Now that Jon Gruden is on his way to becoming the Oakland Raiders' next head coach -- with the team expected to announce the hiring at a press conference Tuesday -- a word of caution: temper your expectations.
Gruden is a star coach, a charismatic and compelling offensive mind who has remained alluring for the nine years he has been in the broadcast booth, particularly for the franchise that traded him away after the 2001 season. He is, perhaps, the one person for whom Mark Davis would have fired Jack Del Rio, who had the Raiders in the playoffs in 2016. So Davis deserves credit for reeling in his man after others had failed to entice him.
But what, exactly, is Davis getting for the reported 10-year, $100 million contract he will give Gruden?
Gruden has not coached since 2008. In a league that evolves year to year, that is an eternity. He has studied tape and met with players, particularly quarterbacks, in his role as a broadcaster. But he has not coached the generation of players coming out with the current college skill set. He has not run a team under the practice rules that were put in place with the current collective bargaining agreement. There are certainly adjustments ahead for Gruden.
And most importantly, in the latter half of his first coaching tenure, Gruden never again enjoyed the kind of success he did immediately after he arrived in Tampa.
In his first go-around, Gruden was an NFL head coach for 11 seasons -- four in Oakland and seven in Tampa Bay. His overall record was 95-81 and his teams made five playoff appearances, winning five division titles. But after the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002 -- Gruden's first season after taking over a team that had already enjoyed consistent winning under Tony Dungy -- Tampa made the postseason just twice more with Gruden, and did not win a playoff game. From 2003 through '08, Bucs had three winning seasons and three losing ones. Their overall record after the Super Bowl was 45-51. Gruden's history, then, is one that elevates the team already in place, but has not put together winning seasons year after year.
It might be instructive to look at the success rate of coaches who have had long layoffs before returning to the game.
There have been five coaches who have experienced a break of at least nine years between NFL head-coaching jobs. Pete Carroll was out for 11 years -- although he was a highly successful college coach in the interim -- and his post-break record is 79-48-1 (with a Super Bowl title and another NFC championship), by far the most successful of the group. Chan Gailey was out 11 years and he was 16-32 after his return. Art Shell was 2-14. Joe Gibbs, a legendary Super Bowl winner, did no better than 30-34. Dick Vermeil went 66-62 (with a Super Bowl title).
Still, for as many hurdles as Gruden will have to overcome to fully deliver on the Raiders' hopes, this could still be the right move for Davis.
The Raiders are banking on two things from a coach with a career .540 winning percentage. One is that Gruden will maximize Derek Carr's talent. Carr clearly regressed this season -- his statistics in every category that matters were down from a sterling 2016 campaign -- a decline hastened in part by injury and by Del Rio's misguided decision to not bring back Bill Musgrave as the offensive coordinator. Carr was so good in 2016 that the Raiders entered this season as highly publicized Super Bowl contenders. Then they went 6-10. Getting Carr back to that level is right in Gruden's wheelhouse and could make for a quick turnaround.
Gruden has made no secret of his interest in Carr, and this is where the Raiders will be on the surest footing. Gruden's acumen is in getting the most out of quarterbacks -- he brought Rich Gannon to the greatest heights of his career and then won a Super Bowl in a season in which he used Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and Shaun King as starters. And Gruden has surely paid the closest attention to the evolution of offensive play over the years he has been gone.
The most obvious allure of Gruden will come in the headlines. Gruden brings undeniable star power to a franchise that needs it. The Raiders will likely spend two more seasons in Oakland while they wait for their new stadium in Las Vegas to be built. The Raiders need to keep fans interested in both places -- in Oakland, the spurned suitor, certainly, but in Las Vegas, too, as the Raiders must give fans a reason to ignore all of the other entertainment offerings.
When the NFL was planning the Raiders' relocation, they envisioned the team being so good right now that fans in Oakland would continue to support it even though they knew the Raiders were leaving. The franchise's long-time slogan is "commitment to excellence." Mark Davis and Co. need Gruden to elevate the Raiders the way he once did Tampa Bay -- and then to keep them there all the way to their new home.