Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock Have a Lot to Learn Quickly to Revive the Raiders

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 21, 2019

Mike Mayock, left, shakes hands with Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden at a news conference announcing Mayock as the team's general manager in Oakland, Calif., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

If you think there will be friction every time Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock sit down together to plan the Oakland Raiders' future, then you don't know Gruden and Mayock.

If you knew Gruden and Mayock, you would be sure there will be friction.

NFL Network analyst and former Ravens head coach Brian Billick knows both Mayock and Gruden, and he chuckled when asked during Super Bowl week how the Raiders head coach would interact with Mayock, the former NFL Network draft expert now serving under Gruden as general manager.

"On a daily basis, he has to get used to the fact that Jon's gonna come into the office and motherf--k him," Billick said.

Meaning, of course, that Gruden is going to cuss Mayock out when demanding more talent on the roster. And Gruden will always demand more talent on the roster.  

"That's just the way Jon operates," Billick said. "And Mike knows that coming in."

It sounds like it could be utterly dysfunctional. It also sounds like a television show we'd pay for a whole new streaming service just to binge.

The Raiders hold the keys to the 2019 NFL offseason. They have three first-round picks (including No. 4 overall) and nearly $70 million in cap space. They need just about everything, which means they could do just about anything: trade up in the draft, trade down, trade away Derek Carr, sign a controversial superstar, draft Kyler Murray, etc.

If the Raiders do something unpredictable with their draft stockpile, the rest of the NFL will be forced to adjust. And with a pair of former television gurus and impetuous owner Mark Davis calling the shots, it's easy to predict the unpredictable.

Billick's profane assessment about how the Raiders war room will operate wasn't meant as a knock on his former colleague.

"Mike Mayock is as good of an evaluator of talent as I have been around," Billick said. "He does the work, he grinds the tape, he goes to workouts. He knows what talent is."

Now that he is general manager of the Raiders, Mike Mayock may find it hard to have the candid conversations he once did with coaches and executives around the league when he worked for NFL Network.
Now that he is general manager of the Raiders, Mike Mayock may find it hard to have the candid conversations he once did with coaches and executives around the league when he worked for NFL Network.Butch Dill/Associated Press/Associated Press

The challenge for Mayock won't be scouting players or shielding his virgin ears from Gruden's tirades, according to Billick, but getting out of television mode.

"A lot of Mike's strength was his interaction around the league, doing his job for the network. He could say, 'What do you think?' [to other team's scouts and execs] Now those guys will say 'none of your damn business what I think.' So he's gonna be out on that island a little bit."

Media scouting, even at Mayock's lofty level in the industry, is low-stakes and hypothetical. We talk to insiders, watch tape, collate workout results, sneak peeks at each other's work, craft one-size-fits-all draft boards and spout opinions to whoever's listening. There's no salary cap, budget, coaching staff with system-based demands, moving target of free agency or money at stake, and 31 other teams aren't at the poker table competing for the same pool of players.

There's also no scouting department to deal with. Top media draft analysts may have assistants to file reports on the seventh-rounders, but that's nothing compared to supervising a network of traveling scouts whose evaluations must be cross-checked, prioritized and integrated with the plans/expectations/demands of the coaches, NFL scouts, budget department and owner.

"Putting that infrastructure around him, he's not had to do that before," Billick said. "How's the scouting department going to work? Who will do what? What's the interaction going to be?"

Mayock knows all of this, of course. He's likely to get good at the organization and collaboration elements of his new role. But it's going to be an adjustment.

And that adjustment will be tricky with Gruden cussing in his ear.

Gruden never quite shifted out of his own version of television gear last season. From the stunning Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades to sideline dust-ups with Carr and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, Gruden was a big reason why the Raiders looked more like a premium-channel drama about a football team than a football team. Rumors that Davis ordered the Mack and Cooper trades after a spat with an agent only made the Raiders look even more like some screenwriter's vision of a Friday Night Lights/Empire/Game of Thrones mash-up.

