From best to worst, ranking the coaching staff hired by Jon Gruden in his second stint as Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Jon Gruden was announced as the new Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders on January 9, and he named the three coordinators the team would be hiring at his introductory press conference — Greg Olson, Paul Guenther and Rich Bisaccia. Since then, 13 assistant coaches have officially been added to the staff. There is plenty of combined experience among the group, but which hire was Gruden’s best?
The coaching staff is virtually complete, so from best to worst — including the coordinators — here is how Gruden’s staff ranks:
#1 – Paul Guenther, Defensive Coordinator
The best hire that Jon Gruden made was to lure Paul Guenther from the Bengals in what was a lateral move for the former Cincinnati DC. Guenther met Jon when his brother Jay was the offensive coordinator in Cincy, and Guenther’s decision to follow Gruden without a promotion speaks to the respect he has for Jon, and the eagerness he has to be on his staff. That alone is reason to get excited for this hire, but there is plenty of reason to be excited about it for on the field reasons.
Per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press, the Bengals called for the fewest blitzes in the NFL over Guenther’s four years as defensive coordinator. However, over that same time frame, Cincinnati ranks 2nd in total pressures. That stat is as impressive as it is crazy, and it’s perhaps the biggest reason for Raider Nation to be thrilled about this hire. It shows that with proper scheme, and of course the needed talent, it’s possible to generate pressure without sending the house.
Another reason that Guenther is the best hire on Gruden’s staff is because he has a track record of developing players and maximizing talent. Several mid and late round picks have carved out quality seasons under Guenther, including George Iloka, Vontaze Burfict and Carl Lawson.
Guenther will have no easy task to replicate the success he’s had with the Bengals, but there is reason to believe he can. Khalil Mack will be the most talented defensive player he has ever coached, and Guenther can use him like a chess piece to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. So any success Guenther will have is going to have to start with Mack and the rest of the front seven, as applying pressure on the quarterback will be the first priority to get this defense on track. Do that and everything else will follow.
#2 – Rich Bisaccia, Special Teams Coordinator
Bisaccia is a familiar face for Gruden’s staff, as he held this some role with the Buccaneers for the duration of Jon’s tenure in Tampa Bay — 2002 to 2008. In their last season together, Bisaccia was promoted to Assistant Head Coach while also taking on the responsibility of coaching the running backs. Gruden will also have him serve as Assistant Head Coach this time around, and he’ll be another respected voice in the locker room.
Bisaccia has been coaching special teams almost non-stop since 1983, and he’s widely considered one of the best in the business. Ranking special teams units isn’t an exact science, but Football Outsiders uses five different metrics to generate an overall ranking, and there is a clear theme with how well Bisaccia’s special teams groups rank. Check out his recent body of work:
- 2012 – 8th
- 2013 – 8th
- 2014 – 13th
- 2015 – 11th
- 2016 – 9th
- 2017 – 7th
While special teams isn’t sexy, it’s a critical part of the game. And based on Bisaccia’s history, it’s now a part of the game the Raiders can confidently expect to perform like a top ten unit.
#3 – Mike Trgovac, DL Coach
Gruden went back to the well and added several coaches he’s worked with in the past to his new staff, and Trgovac is another. When Gruden was the OC for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1995 to 1997, Trgovac was the DL Coach. More recently, Trgovac was the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2008 and the Packers DL Coach from 2009 to 2017. So like Guenther, Trgovac is also making a lateral move in following Chucky to Oakland.
Trgovac’s defense finished in the Top 8 in total defense three times in Carolina, so he’s proven to be an accomplished defensive mind in the past. And while that won’t be his role here, any competent defensive coaches are welcome in Oakland — the more the merrier.
During his nine seasons with the Packers, the Green Bay defense ranked 4th in the NFL in sacks with 364 and 5th in rushing TDs allowed with 94. What makes this even more notable than it already is that Green Bay’s defensive line has not been loaded with talent. The most well-known defensive lineman on the roster over Trgovac’s tenure are BJ Raji, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Daniels, Mike Neal and 35-year old Julius Peppers.
#Raiders DL coach Mike Trgovac, formerly a nine-year DL coach in Green Bay, clearly had a positive impact on the #Packers' defensive linemen on stunts. GB has ranked inside the top-12 in pressure percentage on stunts for two of the last three years.
