Davis said he first got an inkling Gruden might be ready to return when he met with him during the season when the Raiders spent a week in Florida to talk about how to fix a team that was struggling after winning 12 games a year ago under Jack Del Rio.
Talks became even more serious when they met on Christmas Eve before the Raiders played in Philadelphia in a game Gruden worked for ESPN. That led Davis to decide to cut ties with Del Rio and finalize a deal with Gruden.
“Everybody knows I’ve been infatuated with him or whatever to get him here, but they really didn’t know how deep our conversations were going, how far along we were in that to make it happen,” Davis said. “Somebody asked me, what was harder — to get the 31 votes to move to Las Vegas? Or to get Jon Gruden? And by far to get Jon Gruden was the toughest.”
Gruden returns to the sidelines after nine seasons as an announcer at ESPN. He said he’s eager to take over a team with a promising young quarterback in Carr.
Gruden said he hopes the familiarity with new offensive coordinator Greg Olsen, who had that role in Carr’s rookie season in 2014, will help Carr bounce back after regressing this season from the form that made him an MVP candidate in 2016.
The Raiders had major drops in scoring (26 to 18.8), yards per game (373.3 to 324.1) and committed twice as many turnovers (14 to 28) this season as Carr took a major step back in his development after signing a $125 million, five-year extension in the offseason.
“I think he’s got huge upside,” Gruden said. “With Greg Olsen and the system we will put in place that will demand a lot from him, I think that’s going to unlock the greatness in him. I’m very, very excited to have him as our quarterback.”
Gruden brings intensity to the sideline and the meeting rooms that made him a fan favorite in his first stint, earning him the nickname “Chucky” after the character in the 1980s slasher movie “Child’s Play.”
Some of Gruden’s former players said the new Raiders are in for something they’ve never experienced before.
“Either you buy in or you’re not going to be a part of it,” said Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who played one year for Gruden. “I hope these players are ready because they’re going to get Chucky. They’re going to get him. Now how they deal with that is a different story but Chucky’s going to come out.”