Raiders

Jon Gruden should let Mike Mayock's voice be heard in Raiders' rebuild

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USATSI

Jon Gruden should let Mike Mayock's voice be heard in Raiders' rebuild

The Narnia Raiders have hired Mike Mayock as their new general manager, so I see no reason why he and Jon Gruden shouldn’t start arguing about the direction of this rootless franchise.

At least you’d like to think they will, even if you’re a Raiders fan.

This needs to be a hire that challenges both to work together for their mutual benefit, because the Raiders desperately need to rethink their thinking across the board, from talent acquisition to team building. This is a poor and dispirited team, and it showed it one last time Sunday in Kansas City. If this now is the Gruden-Mayock show, they need to find a way to be fundamentally cooperative yet constructively contentious so new ideas can flourish in a franchise that has had so few of them.

The problem, of course, is things rarely go that way. Arguments over players typically turn to arguments over philosophies, arguments over philosophies typically turn into arguments over power, and arguments over power typically fester into rivalries that end with one man triumphant and the other one either neutered or fired. Gruden steamrolled former general manager Reggie McKenzie because he could, and his still is the biggest contract in the room, so Mayock had better have a firm sense of what his job actually entails, and whether he will have the kind of input that would make the job worth having.

And that is up to Gruden. This is, on all matters that do not involve relocation, his team now.

We have seen the nightmare in Washington, where football takes a back seat to inter-office politics to such an extent that one of the game’s most devoted fan bases now has been reduced by about 30 percent in the stadium and by a more considerable margin outside it.

And if the collection of power and influence is Job No. 1, then the product is by definition going to be inferior.

The Raiders are stuck in an odd stasis right now -- Las Vegas’ team except in reality, and in such a geographical bind that, unless Mark Davis is ready to cave on Oakland, could be playing 16 road games next season, a competitive disadvantage just profound enough to put off the beginning of the real rebuild another year, and maybe even two.

And Gruden, whose true devotion so far in Oakland has to been to guide the renunciation of what he inherited, needs someone (apparently Mayock) to give him the fresh eyes and freedom of speech to help with the team’s reconstruction. Not because Gruden cannot do it himself necessarily, but because the odds are grossly stacked against any one person doing it.

And no, Bill Belichick didn’t get to be Bill Belichick right away in New England. He needed a ring to establish his throne, and even at that remains the exception to a pretty clear rule -- coaches coach, general managers manage, and unless they have same general view on team construction, the relationship between the two eventually will deteriorate.

[RELATED: Where Raiders will pick in 2019 NFL Draft]

In short, Mayock should be brought in to challenge Gruden’s thinking, and Gruden should challenge back -- and both should do it in the spirit of mining the ideas that come from those collaborations to see if they will work. The Raiders were Al Davis’ fiefdom for decades, and they look like Gruden’s fiefdom for the foreseeable future. So, while there is no guarantee that Mayock is the cure for all that ails them, he should be allowed the freedom to be an equal in the room where the decisions are made.

If he isn’t, there was no point in hiring him because the Raiders desperately need new thinking, outside the family and outside its minimal comfort zone. If he’s supposed to be that guy, then let it be so.

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

A number of factors went into the Raiders' demoralizing defeat at the hands of Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. The story behind the mysterious disappearance of Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins is revealed in NBC Sports' latest Sports Uncovered podcast, which was released Thursday.

Robbins missing the biggest game of his life no doubt played a role in the 48-21 thrashing the Raiders suffered. As did coach Bill Callahan's puzzling decision to alter the game plan at the last minute. But some Raiders believe Gruden and the Bucs knew their plays and formations, making the rout all but a certainty, blaming Callahan for giving the game to his former boss.

To a few former Buccaneers, though, all of that is just a bunch of excuses.

"The fact that your center went to Tijuana and got lost, and all of a sudden, um, he's not the quarterback," said Booger McFarland, who was a defensive tackle for the Bucs. "He's not the star wideout. He's not the star defensive player. He's the center."

"I've seen [Bill] Romanowski at a couple different events," Shelton Quarles said. "I've seen Rich [Gannon] at a couple of different events. And we've had conversations, and they're like, 'Oh, well you guys got lucky because Barret Robbins was out. We had a backup center, and our game plan was to run the ball down your throat.' OK, well, then just run your game plan. If that's something you practiced all week then run that."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

As for the charge that Gruden and the Bucs knew the Raiders' plays, Tampa Bay had seen the scheme before. Every day.