Jon Gruden had a tempestuous relationship with quarterback Derek Carr last season in Oakland, which wasn't all that surprising to those accustomed to Gruden's hard-charging ways.
Jon Gruden had a tempestuous relationship with quarterback Derek Carr last season in Oakland, which wasn't all that surprising to those accustomed to Gruden's hard-charging ways.Robert Reiners/Getty Images

Gruden is well-known as a quotable, shoot-from-the-hip type. That makes him more of a cherry bomb than a bucket of sand when you toss him onto a bonfire. Gruden did his best to tamp down the Carr and Guenther conflicts—he was just doing to them what Billick thinks he will do to Mayock—but that doesn't change the fact that he's the only NFL head coach these days who does that sort of thing regularly.

Throw in frequent passive-aggressive remarks about needing a pass-rusher and reports that Gruden operated his own shadow-cabinet personnel staff when Reggie McKenzie was still general manager, and there is reason to worry about the future state of interoffice communications. 

Gruden was still pouring accelerants on the intrigue in January when he fielded a question during Senior Bowl week about undersized Heisman winner and two-sport prospect Kyler Murray.

"I used to think that [height/measurements mattered] a lot, until I saw Drew Brees twice per year in Tampa," he said. "Then I met Russell Wilson coming out of NC State. Now I'm watching this kid Murray at Oklahoma and I am putting away all the prototypes I once had."

Great stuff. Perfect for January headlines. But NFL coaches aren't supposed to make headlines by speculating about rookie quarterbacks, especially when both the grapevine and the sideline cameras have them at loggerheads with their veteran quarterback.

In fairness, Gruden was in "say nice things" mode when he spoke about Murray. In the same interview sequence, he complemented his Senior Bowl quarterbacks: Drew Lock is "a talented, quick-armed customer," Daniel Jones is "a first-round pick" and Trace McSorley is a "bulldog, fighter-type quarterback" with "a lot of Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia in him." (If you speak Gruden-ese, you know he gave McSorley an even stronger endorsement than Murray.)

Those are the sound bites of a television personality trying to move the needle, not a man whose statements reflect the philosophies and goals of an organization, nor one who is ready to cede his opinions to the equally famous draft expert he just hired.

Gruden, who wields final personnel authority in Oakland (or wherever the Raiders will do business this year), thrives under conflict and chaos. Meanwhile, Mayock must build infrastructure amid the conflict and chaos after decades as an outside observer. And Davis reserves the right to throw a monkey wrench into everything at the slightest provocation. 

Though Gruden proved to be an effective communicator when talking about quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, it's unclear how much freedom he will give Mayock to build Oakland's roster.
Though Gruden proved to be an effective communicator when talking about quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, it's unclear how much freedom he will give Mayock to build Oakland's roster.Butch Dill/Associated Press/Associated Press

What channel is this show on? Because we're dying to check it out.

Gruden probably won't trade Carr and draft Murray—though it might not be such a terrible idea if he did—and Mayock won't forget his role at next week's scouting combine and break down his entire draft board in detail to reporters. With so much dough, so many picks and so little to lose, Gruden and Mayock can't go wrong this offseason: Their roster is guaranteed to be much better in May than it was in late December.

But a successful Gruden-Mayock relationship isn't about drafting a few good guys. It's about building an effective process.

Billick, who coached under recently retired Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, described the ideal front office process as one in which decision-makers do more listening than dictating, and where decisions are made by gathering more information, not by pounding tables.

An effective general manager has "the ability to listen, get good people around him and believe in what they're saying, and then piece it together to make a decision," per Billick."

"That's a process," he added. "And it takes developing. It doesn't just happen."

Right now, the Raiders "process" appears to involve an impatient head coach cussing out a rookie general manager while the owner throws surprise sweeps-week challenges in their path.

Gruden and Mayock will have to unlearn some of the lessons that years on TV have taught them. They must listen more, talk less, cooperate, collaborate and be a little boring off the field so the Raiders will someday be thrilling on the field. That starts with next week's combine.

The Raiders' television personalities are sure to be stars. But they ultimately must let their decisions do the talking.

            

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@MikeTanier.

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