ALAMEDA -- For a man with the longest and must lucrative contract and the most say among NFL coaches, Jon Gruden sure doesn’t know much.
Why, he was at home innocently basking in the warm embrace of the Oakland Raiders' third win this season Sunday while owner Mark Davis was sneaking behind his back and firing his co-worker and good friend, general manager Reggie McKenzie.
“He was a very good friend, and he’s always gonna be a Raider,” Gruden said Monday of the man who's no longer a Raider. “We’re going to have to rebuild this team without him. ... He's left some big shoes to fill.”
Gruden said he never saw “any disconnect” between the two men, reiterating their friendship, and all he knows is “we won a game, and I went home last night. Obviously there was a meeting last night, and obviously changes have been made. I respect everything this organization is about. I can’t exactly answer why the changes were made last night, but changes were made. ...
“We all work for the same man.”
Yeah, definitely proof of a rogue owner who wants things done his way without the knowledge of the man he hired to run the football part of the company. Makes you wonder why Gruden stays at all if he is to be treated so cavalierly.
(By now, you should know this is all ham-handed sarcasm, but in fairness to the Raiders’ process under Gruden, let’s all go along, shall we? I mean, I think we all understand that charades can be just as fun when everyone is in on the game.)
“Like I said, I was just done coaching a game yesterday," Gruden said. "Mark will accumulate a list of names and candidates. Right now I don’t have any idea. ... I’m not revealing any candidates because I don’t know any.”
Davis wasn't available to list his own candidates for the job, or whether Gruden would be part of the process. But Gruden did admit he was a bit surprised by the development, though not very.
“Look, I’m not surprised when you're 3-10 in this league," the coach said. "It’s a horrible part of this business, and I’m very sensitive to it. I’ve been fired, I’ve been traded. ... I’m sure we’ll talk later this week, or next week, or whenever the time is right.
“I really didn’t have a sense of it. I’ve been in a dark shaft room working hard trying to get to the next game. This has all been somewhat surprising. There has been a lot of speculation and a lot of rumor since early in the season. You don’t know what’s real, what’s smoke, what’s fire, you really don’t ... but we have made a change, we have to respond, and that we will.”
(Yeah, still thick on the sarcasm)
“It’s a tough business, and there’s been a lot of change in this organization in the last 15 years. Coaches have come and gone (nine), general managers have come and gone (two if you don’t count Gruden), and we have to respond. We have to fix the Oakland Raiders, and that’s something we’re dead set on doing.”
Then there was some discussion he deflected on whether McKenzie’s replacement would be given the title of general manager, and about the question of a divided front office (Gruden did say he has some personnel people who work for the coaches rather than for the scouting department). But for the most part, he just was a football coach wanting to talk about a football game because all the other things about his good friend and collaborator being fired at an odd time of the season just happened while he was sitting at home, completely unaware.
He did send that message, and more than once, and if we choose to view it as disingenuous, then it’s on us as world-weary cynics who just can’t understand the essential purity and linear nature of “this tough business.”
And frankly, Gruden isn’t required to stray off his script, no matter how seemingly implausible it seems. It will be to his credit by football coaching standards if he doesn’t insist that anyone buy his cover; I mean, he has his version of events, the one in which he barely knows what happens in anyone else’s office because he’s so busy trying to get a win here and there, and we have the one that makes a hell of a lot more sense.
The one in which the highest-paid non-playing employee in the building gets to decide who stays, who goes, when staying turns to going and who breaks the news while the other principal “is at home.”
If only we were of the pure at heart to understand that. Or if he could put in a bit more time trying to assemble at least a mildly more credulous version of events.
But why would he? I mean, the deed expected since the day he arrived happened. He's already peeved enough that he wasn't around when it happened.
And yeah, that’s sarcasm, too.