Bock’s Score: The Return of Chucky

Well, well. Look who’s coming back to the National Concussion League sidelines. It’s our old pal Jon Gruden, lured out of the broadcast booth to coach the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.

Gruden was comfortably tucked away in ESPN’s playpen for the last nine years, perfectly content to comment on Monday Night Football, resisting several pleas to bring his great genius – not President Trump genius you understand, but genius nevertheless– back to coaching. Then the Raiders came up with a 10-year, $10 million offer. For that kind of money, Gruden said “Sure!’’ You would, too.

So now we’ll be treated to Chucky reincarnated. In his first go-round, Gruden picked up the nickname because of his sometimes eerie resemblance to the horror movie doll. He had two 8-8 seasons and finished at 38-26 over four seasons. Mediocre but the Raiders hungered for a return.

On the day the Raiders announced that Gruden was coming back, the coach was broadcasting the AFC playoff game involving the Kansas City Chiefs. Now the Chiefs happen to play in the same AFC West Division as the Raiders. Do you think Gruden was taking copious notes on player tendencies, etc., to perhaps be applied when his team plays that team next season?

 Naah! Chucky would never do something that devious, would he?

Well, there is the matter of the 2003 Super Bowl. Gruden had spent four seasons coaching the Raiders but was rumored to be getting ready to bail out when owner Al Davis traded him to Tampa Bay for a king’s ransom – two No. 1 draft choices, two No. 2 draft choices and $8 million.

Armed with a fancy new contract, Chucky’s Bucs reached the Super Bowl in his first season there and who did they find waiting for him but his old pals, the Raiders. Do you think Gruden used what he knew about the team he had coached for four years before they traded him away? Final score: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21.

Familiarity breeds an edge and all coaches, Gruden included, like edges. And eventually, the Raiders figured out that they liked Gruden very much. They probably never should have let him get away in the first place. The team has gone through a revolving door of sideline bosses since his exit with nine coaches coming and going. No team has had more since Gruden’s departure from Oakland in 2002.

This second time around, Gruden replaces Jack Del Rio, whose team won 12 games and reached the playoffs in 2016. The Raiders were so pleased they rewarded him with a four-year contract extension. This season’s 6-10 record, soured Oakland on Del Rio, opening the door for Gruden’s return.

The Raiders have been through second-time romances with coaches before. Art Shell, a great offensive lineman but less successful as a coach, was re-hired in 2006, 11 years after he had been fired as coach. The team went 2-14 and Shell was fired again.

It should be noted that after Gruden’s Bucs beat the Raiders in the 2003 Super Bowl they did not win another playoff game in his remaining six seasons in Tampa Bay and his teams were 57-55 there before ESPN rescued him from all that aggravation.

Now he has signed on for a new challenge. And if things don’t go well, well that’s a pretty fancy paycheck he is pulling down.


About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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