Eleven months ago, Jack Del Rio received a four-year contract extension after leading the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. On Sunday, Del Rio informed reporters at his postgame press conference that owner Mark Davis had fired him after Oakland’s 30-10 loss to the Chargers.
Before Del Rio managed it in 2016, the last time the Raiders won 12 games in a season was in 2000, when they were coached by Jon Gruden. Now, reports indicate that the Raiders want Gruden to be the man replacing Del Rio. Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported before Sunday’s game that Del Rio’s job could be in jeopardy if he could be replaced with Gruden, whom the Raiders traded to the Buccaneers in 2002 for a haul of draft picks plus cash. The two teams met in the Super Bowl the following season, and Gruden’s Bucs prevailed. Flash-forward 15 years, and, according to Schefter and Mortensen’s report, Davis may be willing to give Gruden an ownership stake in the team to entice him out of the broadcast booth and back to Oakland—and soon, Las Vegas, where the Raiders will begin playing in 2019 or 2020, depending on construction. After Del Rio was fired, Gruden’s name immediately dominated the headlines.
And if anyone had any doubts about Jon Gruden coming back....— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 1, 2018
Del Rio’s 25-23 tenure in three seasons in Oakland marked a considerable improvement from the 11-37 mark the team posted in the three seasons before his hire. But in 2016, Del Rio’s Raiders unexpectedly became Super Bowl contenders, if not favorites, before quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg on Christmas Eve. Ultimately, the Raiders were knocked out of the playoffs with third-string quarterback Connor Cook under center. This year, with Carr healthy and the expectations as high as they were last season before his injury, the Raiders fell short and finished 6-10. Carr regressed after signing a five-year, $125 million contract in the offseason, but he also suffered a transverse process fracture in his back in Week 4, though he only missed one game. Third-year receiver Amari Cooper also fell well shy of lofty expectations, and the defense remained within the bottom third of the league by DVOA.
Still, not many coaches get fired a year removed from going 12-4, in a season in which the star quarterback plays through a fracture in his back. Gruden has been the holy grail of coaching candidates since he left the Bucs, and landing him would be the rare combination of flashy and savvy that could justify firing Del Rio. Davis, who beat the odds in getting his team relocated to Las Vegas, may have another trick up his sleeve to lure the hottest coaching commodity in football back to the Raiders a decade and a half after his father jettisoned him away.