Jon Gruden Discusses Long-Awaited Return To The Silver And Black

Posted Jan 10, 2018

Jon Gruden was hired as Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders in 1998. Now, he's back, and looking forward to getting back to work.

No one would have faulted him for calling it a day.

Jon Gruden had just flown cross country on a charter jet from Florida, 48 hours after he wrapped up his final assignment for ESPN, and the usually-tepid Northern California weather was anything but, as winds and rains welcomed Gruden and family as they disembarked their flight.

But, instead of heading off to get some rest, the newest head coach of the Oakland Raiders did what he loves to do; he went to work.

After a short drive from the airport, Gruden and his family arrived at the team’s Alameda, Calif., practice facility, and two decades after he roamed those very halls for the first time as the head man for the Raiders, he did it once again.

With few people in the facility aside the custodial staff, Gruden walked through the building, and while many things have changed in the 20 years since he became the youngest head coach in the league, others have not.

“I felt like I was 34 years old again,” said Gruden. “I walked in, I had nerves. I was excited. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and that’s the thrills that brought me back to coaching. I need those feelings inside to survive, man. I’m excited.”

During his re-acclimation with the facility, Gruden saw familiar faces, and familiar offices, places that hold a special place in heart. It was a unique experience for the Raiders head coach, one that reminded him of a 1980’s cult classic, one starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

“It was like that movie Back to the Future,” Gruden explained. “You walk in, and I see Al Davis’ office; I had meetings with him at 11 o’clock at night. I walk down the hall and I see Fred Biletnikoff’s office, my [wide] receivers coach. It’s chilling. It was really chilling, cool. Really cool, man, to be back in the building where it all started, and it’s emotional. No doubt.”

And while the walk back to 1998 was an emotional one for Gruden, there was one stop in particular that held special significance, the office of late-owner AL Davis, a man who took a shot on the young upstart, eventually giving him his first head coaching job in the NFL.

“I interviewed in that room to be a head coach; I didn’t get the job, then I interviewed again the next year and I got the job,” Gruden said. “I wanted to be with the Raiders because of him. I wanted to be judged by a man who was a Hall of Famer, a Coach of the Year in the NFL. He taught me. He trained me. He really helped me, and to be back in that room last night, where all those interviews, and all those memories took place was emotional and pretty cool to say the least.”

The following day, Gruden was officially introduced by owner Mark Davis as head coach, an occasion that occurred on what Davis called “the biggest day” of his life.

The 37 minute press conference no doubt felt like a monumental event for the organization; aside from the 100-plus media members in attendance, there were more than 50 Raiders alumni in the house to see Gruden officially take the reins as head coach.

“That’s probably the most humbling thing that has happened to me in a long time seeing that kind of turnout,” Gruden said. “Not only players I coached here, but players that are legendary; Jim Otto, Ted Hendricks, Clem Daniels is out there, it was awesome, and I think that the alumni of this franchise is a big part of the future. The history of the Silver and Black is a proud one, and one we do not want to forget, but it’s very important we create a new greatness.”

Key to kick starting that greatness are two words, two pillars, which a Jon Gruden-coached team will have to embody.

“You’re going to hear preparation and presentation a lot,” he said. “A team that hopefully is prepared in all areas, for every situation, a team that loves to prepare and has a will to prepare, and then, they can present. They can go out there on game day, coaches can call the right plays, players can go out there and perform, and present all the preparation. I think that’s what I’m after, doing the work during the week, to allow these players to go out there and perform at a high level.”

In 2018, Gruden inherits a talented roster that underperformed in 2017, and with the eyes of the NFL world now locked in on the Super Bowl-champion coach, Gruden acknowledged multiple time during his press conference that there will indeed be pressure on him going forward.

Gruden was quick to quip that working for Al Davis prepared him for whatever outside pressure is coming his way this year, but the fact remains, with less than two months until the NFL Scouting Combine, and the start of the Offseason Workout Program hot on its heels too, Gruden knows he has a lot of work to do.

That’s okay though, it’s what he loves to do.

“It [the work] starts as soon as we’re wrapping this up, man,” Gruden said. “We have a lot of coaches coming in here to interview, starting tonight. That’s the key. You win with people. You win with people, and we have to get the right people in place as coaches, as teachers, and then we have to get moving. We have to start installing plays, and putting our systems of football together.”