ALAMEDA – Charles Woodson’s a full-fledged member of the media now, fully allowed to ask questions in press conferences. The legendary Raiders defensive back and current ESPN analyst piped up with a good one Tuesday afternoon during Jon Gruden’s introduction as Silver and Black head coach.
“All of us here want to know,” Woodson yelled from the back, “is there a no-trade clause in your deal?”
That was a valid query, and topical considering how Gruden left the Raiders. Late owner Al Davis traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first-round picks, two second-rounders and $8 million cash.
It was a transaction no one saw coming, even those in Al Davis’ inner circle. It broke East Bay hearts, and remains what many consider Al Davis’ greatest mistake. You all know the story of Gruden going to the Buccaneers and beating the Raiders roughly a year later in Super Bowl XXXVII. You all know the Raiders went in the tank after that. Gruden coached in Tampa Bay through 2008 before heading to the broadcast booth.
Mark Davis reeled him out with a 10-year, $100 million contract to coach the Raiders a second time. Gruden told Woodson there’s a no-trade clause in his deal, though the monstrous contract acts as one even if he was joking.
Not like Mark Davis would ever deal Gruden after spending six years convincing him to re-up.
Gruden wanted to come back at the right time and place. That was now. That was in Oakland, a special place he saw only in the rearview. He thought the trade to Tampa Bay left his Raiders tenure incomplete, on the verge of something special yet unable to see it through.
That’s way Tuesday felt so surreal.
“I hope people understand the emotion inside of me,” Gruden said. “I feel unfinished business. I also feel a lot of loyalty and I feel a lot of responsibility to get the Raiders going again and it’s been a while since we’ve consistently performed at a high level, and that’s really all I care about. I’m going to do everything I can to get this team right again.”
He has some work to do in that regard. The Raiders are fresh off a 6-10 season where the coaching staff was fired, a talented offense proved inept and swagger was lost.
That’s for days to come, when Gruden plans to close the blinds, lock the doors and start solving problems.
Tuesday was a reconnection with his Raiders roots.
“I never wanted to leave the Raiders,” Gruden said. “I never thought I’d be back, but here I am and I’m ready to get to work. There are four major reasons that I am here coaching today. Number one, I love football. I love the players that play it. I love the preparation, I love the journey.
“I love football, and I love the city of Oakland. I had a son here and some of my great memories in life are in Oakland and I want to give them two of the best years of football that I can possibly help deliver.”
Gruden will help the Raiders navigate a complicated transition to Las Vegas in 2020. They’ll play two more seasons in the East Bay before moving to Sin City, simultaneously striving to engage a scorned local fan base while selling PSL’s, naming rights and advertising in their new Vegas digs.
His mere presence will take care of that. Gruden wouldn’t look too far into the future, focusing more on what he can do to help the Raiders win right away. Greenbacks were incentive to return, but there are plenty of those in broadcasting. There’s a football geek inside only coaching could extract, he’ll scratch the itch here in Oakland and over several years in Las Vegas as he writes his coaching career’s final act.
“The timing is right,” Gruden said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with the contract. I just want to be a part of the Raiders again. I want to finish my coaching career as an Oakland Raider and I can’t wait to get started.”