Welcome to the first edition of the Oakland Raiders Weekly Roundup. Here, we’ll pull together any notable Silver and Black news from the previous week and wrap it all up in a neat little package.
Since this is the first offseason edition of the Oakland Raiders weekly roundup, we’ll be stretching this one further back than just one week. But going forward, we’ll be discussing any happenings as they relate to the Silver and Black on a weekly basis.
Let’s get started.
So, it’s minutes after the final regular season game in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve, where the Raiders apparently played the Chargers. Apparently played, that is, because if they showed up, I sure didn’t see it.
That led to the first big piece of news of the Raiders offseason…
Jack Del Rio Gets Fired
No waiting until Black Monday, and not even waiting until the bus was warm. Immediately after the game, Mark Davis did what many in Raider Nation hoped (but thought wouldn’t happen.) He fired Jack Del Rio. A native of the Bay Area, Del Rio clearly loved coaching the Raiders and clearly agonized over their failings in 2017. But in a results-based business, he had to go.
This a year removed from signing the Oakland native to a four-year extension. That is why, despite the Raiders failings and repeatedly lackluster efforts in 2017, many felt Del Rio would be back. But few knew of Davis’ behind the scenes workings on a former Raider to bring fanfare and hope back to the franchise.
Before we delve into the return of ‘Chucky’ and all that entails, let’s give Del Rio the credit he deserves. He came into a franchise that had perennially lost 10+ games for a decade. He had little roster talent in the beginning and vowed to change the culture — and he did. He got this team back to winning, and he showed major stones on multiple occasions in 2016.
He did what no other coach had been able to do since, well, Gruden — get the Raiders back to respectability. And then in position to contend. Unfortunately, he also made some bad personnel and coaching decisions and didn’t own them as well as he should have.
One of those personnel decisions was forcing out Bill Musgrave in favor of Todd Downing at offensive coordinator. The details are somewhat spotty but it’s been said Del Rio was part of a clandestine snow-job on Davis regarding Musgrave’s viability and Downing’s being in demand. As a result, Musgrave — after piloting the #6 offense in the NFL — was out and Downing was in, despite having no OC experience.
This became obvious as the season wore on and Downing failed to make in-game adjustments, game plan to exploit opponents weaknesses or solve a zone defense. Downing, mercifully, is now out with Del Rio.
Del Rio left with class, thanking Davis and the organization for the opportunity. Del Rio’s problem wasn’t class — he usually comported himself well. The main thing that was frustrating was his propensity to deflect blame or glad-hand people who asked tough questions. Best of luck in future endeavors to him, but this team is moving on. Moving on up, to…
The Return of Jon Gruden
Amid weeks of actual valid speculation — and years of noisy, garbage speculation — Jon Gruden is finally, officially back on the sidelines. One can only hope he has a closet full of visors ready to rock for any occasion. We already know he still gets up at 3:47 a.m.
The Raiders officially announced Gruden’s hiring on January 6, 2018, confirming what many had speculated for weeks. Some fun was had in the lead up, as Gruden announced the wild-card game between the Chiefs and the Titans earlier that day. Both he and Rich Gannon made some on-air comments that hinted at the upcoming announcement. Gannon was speculated heavily to be joining Gruden’s staff as quarterbacks coach. Gannon called the Raiders-Chargers game, and he certainly sounded like someone invested in Derek Carr and his success. But it wasn’t to be, after all.
The Raiders held an official press conference to announce Gruden on January 9, and he didn’t disappoint at all. He spoke with glowing praise of Al and Mark Davis, the Raiders organization, Raider Nation, the talent on the roster, and how excited he was to be coaching again. He was fired up, he was passionate — he was Gruden.
If anyone thought the sidelines, Corona commercials and Hooters girls had dampened his love for football — he put that to rest in the presser. He’s fired Raider Nation up:
Watched Gruden’s Press Conference like twice now.
Chucky. Is. F’ing. Back. pic.twitter.com/kCUYyGalcx
— Raina (@camlamp21) January 10, 2018
So Chucky’s back. Raider Nation is stoked. Gruden wasted no time in building a top-notch coaching staff upon his hiring. After receiving his own 10-year, $100M contract, it seems apparent Mark Davis said I’ll pay for your coaches too. Go hire them.
He did not hire Gannon, despite all the speculation. Gannon, though he thrived under Gruden and their personalities work well together, has no practical coaching experience. Gruden wanted veterans with experience, and he went after them. He mentioned during his presser he intended to hire Paul Guenther of the Bengals as his DC, Greg Olson of the Rams as his OC, and Rich Bisaccia of the Cowboys as his special teams coordinator.
He tried to lure Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin into the fold as a defensive assistant coach. But Austin preferred to remain a head coordinator, and rather than work under Guenther, he replaced him as DC in Cincinnati.
There was speculation that Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie could be on the hot seat with Gruden’s hiring, but Gruden set that at ease in the presser and has continued to praise McKenzie and their working relationship. Still, he made a hard push to get Eliot Wolf when Wolf didn’t get the Packers GM job. Rather than join long-time family friend McKenzie and follow his father’s footsteps with the Raiders, Wolf decided on a fresh start in Cleveland.