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) January 19, 2018
As Guenther is not known as a coordinator who will blitz often, he’ll have to work closely with Trgovac to develop creative ways to effective utilize the defensive line. That makes Trgovac a critical hire, and based off of the success he’s had in the past, he is also one of Gruden’s best hires.
#4 – Edgar Bennett, WR Coach
Dipping back into that Green Bay coaching tree, Gruden was able to land former Packers OC Edgar Bennett on his staff as the team’s WR Coach. Bennett was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay from 2015 to 2017, the WR Coach from 2011 to 2014 and the RB Coach from 2005 to 2010.
Over the years, Green Bay’s positional players have produced some big numbers while Bennett was coaching said positions. From 2005 to 2010, the Packers had multiple 1,000 yard seasons from Ryan Grant, and even had quality production out of Samkon Gado and Brandon Jackson. With the receivers, their duo of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb has been among the best tandems in the NFL over the last decade. And then Davante Adams posted nearly 1,000 yards while logging 10 and 12 TDs in each of the last two years.
Beyond the traditional numbers, Bennett will be tasked with one major job in Oakland — clean up the drops. The Raiders have been arguably the worst in the league the last few years when it comes to dropped passes, so he’ll have his hands full, pun intended, to make sure the wide receivers actually hang onto the football.
He’ll also be a big help schematically thanks to his experience as a WR Coach and OC, helping Carr and his wide outs get on the same page. As Ted Nguyen detailed in an article for The Athletic, one specific area Bennett will help is with “scramble rules” — route responsibility in scramble situations.
#5 – Derrick Ansley, DB Coach
Derrick Ansley was initially expected to join Colorado State as their defensive coordinator, but perhaps a last minute change of heart allowed Gruden and the Raiders to swoop in and hire the former Alabama defensive backs coach.
Ansley held the DB Coach role at ‘Bama the last two seasons, which is a bigger deal than the title indicates. Nick Saban is notoriously hands-on with DBs as it’s a position he has held himself in the past, so the fact that he trusted Ansley enough to take on this responsibility says a lot about the type of coach that he is. Prior to his time with Alabama, he served as the CB Coach at Kentucky from 2013 to 2004, and he’s been coaching various positions in the secondary since 2005.
In his two years with the Crimson Tide, Ansley helped coach up one of the best secondary groups in the nation. Obviously the recruiting power of Alabama helps, but Ansley was actually named one of the top recruiters in the country by 247 Sports and SEC Country. Some of the players that he helped develop include Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick, while also helping others like Levi Wallace and Tony Brown play at a high level.
With a handful of young talent in the secondary, Ansley will be tasked to coach up the likes of Gareon Conley, Karl Joseph, Obi Melifonwu, Shalom Luani and any other players that enter the fold.
#6 – Greg Olson, Offensive Coordinator
Greg Olson’s name was initially linked to the QB Coach position, although it was expected the job was Rich Gannon’s to lose. But not only did Gannon not take the position, but Olson got the bump to offensive coordinator.
The hiring did not sit well with many in the fan base, and for understandable reasons. Olson’s first stint in Oakland did not go well, but this time around will be a completely different story. Carr is no longer a rookie and the offense is much, much more talented than it was in 2014. And not only that, but Olson will not be calling the plays like he was in 2014 — this will be the Gruden show.
Which makes Olson’s role in this offense quite important, because Gruden needs someone who is familiar with his offense to help install it, and Olson fits the bill. Having served as his OC and QB Coach in 2008, Olson will be able to help teach the offense the ins and outs of Gruden’s system, and his presence will be instrumental in getting everyone up to speed.
So Olson is essentially a glorified QB Coach, which is not a bad role for him to be in. His work with Carr in 2014 was actually fairly impressive, and both Blake Bortles and Jared Goff had career years when Olson was their QB Coach. Plus, his familiarity with Carr does add some benefit, simply for all of the turnover Carr has seen in his young career.
#7 – David Lippincott, LB Coach
David Lippincott comes with 10 years of NFL coaching experience, serving as the Quality Control and Asst. LB Coach of the Bengals from 2011 to 2017.
