Mark Davis went all-in with local names in 2017 on the theory that everything else with the Oakland Raiders was in place for a glorious if limited run. And with a third of that run now officially over, Davis’ patience has been replaced by an open wound.
Hence, Jack Del Rio has been fired as head coach as reward for an imploded season that ended with a dismal 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
But Del Rio's dismissal for doing half as well in his third year as his second doesn’t mean that Davis isn’t going to stay local. If, as has been rumored all of Sunday, he is chasing Jon Gruden to recreate the almost glories of the past, he is still going with a familiar figure whom fans will build into a savior, until such time as he proves not to be.
Whether Del Rio deserved to be sacked after a dreadful 6-10 season that undercut both the team’s reputation and that of most of its players is irrelevant. Heads roll when the blade is available, and his was the largest head at a time when someone (or some folks) needed to be canned. The team spent the entire year seemingly baffled and underinspired as well as injured, and the first two were far less forgivable based on the 12-4 record of a season ago. Even those who thought the team would regress didn’t see a free-fall of this magnitude, and the only unhappy observers now are those who wonder if general manager Reggie McKenzie might not be next to fall.
And that is likely to occur if Gruden returns, because Gruden isn’t returning to football to have a boss. If this is not another of his classic goose chases, he will come to Oakland demanding power and equity as though he were Vince Lombardi coming to Washington 50 years ago, and McKenzie isn’t likely to want to become Gruden’s phone.
In other words, with two years left in the history of the Oakland Raiders, they are starting again, perhaps with Gruden as their Grover Cleveland, the only president to have the job two separate times.
Indeed, a team once fabled for its stability has had only one coach last as long as four seasons since it returned north, and that was Gruden. The subsequent wins commingled with wars with Al Davis, and the result was Gruden being traded to Tampa Bay so that he could jam his index finger in Davis’ eye in Super Bowl The 37th. And whether the coach is Gruden or not, he will be the fifth under Mark Davis and the 13th in 23 years in Oakland 2.0.
The message is clear: Mark Davis is in a hurry to build something enduring that he can take to his new overlords in Nevada, and his impatience has led him to do what his father once did, and then undid. He is working a treadmill here that unless the next coach works the miracle Del Rio (and frankly even Gruden) could not, he will be remembered in Oakland as the guy who couldn’t be better than his father even after his father lost control of the game around him.
It’s a legacy that will haunt him until the day he sells controlling interest in the team – richer, possibly wiser but certainly no more admired for fixing the one thing he was just starting to call his own.
So if the next coach isn’t Jon Gruden, Davis had better have a good reason why not, and a better name than Gruden’s to offer instead. The early betting will not be kind on this proposition.