So Gruden was left to hire his staff. And that he did. After mentioning the three during his presser, the Raiders made it official on January 12.
Raiders Hire Olson, Guenther and Bisaccia
Three days after his press conference, the Raiders officially announced that Gruden had hired his coordinators.
Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia also gets the added title of assistant head coach. Clearly Gruden highly respects the 35-year coaching veteran who has time in both the pros and college ranks. Bisaccia won a ring with Gruden in Tampa and Gruden loves his versatility and leadership.
“He’s a versatile coach. He coached two positions for me in Tampa. He was a running backs coach and a special teams coach. Great leader of men. He’ll do an outstanding job here.”
Paul Guenther is fresh off a four-year stint as the Bengals defensive coordinator. He mentored under current Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, and his Bengals defenses are noted for their ability to generate pressure without blitzing. Cincinatti had 45 sacks in 2017, 11th in the NFL. Contrast that with the Raiders, who had 31 (tied for 24th) and it’s a pretty nice upgrade. Check out this article by Ted Nguyen of The Athletic here (subscription site) for a little more information on Guenther and what to expect.
Olson is a familiar face to Raiders fans, one that isn’t overly welcome by some. Though he struggled as offensive coordinator in 2014, it’s important to note Derek Carr was a rookie, the Raiders had little in the way of talent and they lost their first 10 games. Also, Gruden has confirmed he will call the plays.
Olson has since found success molding Jared Goff into a dangerous passer in Los Angeles, and Gruden is excited about his chance to work with Carr a second time around and the continuity it all offers:
“Greg Olson coached Derek Carr for a year here. His intel there will be very important. He coached with me in Tampa and he coached with Sean McVay, one of my ex-assistants, in LA. So, the system of football that we run will be a real natural flow.”
On Wednesday, January 17, Guenther and Olson both discussed what they bring to the table and what they look forward to. One name Guenther kept returning to was Khalil Mack. He is incredibly excited to have a franchise cornerstone already in place to build his defense around:
“Having a talent like that [defensive end Khalil Mack] and ability of a guy like that, certainly you want to make it the centerpiece of the defense,” Guenther said. “We have to continue to develop our younger players to bring those guys up to speed and add people as we go through the draft and free agency. He’s a guy that you can really build a foundation through and around. He’s an exciting guy to be able to coach for sure.”
In what should be a relief to Raider Nation, Guenther also places a premium on the importance of the linebacker position. He says he’s comfortable taking lower drafted or undrafted players and molding them (as he did with Vontaze Bufict) but he loves NaVorro Bowman and wants him back:
“I think NaVorro is a prototype middle linebacker, really,” said Guenther. “The thing that impressed me most with NaVorro is that they got him here midseason and by the end of the year, it appeared to me that he was kind of the leader of the unit, making a lot of calls. You can see that on tape. It looks like he is a smart guy that understands the game. I love smart guys that love playing football. Hopefully we can get him back in the fold and keep him a Raider.”
Olson is also excited to be back in the mix. Particularly with his friend and mentor Gruden running the show:
“If he [Gruden] ever got back into coaching, I knew that he’d be the one guy that I would want to have another opportunity to work with,” said Olson via conference call Wednesday. “Even though I only worked for him the one season in Tampa, I think our personalities just meshed. We always kept in contact since that time. I just feel real fortunate now to be back with him. Then the fact that for him to be able to come back to the Raiders, certainly it’s a big deal to him. It’s a big deal to me. Just real excited about both him and the Raiders combined.”
And the chance to work with Derek Carr again is too good to pass up. Olson says Carr is one of the smartest players he’s been around, and that was when Carr was a rookie. Raider Nation should be encouraged to hear what Olson says about Carr and what Carr could do under Gruden and this offense:
“I was just so impressed with Derek [Carr’s] football acumen – intelligence, to me, was kind of off the charts,” Olson explained. “The guys I’ve been around, I thought he was real talented that way, the mental part of the game. And then physically, his accuracy and his quickness of his release and just a lot of the physical tools there that were special. I think that’s probably what enticed Jon as well into taking this job, that there was a young quarterback in place here with a lot of upside and a lot of room for growth. I think that’s the challenge that he’s looking forward to, how do we get the best version of Derek Carr and how do we get the most out of Derek Carr.”
As days went on after the announcement of the coordinators, another announcement was made. This was another familiar name to Raider Nation — and again, some were quite apprehensive about the hire.
The Return of Tom Cable
Former Raiders OL and head coach Tom Cable is also back in the fold, but his return is less encouraging. His OL units in Seattle routinely ranked at or near the bottom in pressures allowed, and the Seahawks haven’t had a running game in three seasons.
Combine this with the controversy of Cable’s first stint when he broke Randy Hanson’s jaw and came under the microscope for domestic violence issues, and this hire isn’t quite as rah-rah and clean as the others have been.
