I wrote a chapter of a book, Bloody Sundays, on Gruden and followed him for months when he was coaching in Tampa. He was obsessed, and I mean that in the best of ways. Often, he was in the Buccaneers offices by four or five in the morning. Once I was even there at three-something, and while I was in a caffeinated haze, Gruden was talking about play-calling and route trees.
Back then, Gruden always believed that the key to coaching was outworking your opponent. His wife, Cindy, once told me her husband was awake while he slept.
Hired to lead the Raiders at the age of 35, Gruden's legend grew at warp speed. After four years in Oakland and a 38-26 cumulative record, he was traded to Tampa, where he won the Super Bowl in his first season there. Though he finished his seven-year run with the Bucs with a 57-55 mark, the legend of Gruden and how he would spend every waking minute working to find an edge had been established. And there was always one man who was as enchanted with Gruden as anyone: Raiders owner Mark Davis.
Davis has tried to hire Gruden out of the ESPN booth several times before, I'm told by a number of league sources. On each occasion, Gruden said no and emphasized to Davis he was never coaching again. But within the past year, something changed inside Gruden. He got tired of talking about football and wanted to coach again. He and Davis connected, and now here we are, with the announcement that Gruden will become the Raiders' new head coach a mere formality.
And that means the Raiders are back.
Gruden will fix the issues and knuckleheaded-ness of quarterback Derek Carr. He'll build a better offensive line. He'll shore up defensive issues.
Gruden is also perfect for today's NFL. So much of football now is about scheming and play-calling. Yes, you must have the athletes, but a good coach can cover for a team's flaws, and Gruden is excellent at attacking and dissecting defenses.
Simply put, this is the best hiring of this offseason, and it promises to return the Raiders to greatness. It's true.
We'd be remiss, however, if we didn’t point out that the Raiders seemingly ignored NFL rules in making the move. In coming to what sources describe to B/R as an agreement with Gruden, minus a full process of interviewing other candidates, the Raiders blatantly violated the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview a minority candidate for front office and head coaching positions. Pay little attention to the backtracking the Raiders may offer as they go through the show of interviewing others in the next few days; they flaunted the rule, and they're not the first team to do so. But that's a story I'll explore on another day soon.
In football terms, though, this is a great day for the Raiders franchise.
It will not be easy for the locker room. Gruden can be hard on players. The stories I've heard about how he treated some Buccaneers are staggering.
He can be nasty, petulant and petty, especially to quarterbacks, so buckle up that chinstrap, Derek.
It may not be easy for Gruden, either, as he must adapt to the modern NFL player. Don't forget it's been a decade since he last walked a sideline. Berating players the way he used to won't work now. He'll get run out of the league.
But if Gruden can adapt to the mentality of today's player (and I think he can), his technical skill and deep understanding of the sport will be tremendous assets.
Some may disagree with how much of an impact he will have. And it cannot be denied that in his last six years with Tampa, he was 45-51 with no playoff wins (0-2). Nor can it be forgotten that some criticized Gruden's Super Bowl win as having been accomplished with Tony Dungy's players. But I see Gruden as a franchise-changing element.
We will see who is right.
In many ways, Gruden's move back to the NFL reminds me of when Bill Parcells came back to revitalize the Cowboys and later the Dolphins out of broadcasting. I know both men, and I've always felt Gruden was a younger version of Parcells. They use similar motivation styles.
When Gruden made the move to television, it shocked people close to him. They saw him as someone who would be in coaching forever, much like Parcells. It turns out, however, television was just a temporary stop, as it was for Parcells.
Now Gruden is back.
And so are the Raiders.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.