In 1998, Al Davis introduced Jon Gruden to coach his Raiders. In response, the league had a collective smirk and numerous media sources questioned Davis’s mental health as to why he would hire a young coach with no NFL head coaching experience.
As it turns out, this whiz kid turned around a dysfunctional team and made it into a Super Bowl contender. To Davis’s chagrin, Gruden went on to win a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers and became one of the youngest coaches to do so.
Fast-forward to 2008 and the NFL is seeing an unprecedented number of head coaching hires of young, inexperienced coaches.
Nobody is smirking now.
With Mike Tomlin eclipsing Gurden’s mark by winning the Super Bowl at 36, the NFL may see this youth movement a perfectly accepted practice.
Is Al Davis responsible for this?
Davis does have history on his side to support this. In 1969, he brought in a young defensive coordinator at the age of 32 to coach his Raiders. This youngster went on to win Super Bowl XI with the Raiders. His decision to bring Gruden nearly resulted in the same manner (in all actuality Chucky did win a Super Bowl).
Some can argue that with the CBA looming with a potential strike season, owners are unwilling to lock up an experienced coach to a long-term contract in fear of having to pay them $7 million in a strike season.
After the negotiating dust has settled in 2012, the NFL will shift back towards the big name coaches signed to long-term contracts.
This may be true but isn’t the NFL about winning in the now?
Davis may have realized that having experience is not a necessary ingredient for success. Winning may be attributed to a fresh idea or attitude, Davis has always been open to this paradigm shift.
He has also recognized that when a new idea or attitude is not working it is necessary to immediately cut ties with a coach that is not getting the job done.
After Lane Kiffin was fired, Davis mentioned in the press conference that most coaches have a shelve-life of three to five years. Many scoffed at him for firing “the wrong guy” after one season and claimed Davis is a control freak who does not give the opportunity for a system to develop.
This could be accurate, but, soon after Kiffin’s release, both the Rams and 49ers fired their coaches and dismantled a three-seasons system. At the end of the season, Eric Mangini, responsible for taking a team to the playoff in three years, was let go.
Even coaches that signed contract extensions, and had systems in place, were shown the door in Tampa Bay and Denver.
It will be curious to see what new antic crazy ol’ Al will come up next to have the league and media mock him out. With just cause, Al is an easy target. Many of his recent decisions for the Raiders have set an NFL record for the most consecutive losing seasons.
But is it not ironic when the new Chiefs GM (and league darling) Scott Pioli keeps his coaching hires a secret. It is a perfectly acceptable business decision. When Al does the same thing, it is mocked as being “The Raiders way.”
So is it safe to propose that when Al Davis does it, it’s insanity? But when other owners do the same move it is genius?
Perhaps, or maybe is it the other way around.