His following of Guenther to Oakland might make him the second most important hire on the defensive staff, simply because he’ll be needed to help the defense learn Guenther’s system. Not only that, but the linebacker group is pretty weak overall so he’ll be needed to develop the young players that are already here — Cory James, Nicholas Morrow and Marquel Lee, namely. Plus, the Raiders could be in the market to add one or more players to this group in the offseason.
Linebackers have been a strong suit of the Bengals defense for years now, from Rey Maualuga to Keith Rivers to Vontaze Burfict and Carl Lawson in recent years. The Raiders haven’t had any linebackers in the same ballpark as any of the aforementioned players in quite some time, save for NaVorro Bowman last season. If Lippincott can even help the linebackers on this team cover a tight end once in a while, a Go Fund Me page to build him a statue out front will be live before the end of the season.
#8 – QB Coach, Brian Callahan
#9 – Jim O’Neil, Senior Defensive Assistant
#10 – Jemal Singleton, RB Coach
Callahan is the most recent hire, and likely the last hire, made by Gruden for his staff. The son of former Raiders head coach Bill Callahan, Brian has made a name for himself as a QB Coach with a bright future. He had drawn interest from the Titans and Jets, but the lure of Gruden and coaching his dad’s former team landed him in Oakland. But his role may not be as critical as usual for the QB Coach, as Gruden and Olson will surely both be hands on with Carr as they get him up to speed with the new system.
Jim O’Neil is an interesting hire, as he’s only 39 years old but already has three years of defensive coordinator experience to his name. One dynamic that is particularly intriguing about this hire is that he is the polar opposite of Paul Guenther, as detailed by Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus:
Raiders new senior defensive assistant Jim O'Neil comes from the blitz-happy Rex Ryan coaching tree, as evidenced by his 36% blitz rate (7th-most) in SF in 2016. Pairing him with DC Paul Guenther should lead to some SWEET creativity from OAK's front seven on passing downs.
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) January 13, 2018
Jemal Singleton isn’t a household name — running backs coaches usually aren’t — but he comes with 14 years of experience and a track record of developing talent at the position. From Alex Collins turning into a workhorse back at Arkansas to helping old man Frank Gore find the fountain of youth in Indianapolis, Singelton has done well for himself. Read up on Singelton and you’ll learn that he has one principle at his foundation — ball security. The Raiders have struggled in this area, so we’ll see how he can help this group hang onto the rock.
#11 – Frank Smith, TE Coach
#12 – Tom Cable, OL Coach
#13 – Bryon Storer – Asst. Special Teams Coordinator
Bobby Johnson was expected to retain his position as TE Coach, especially after interviewing for the head coach position. But he was surprisingly let go shortly after Gruden was officially hired, and Frank Smith was named in his place. Smith brings 8 years of NFL experience with him, and he helped guide Zach Miller (no, not that Zach Miller) to career highs while with the Chicago Bears.
Tom Cable was the most shocking hire of the entire group, and also one of the worst. He was nothing short of a disaster in Seattle, as the Seahawks have been awful in pass protection the entire time he’s been there and had a small peak of success in the run game during Marshawn’s prime. Not to mention the domestic violence issues in the pass, as well as the assault that took place when he was the head coach of the Raiders. On and off the field, this is a hard one to justify. But this will easily be the most talented group Cable has ever coached — so maybe he won’t even be capable of messing this up.
Storer has twice served as an assistant to Rich Bisaccia, back in Tampa Bay in 2010 and again in San Diego when Bisaccia took the Special Teams Coordinator position there. As someone who knows Bisaccia well, he’ll be able to get all facets of the special teams group up to speed.
#14 and #15 – Nick Holz and Tim Berbenich, Quality Control Offense
#16 – Travis Smith, Quality Control Defense
Honorable Mention – Deuce Gruden, Strength and Conditioning
Holz and Berbenich have something in common that they bring to the table — continuity. Holz has been with the Raiders for seven seasons now, and Gruden was impressed with him enough to make him the only one of two coaches that he retained. Berbenich was with Gruden in Tampa Bay, and like Olson, will be able to help everyone get up to speed with the new offense.
Like Holz, Smith is the other coach already on the staff that was retained by Gruden. He’ll be a familiar face for the defense, as this will be his eight season with the Raiders.
Last but not least, Deuce Gruden. The Powerlifting champion is gonna make sure that no one on this team skips leg day — or any day for that matter. Just look at the guy.