Why Raiders' Jon Gruden-Reggie McKenzie pairing was doomed to fail

Why Raiders' Jon Gruden-Reggie McKenzie pairing was doomed to fail

Mark Davis really wanted Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie to work well together, and made that expressly clear in January during Gruden’s introductory press conference.

[BREAKING: Raiders fire GM Reggie McKenzie]

It was Davis' desire back in 2012 when he took control following his father's death.

“My vision at that time was Jon Gruden to coach this football team,” Davis said in January. "And Reggie McKenzie to bring in the talent.”

He got McKenzie then. He brought Gruden out of the broadcast booth last winter. There were questions right away about whether Davis’ dream division of labor wasn’t going to pan out. Davis rebutted those questions at the time saying decisions would be a team effort: “It’s going to be a Raider decision, bottom line. We are going to work great together.”

They didn’t work great together, or for very long. McKenzie’s role had fundamentally changed, and Gruden was allowed to assemble the roster he saw fit, and those decisions included trading or cutting McKenzie’s draft picks at every turn. Gruden frequently criticized recent draft classes, explaining why the Raiders needed a roster overhaul.

It was clear that McKenzie wouldn’t be around for the long haul, which is why it was no surprise when a source confirmed on Monday that McKenzie had been let go. He was given the opportunity to remain through the season but declined that overture.

He met with his scouts on Monday, another source said, many of whom are longtime friends and confidants, knowing full well the scouting department will be overhauled at some point in the near future.

That department had lost its teeth, with Gruden making pivotal decisions for the franchise.

It was Gruden who ultimately traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper this offseason. He cut or waived other top McKenzie picks.

Each transaction proved who was really in charge, decreased belief that McKenzie would last through the 2019 draft and create division between coaches and scouts.

McKenzie inserted himself in these moves, especially after receiving a first-round pick for Cooper, but it was clear this was Gruden's show.

[RELATED: Firing of Raiders come as little surprise]

“When you talk about pulling strings, Gruden and I work together very well,” McKenzie said. “Let’s make no mistake about that. About him pushing me out, that’s not happening. About me being unable to work with Gruden, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. We work really well together. We’re in each other’s offices all the time, talking about who’s up and down, and who I would like to see play more. We talk about practice squad guys and all that, about claiming players and trading players.

“ ... when you’re talking about the negativity I hear about between me and Gruden, there have been times when I want to make a statement and just say, ‘Really?’ ”

There really were cracks in an outwardly unified front -- the Raiders reportedly had two draft boards last April/May, the ultimate sign of division in the front office -- and now Gruden’s expected to start bringing him executives to help with Raiders scouting efforts. The exact timeline for making changes ultimately remains uncertain at this stage.

Head coach and general manager got along well and worked in tandem executing trades and cuts upon Gruden’s request, but a long-term partnership wasn’t in the cards. It may have never been possible and Gruden took full control, but the attempt to do so and realize Davis’ long-time vision never worked out.

Now the Raiders will carry forward with new executives hired to help Gruden construct this roster and try to make the most of significant salary-cap space and all those first-round picks.

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

ALAMEDA -- Karl Joseph sat in the Raiders locker room Monday, with a pair of crutches by his side. A walking boot was nearby, transportation aids given the state of his ailing foot.

Joseph got hurt sealing Thursday's victory over the L.A. Chargers, a leaping interception was his final on-field act as a 2019 Raider.

That’s a difficult reality for Joseph and those around him. The West Virginia alum was popular throughout the locker room, a relentless worker playing the best football of his career before an injury that ended his season far earlier than expected.

“I think, as a team, we really started to click. That’s especially true in the secondary,” Joseph, who formally placed on injured reserve, said Friday. “It wasn’t just me necessarily. I think I was playing good ball, but we were coming together. I really believe we started to play good football and I wanted to be part of it moving forward.

"We have a strong chance to go to the playoffs. That’s what is frustrating part for me.”

Joseph is an eternal optimist, someone who relies on faith to weather tough times. It doesn’t eliminate frustration completely. Joseph knew his season was in jeopardy right away.

“The first night was pretty rough,” Joseph said. “I knew right away that something was wrong. I couldn’t even walk right afterwards. The next day I was rebounding. I was raised on strong faith. I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life, so this is nothing new. I’ll be okay.”

Joseph is waiting for the swelling to go down before formulating a rehabilitation plan. He will visit with renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, Wis., and ponder surgery based upon the doctor’s evaluation.

His season is over no matter what, with the possibility of a lengthy rehab ahead. The timing isn’t great considering the Raiders didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. He’ll head into unrestricted free agency without a chance to show he’s fully healed and ready to play at the high level found in games before the injury.