In fact, some in Raider Nation have pointed out the hypocrisy of Mark Davis’ hiring Cable despite his zero-tolerance domestic violence policy:
I wasn’t going to be the one to say it. But Tom Cable has had violence issues with women, reported by ESPN and others in 2009. Mark Davis broke all his values for Gruden seemingly. https://t.co/QzNXh4L3V3
— hiSEAN808 (@Oahu_Raider808) January 19, 2018
Not the feel-good vibes around Cable that there are around all the other coaches. I’m not going to get into the details of the Cable situation, but Davis had to know there would be some backlash on this one. As did Gruden. Cable, for his part, hasn’t been charged or accused of anything in two-plus decades — but the optics are not great.
Neither were the optics of actually hiring Gruden without apparently satisfying…
The Rooney Rule
Following the hiring of Gruden, speculation was abound that the Raiders had violated the NFL’s Rooney Rule. It was speculated that since Davis had openly wanted Gruden for so long, and since Gruden came aboard this time, the Raiders didn’t go through the proper process.
It’s ironic that is is the Raiders. This is the franchise who hired the first Latino coach, first black coach, first woman executive, and has repeatedly blazed trails for social justice.
But still, a report stated the team was being investigated. The Raiders did interview Bobby Johnson, the Raiders TE coach at the time, for the head job. But then they outright fired him shortly thereafter, not retaining him as TE coach.
So people were a bit suspicious. No need, though. Not only did they interview Johnson, as required, but they ensured they crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s by interviewing Tee Martin. The Raiders have officially been cleared of any wrongdoing regarding Gruden’s hiring and everything is smooth sailing. So let’s concentrate on January 18, when the Raiders…
Hire Assistant Coaches
Thirteen, to be exact. Many of them have NFL experience and excellent pedigrees, and for more information on each you can go to Raiders.com here to check them out.
Some of the notable hires (either for their pedigree or because it’s a position that needs coaching):
Tom Cable, OL coach — see above.
Derrick Ansley, DB coach
Ansley was Nick Saban’s top recruiter at Alabama, and ‘Bama is obviously known for the strength of their recruiting classes. He brings charisma and leadership to a position that desperately needs proper coaching and technique. He helped mold Minkah Fitzpatrick into one of the best defensive backs in recent college memory.
Edgar Bennett, WR Coach
Stop the drops — period. Bennett has experience as a full-fledged OC with the Packers, and was also their WR coach prior to that. You may also remember him from his playing days in the 90’s as a RB with the Pack and the Bears. Excellent coaching pedigree with real-game experience. Davante Adams progress is enticing when looking at Amari Cooper.
David Lippincott, Linebackers
Linebackers coach with the Bengals the past ten years, coming in with Guenther. Instrumental in developing undrafted Burfict into a Pro Bowl player and getting the most out of players like Vincent Rey and Rey Malauaga. Will be key for Raiders defensive improvement in conjunction with Ansley as the back-end position is in need of the most coaching.
Mike Trgovac, DL Coach
Also a former Packers coach, Trgovac comes to the Raiders after nine years as DL Coach in Green Bay. Prior to that he coached for the Panthers before becoming their DC from 2003-2008. He has a lot of experience, as he has been coaching DL either in the pros or college since 1985. He will be key in getting the Raiders line to get more push and free up Mack more often. This is a great and exciting hire with potential to vastly improve the line, as our friends at Black Hole Banter point out.
The rest of the coaches are:
- Tim Berbenich, Quality Control – Offense
- Nick Holz – Quality Control – Offense
- Jim O’Neil – Senior Defensive Assistant
- Dave Razzano – Director of Football Research
- Jemal Singleton – RB Coach
- Frank Smith – TE Coach
- Travis Smith, Quality Control – Defense
- Bryan Storer – Assistant Special Teams
Oh, and in keeping within the family — yet somehow also stealing from the family — Jon Gruden’s son, Jon “Deuce” Gruden Jr., is joining the Raiders strength and conditioning team. Deuce was with Uncle Jay in Washington until Dad got the job — and it just makes sense to bring him into the fold. Good for the Raiders, too — this isn’t just nepotism at work. Deuce is a legit World Champion — yes World Champion — powerlifter who happens to be jacked to the nines:
— FFDynasty260 (@FFD260) January 10, 2018
See how strong Ryan Kerrigan looked last season? Okay, it’s a reach but…World…Champion.
Just for fun, it’s interesting to note multiple mock drafts (including Mel “The Hair” Kiper’s) have mocked Roquan Smith to the Raiders with the 9th/10th pick overall. Just thought I’d mention that as linebacker is always a major need position — and Guenther has made it clear he wants Bowman. Draftniks seem to think Roquan. Either way it would mean the Raiders start 2018 with a much better linebacker situation than they did in 2017.
Well, that’s about it for now — and that’s plenty! The Raiders have been one of the busiest and most newsworthy teams in the offseason thus far, and with Gruden at the helm and needs in free agency don’t expect that to change. Come back each week for a roundup of Raiders news to keep on top the latest happenings all things Silver and Black.