I recently wrote an article arguing for the hiring of Bill Parcells by the Oakland Raiders. One of the unintended results of the article was a vigorous discussion in which the name Jon Gruden was repeatedly mentioned. This got me thinking about the legacy that Gruden has created in Oakland.
Without a doubt, the majority of Raiders fans are also huge Jon Gruden fans and would love to see him come back to the Raiders in Oakland's very own story of the prodigal son. I am one of those fans. As a younger Raider fan, the only winning Raiders team I have ever seen in person were Chucky's Raiders, so I can't help but think of Gruden when I think of Raiders greatness.
But all of the love for Gruden by Raiders fans really makes me think about where it comes from. When Gruden first left Oakland in order to coach closer to home in Tampa Bay, many Raiders fans, including myself, were rather upset with Gruden.
The Raiders were one of the best teams in the AFC at the time and many felt as though Gruden was turning his back on the team. The thought that Gruden could leave the Raiders because he wanted to coach closer to home and his elderly parents did not sit well with many Raider fans.
To Raider fans, the love of the Oakland Raiders transcends everything else. There is no leaving the Raiders, once a Raider, always a Raider. So, when the coach who brought the Raiders back to prominence wanted to leave, many felt betrayed.
There were, of course, those fans who blamed his departure on Al Davis. Many believe that while Gruden liked the idea of coaching closer to his parents, that he would not have made the move unless he was pressured to do so by Davis, that Tampa Bay was really his first choice AFTER the Raiders.
However, while the true story has never fully come out, much like many stories in Raider land, most believe that it was Gruden who made the decision to leave the Raiders, as it was reported by most Bay Area news sources.
Regardless of whether or not Gruden chose to leave or if Davis forced him out, there was a large sentiment among Raiders fans at the time that Gruden had turned his back on the team.
However, as the Raiders have struggled greatly over the years since Gruden has left, we have seen the negative feelings for Gruden all but disappear.
In the conversation that ensued from my last article, I found myself continuously commenting about how much I would love for Gruden to come back to the Raiders. This makes me wonder, if the Raiders won that Super Bowl under Bil Callaghan and did not fall to the depths of the NFL, would Gruden's memory be fantasized as much as it is now?
Obviously, if the Raiders were a competitive team, there would not be a discussion of needing a new coach. However, Gruden's impact on the Raiders guarantees that his name will forever be discussed by Raiders fans. But what would that discussion have sounded like?
As I said above, a Raider fan's love for the team is all consuming. Thus, Raiders fans tend to treat former Raiders in one of two ways. If the player worked hard and played well for the Raiders and did not beat a path out of town, Raiders fans love and respect him (see Charles Woodson and Tim Brown). However, if the player did not play well or has since turned coat on the Raiders, fans will be just as quick to show hatred for the player (see Randy Moss and Warren Sapp).
So, I have written this article to pose a question to all who read it. If the Raiders were still great and fans did not romanticize the Gruden era as much as they do now, would Jon Gruden still be loved as unanimously by Raiders fans as he is today? Or would the split that existed when he first left still exist today?