The Raiders’ 2016 first-round draft pick hopes to remain in silver and black next season, when the team moves to Las Vegas.

“Of course. This is the team that drafted me,” Joseph said. “I love playing with this group of guys. I love working with this coaching staff and in [defensive coordinator Paul] Guenther’s system. It’s great for me and the safeties. We’ll see what happens. It’s out of my control now. All I can do it get healthy and get better.

"I believe everything will work itself out.”

Joseph’s safety partnership with Erik Harris was working out well. The pair was in great sync in recent games, allowing both players to maximize abilities, make big plays on the ball and minimize the communication errors that plagued the secondary earlier this season.

Harris was disappointed to see his partner fall, especially when an interception slipped through his hands a few plays earlier.

[RELATED: Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary]

“He has a very positive outlook on life and that will help him through this,” Harris said. “I just feel bad because, if I would’ve made that pick, then him and [Lamarcus Joyner, who suffered a hamstring strain a few plays before Joseph got hurt] would be healthy right now. It’s just unfortunate.

"Karl is a great guy and a great player. I want to see him be healthy and to get paid. There is not a harder worker in this building than him. He strives to be great. He will lean on his faith, and that’s big.”

D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary


D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary

Yes, the Raiders are 5-4. Yes, the playoffs are a realistic possibility.

But issues abound in Oakland.

Jon Gruden's gritty club has fought through a rash of injuries, a five-game road trip, the suspension of Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown's decision to go AWOL to be in the thick of the playoff hunt in November. But the Silver and Black's secondary is running on emergency power after Karl Joseph suffered a season-ending injury on the final play of the Raiders' Week 10 win over the Chargers.

With Joseph out for the season, that means the Raiders are missing both of their starting safeties -- Johnathan Abram has been out since Week 1 -- as well as their starting middle linebacker and two defensive ends. Gruden is trying to patch the defense together as the Raiders prepare for a playoff run.

D.J. Swearinger is the latest member of the duct tape brigade. The Raiders signed the veteran safety Saturday, and hope he can slide in immediately and give them some relief in the backend. 

It's hard for players to come in cold off the street and learn a new system, but Swearinger played in a similar scheme in Arizona, so he isn't worried about the learning curve. 

"It's not a new system for me because Arizona ran the exact same system," Swearinger said Monday. "Just got to get the different terminology, which is sort of the similar terminology in Arizona --- almost identical -- with a few coverages so it's not a hard transition for me. I'm going to fit right in, do my studying and make it happen."

Swearinger played in four games for the Cardinals this season before being released. The 28-year-old veteran safety has played for four teams prior to the Raiders, including two stints with the Cardinals, notching 14 interceptions and 40 passes defensed in his seven-year NFL career.

He's versatile, experienced and likes to hit. Most of all he's hungry and ready to seize the moment, both for himself and the Raiders.

"It's a great opportunity, man," Swearinger said. "I'm happy to be here. Happy to be with a coach like coach Gruden. I know what he means to football, know what he brings to the table. I'm excited to be here, they are doing some great stuff here. I'm ready to add whatever I can to help this team win and win a championship."

With both their starting safeties done for the season, the Raiders are in the unfortunate position of having to rely on a guy that's been in the building for only couple days. Swearinger has the talent, and the Raiders need him to be at his best right away.

"I like Swearinger," Gruden said Monday. "He played for my brother in Washington. I was a broadcaster at one point, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina with my friend [Steve] Spurrier, so I know a little bit about Swearinger. I think he's a good player, he just has to put it all together. That's what he needs to do. He's got to start that process today. We need the very best of Swearinger."

[RELATED: Ferrell arrives with statement game in Raiders' TNF win]

He's spent the last month waiting for an opportunity, viewing this tough Raiders team from afar.

"They got grit and it starts with the head coach," Swearinger said of his new team. "I love the head coach, I've always loved coach Gruden. From way back in college, from him doing Monday nights. I know what he brings to football and I know playing for a coach like that we're going to bring it every time we step on the field. He expects that. The guys in the locker room ... there are some young guys but they are talented and they want to go to work and you can help but come in and get with the coach."

The Raiders will face an 0-9 Bengals team Sunday in Week 11, a vertically challenged team that should present limited problems for a new safety getting his feet wet in silver and black. Swearinger prides himself on being a physical safety with underrated cover skills. He's tough, emotional and hard working.

Gruden and the Raiders need all of that to translate into winning football in the backend of the Raiders' secondary. The playoffs might depend on it.