Year four as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders will come with postseason expectations for Jon Gruden.
General manager Mike Mayock, entering just his third year, made that clear last week.
But Gruden has been on both ends of this NFL coaching spectrum, having won Super Bowl XXXVII for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, and suffering through 4-12 seasons in both Tampa Bay and with the Raiders. Expectations, from Mayock or anyone else, are part of the job -- but there isn't room for pressure in Gruden's perspective.
"I don't really feel pressure. (Owner) Mark Davis is going to let me know if it's good enough or not. And I know what's good and what isn't," Gruden said in a Q&A with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "I'm 58 years old now, and I'm not working any less than I did when I was 38. So I'm doing the best I can. I'm proud of the results we have gotten, but also realistic. I know what's at stake. But I'm not going to worry about it."
But where do the Raiders fit in an AFC West that boasts the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs, a budding QB star in the Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert and the Denver Broncos' top-notch defense? It will start with the quarterback, Gruden said, and placing veteran Derek Carr in the best possible position to win games.
As for his relationship with Mayock, Gruden has no complaints.
"Real good. Real competitive. I think we work well together. I'm not going to speak for him, and we're not going to agree on everything all the time," Gruden added. "But we do, professionally, agree on what decision is made. I appreciate his work ethic. I'm excited about coming in here every day and seeing him. We have a lot of fun. A lot of laughs."
The Raiders showed incremental improvement from 2019 to 2020 (7-9 to 8-8). And although that's a far cry from the 14-2 record that allowed the Chiefs to run away with the division last year, the Raiders were one of the two teams to knock off the Chiefs in the regular season. Another dominant season from Kansas City could easily make a wild-card playoff berth the Raiders' only realistic chance at the postseason.
But for a franchise that hasn't reached the playoffs since 2016, just getting there would clear a big hurdle.
"My dad used to say, 'Don't worry about whether or not the horse is blind -- just load the freaking truck.' That's where we are," Mayock said last week. "We've assembled 53 players. We think we're going to be a pretty good football team. We're not hiding from expectations."