ALAMEDA – Raiders owner Mark Davis methodically went through his opening statement, thanking everyone who helped Jon Gruden become Raiders head coach.
Decorum, however, only lasted so long. Emotions eventually won out.
“I want to thank the Gruden family from the bottom of my heart for making my dream come true,” Davis said Tuesday afternoon. “Raider Nation, this is a big F’n deal.”
Jon Gruden is back. And yeah, it’s a big freaking deal to Davis especially. This was a moment six years in the making, the conclusion of a quest started shortly after Mark took control following owner Al Davis’ death.
He wanted Gruden to be his first coaching hire in 2012. Gruden wasn’t ready. He tried again in 2015, but Gruden wasn’t ready. This time around, the former Raiders coach who got away – okay, he was shipped off in a trade with Tampa Bay – was ready to return. There were several conversations between those requests, most of which were counseling sessions on how to get the Raiders right.
That’s initially why Mark Davis made a road trip to Tampa near midseason. The Raiders were staying in Sarasota, Fla., between games at Buffalo and Miami, and Davis went to seek counsel on how to fix a once-promising season gone awry.
“At that point in time I just wanted to know if he could help me figure out how to fix this franchise,” Davis told a group of reporters, with quotes from The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami. "Because I felt that there was a lot of regression, obviously, on the offensive side of the ball. The defense hadn't started clicking at that point in time, so I just wanted to know if he had some input for me.
“And that might be the first time I started to get the inkling that, hey, maybe this time he might be the one to come back and fix it rather than helping me try to figure it out.”
Davis blazed a nice trail between bays, from San Francisco to Tampa (with a stop in Dallas). He even found a favorite hotel and a quality Laundromat over an estimated 15 trips back and forth. Davis, it seems, was relentless in an ever-so-slow play.
He was prepared to retain Jack Del Rio another year, albeit with some staff renovations, after a disastrous 6-10 campaign.
When Gruden was ultimately ready, Davis fired Del Rio and swooped. Would he have done so following a successful season? “Off the top of my head, probably yes.” Davis hasn’t thought about that much. It wasn’t a realistic option, not with Gruden seemingly content as ESPN’s top color analyst. Then Gruden showed his hand a bit during that early November trip to Tampa.
“I started to believe it because it was a different conversation than we'd had in the past,” Davis said. “You know, in the past he wanted to do it, wanted to do it, but he wasn't ready … but (this time) I just felt it.”
Davis now has his man in Gruden, and wants this pact to work in the short and long term.
The owner opened his pocketbook and presented an unprecedented 10-year deal reportedly worth $100 million. He allowed Gruden to extend longer and worthwhile offers to assistants he saw fit. He offered job security and elements of personnel control. He’ll add to the personnel department around trusted general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Mark Davis didn’t know Gruden much during the coach’s first Raiders tenure. Gruden dealt with Al Davis back then, with Mark not involved in Raiders operations.
“But over the last six years, I've really gotten to know Jon and his family,” Mark Davis said. “And that I think was the important part of it. Getting to know the family and the family believing in the Raiders, believing in me, believing in (president) Marc Badain, (director of football administration) Tom Delaney...we went down there with computers and everything else to help try to convince him that the Raiders organization is where he should be.”
Gruden gave the pitch strong consideration in November, and things started moving fast just before Christmas. The Raiders played a Monday Night Football game Dec. 25 in Philadelphia, and Davis met Gruden before kickoff against the Eagles.
“I felt pretty confident that he was all-in,” Davis said. “And that's the term that we were using in our discussions and everything, are you all-in? And I never wavered from all-in. And this time he didn't waver, either.”