ALAMEDA — Jon Gruden hopes he’s a candidate to return for a second stint as head coach of the Oakland Raiders and believes a final decision will be made next week.
Gruden made his most specific comments about the opening in Oakland in an interview Tuesday with the Bay Area News Group. The Raiders fired coach Jack Del Rio on Sunday following a disappointing six-win season
“My understanding is they’re interviewing candidates this week and they’re going to let everybody know sometime early next week or whenever they make their decision,” Gruden told the paper.
When asked specifically if he was a candidate, Gruden replied: “Well, I think I am being considered, yes. I hope I’m a candidate.”
The Raiders are not commenting on the search beyond a statement issued Sunday night from owner Mark Davis thanking Del Rio for his tenure.
Gruden spent four seasons as coach in Oakland from 1998-2001. After leading the Raiders to 8-8 records his first two years, Gruden helped the team reach the AFC title game following the 2000 season and got Oakland back into the playoffs the following season.
Gruden’s tenure ended shortly after the “Tuck Rule” loss to the New England Patriots when he was traded the following month to Tampa Bay for two first-round draft picks, two second-rounders and $8 million.
He beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers but didn’t win another playoff game for Tampa Bay in his final six seasons. He has a 95-81 career record.
Gruden has spent the past nine seasons working as an announcer for ESPN and is scheduled to work the playoff game Saturday in Kansas City between the Chiefs and Tennessee Titans. ESPN first reported the likelihood of Gruden returning to Oakland on the eve of the season finale that Oakland lost.
Del Rio was fired following the 30-10 defeat to the Chargers, leading to the current search.
The Raiders will be required to comply with the “Rooney Rule” and interview at least one minority candidate or otherwise face discipline from the NFL.
John Wooten, the head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance which monitors the NFL’s minority hiring, said he is confident the Raiders will follow the rules and doesn’t consider the process a sham despite reports Gruden would get the job before it even opened.
Wooten pointed to the Raiders’ history under late owner Al Davis and his son, Mark, in hiring minority candidates, from making Art Shell the first African-American head coach in modern NFL history in 1989 and then bringing him back for a second stint in 2006.
Tom Flores was the first Hispanic coach to win a Super Bowl and the team also hired Hue Jackson as coach in 2011 and currently employs Reggie McKenzie as general manager.
“I trust the integrity of Mark Davis and Reggie and what they have done,” Pollard said. “I trust they will follow the rule and I believe that.”
The problems that plagued the Raiders this season in their surprising fall from Super Bowl contender to a losing record went much deeper than any coach.
“For us as players, we need to be better,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We have to be more accountable. We have to be more demanding.”
That was missing this season as the Raiders (6-10) were unable to build on last year’s 12-win season that ended a 13-year playoff drought and reverted back to the losing ways that plagued this franchise since the team’s previous Super Bowl trip following the 2002 season in the year after Gruden left the organization for the first time.
The offense took a major step backward after firing coordinator Bill Musgrave and replacing him with the untested Todd Downing.
The defense showed no improvement the first 10 weeks under Ken Norton Jr. before making some progress after a mid-season change to John Pagano but it wasn’t enough.
The Raiders fell into a hole with a four-game losing streak early in the season and then collapsed with four straight losses down the stretch after getting back into contention.
Whoever is hired as the team’s next coach will have a much better foundation than the one Del Rio inherited when he took over following a three-win season in 2014.
“For a while there, we didn’t have any winning seasons. He came in here and we were able to turn things around,” fullback Jamize Olawale said. “I think moving forward, the future is bright.”
Here are some issues the Raiders will face this offseason:
FIX THE CARR: The most puzzling development this season was the step back by Carr. He had become one of the league’s most promising passers after leading seven fourth-quarter comebacks in 2016.
But whether it was skittishness after a broken leg that ended 2016 and a back injury early this season, the coordinator change or some other factor, Carr looked little like the player who earned a $125 million contract last offseason. He tied his career high with 13 interceptions and most of his other numbers were the worst since his rookie season.
BEAST MODE: The Raiders lured Marshawn Lynch out of retirement in part for goodwill from the fans in Oakland, who wanted to cheer on a hometown favorite. Lynch proved to be more than that the second half of the season as he averaged 78.1 yards rushing per game over the final eight games, tied for third best in the league in that span. But whether that’s enough for the team to want him back for a second season will be a question this offseason.
CRABBY CRAB: Receiver Michael Crabtree mysteriously became a non-factor for the Raiders down the stretch after being an integral part of the team for most of his first three seasons in Oakland.
Crabtree played just 46 snaps in the final two games, was targeted five times and had just two catches. He spent much of the time on the sideline upset by his reduced role.
“I do everything I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I play 60 minutes every time we play. Game winners after game winners.
“I did everything they asked of me these last two games and I’ve probably had three targets. Nobody’s saying anything about that but it’s all good. Like I said I’m going to keep working hard and be me.”
SECOND CHANCE: Oakland spent its first two draft picks this past season on two defensive backs who ended up making little impact because of injuries. First-round cornerback Gareon Conley played just two games because of a shin injury and second-round safety Obi Melifonwu had just 34 defensive snaps because of lower-body injuries.
The Raiders will be counting on healthy bounce-back seasons from those two to boost a secondary that has struggled in recent years.
PAY DAY: One player the Raiders are sure to pay this offseason is 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. Mack has been a star since entering the league in 2014 and his 192½ pressures lead the NFL over the past three season and his 36½ sacks rank second. Mack has one year remaining on his rookie deal and will be in line for a lucrative new deal this offseason unless Oakland opts to wait and possibly use the franchise tag in 2019.