"It's the same offense that Jon Gruden ran when he was there," McFarland said. "So, we practiced against the same offense for a year. So, if you're not going to change any of the same audibles that Gruden uses in Tampa, then that's on you."

In the end, Robbins' absence didn't play a huge role in the Bucs' romp. Gruden and the Buccaneers were ready for anything and everything the Raiders were going to throw at them, and Callahan was outmatched from the opening kick-off.

The Raiders approached the matchup as if they had already won the Super Bowl. Owning the league's No. 1 offense and facing a Bucs team no one expected to be there, some members of the Silver and Black were ready for the parade.

"I was like, 's--t, I'm about to get my second ring,'" defensive tackle Sam Adams said. "We about to drag these jokers. They ain't doing nothing against us. Nothing. We about to whoop these jokers."

But once Callahan made the last-minute game plan switch, Tim Brown and the rest of the Raiders entered Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego knowing they weren't bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.

"We go into the Super Bowl knowing that we don't have a chance to win," Brown said.

[RELATED: How Davis told Trask of Robbins' Super Bowl disappearance]

The Raiders' defeat at the hands of Gruden and the Bucs can be laid at the feet of many people.

Barret Robbins was an easy scapegoat at the time. The center went out and partied too hard and missed the game, so it's his fault. Years later we know better. The Raiders knew better in the moment.

Even if he had suited up, the Bucs were prepared to slow down Callahan's offensive attack. Almost like they knew what was coming.

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

Amy Trask had a conversation with Barret Robbins on the morning of Super Bowl XXXVII. The brief exchange between the then-Raiders CEO and Pro Bowl center didn’t raise any red flags.

A phone call with owner Al Davis a short while later, however, indicated that something was very wrong.

“Quite early that morning, I had gone out on a run and saw Barret in the lobby,” Trask said. “I ran into him, went up to my room and not long thereafter, Al called me and said, ‘Barrett’s not playing.' I said, ‘I just saw him in the lobby. He can play. I just had a conversation with him. He can play.’ And Al shared with me that others had made the decision to send Barret home. I hung up the phone, looked at my husband and I said, ‘We just lost the game.’ ”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The Raiders ended up getting trounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, and losing their top-notch center just before the game didn’t help. The distraction of Robbins' disappearance the night before, while on a bender that carried from Friday through Saturday evening, certainly didn’t help.

Neither did the fact that coach Bill Callahan changed the game plan at the last minute, or that Jon Gruden was on the other sideline and used his knowledge of the Raiders’ scheme and personnel against the team that traded him to Tampa Bay during the 2002 offseason.

All of those topics are discussed during Thursday’s episode of NBC’s “Sports Uncovered” documentary podcast, which delves deep into Robbins’ sudden disappearance and the root causes of it, exploring the role his mental health played in that period and over his entire life.

Robbins admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to play in the game. He was not mentally able to do so after a night of partying and a mental-health episode that put him in a bad state. The Raiders evaluated Robbins after he returned to the team hotel Saturday evening and decided he wasn’t able to play.

Team doctors concluded that he wasn’t in a proper mental state to play in the biggest game of his life.

“On [Sunday] morning, I woke up and stretched and walked with Willie Brown and saw the doctors and everything,” Robbins said in an archived interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa. “And, if they would have told me I could have played, I don’t know if I could’ve at that point. To be honest with you, I was sick.”

The Raiders sent him away and checked him into the Betty Ford Clinic in Riverside. It was only there, for the first time in his life, that Robbins was accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He wasn’t properly treated for the condition before then, which led to problems off the field with substances of abuse.

Robbins was transported to a hospital on Sunday and barely watched any of the game.

“I saw a couple of plays on TV,” Robbins said. “They were watching it when I got there, but I didn’t sit up and watch it. I was there while I was, you know, on suicide watch. … It was a bad situation, obviously, and to recover from that, I don’t know if I have.”

[RELATED: The real reason why Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII]

The Raiders haven’t gotten over that loss, either. It ended a short but dominant run and ushered in an era of futility unlike any in Raiders history. The Raiders have made the postseason only once since losing the Super Bowl.

The loss was difficult for those heavily invested in it. Among others, Trask took it particularly hard.

“When we lost, I cried myself to sleep that night wearing the same clothes I wore to the game,” Trask said. “I put my head on my husband’s shoulders and cried myself to sleep. But I never, ever lost sight of the fact that Barret Robbins is a human being. As badly as I felt, and as miserable as I was, and as hurt as our fans were and our organization was, I can only imagine Barret’s pain.”