clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 5 O’Clock Club: Talking Jo(h)ns - once and future Raider head coaches

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: Oakland Raiders-Jon Gruden Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

The living legend

Forty years ago, the head coach of the Raiders — John Madden — retired from coaching, and became a TV broadcast analyst.

As a coach, he had been a huge success. As an assistant coach of the Raiders, he helped the team win the AFL championship in 1967. As a head coach, Madden took his team to 5 AFC title games in 7 seasons, losing every one of them, including the unforgettable “immaculate reception” game. As an aside, my distaste for gambling probably began on that day, as I had made a $5 bet with my sister that the Raiders would win, while she backed the Steelers. I felt elation turn to ashes in my mouth.

But Madden’s inability to “win the big one” became a busted myth when, in 1976 (I was 16 years old and a junior in high school), the Raiders went 13–1 in the regular season, and finally captured their first Super Bowl with a convincing 32–14 win over the Minnesota Vikings. By that time, I was more of a Vikings fan, and tasted disappointment again.

A year later, Madden coached a Raiders team that again reached the AFC championship, only to lose — this time to the Denver Broncos. When it was all over, John Madden called it quits. He retired.

I was a senior in high school. None of us believed it. ‘He’ll be back,’ we said. He’s too good a coach.

He never returned to coaching.

Madden retired as a Super Bowl winning head coach and was the youngest coach ever to reach 100 career regular season victories, a record he compiled in only ten full seasons of coaching at the age of 42. He is still the coach with the most wins in Raiders history.

Madden the broadcaster

It’s hard to explain to anyone who isn’t at least 45 years old, I think, but sports broadcasting was different prior to 1979.

We had ABC’s Wide World of Sports on the weekends, bringing us “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” weekly. We had Notre Dame football condensed replays that made the the Fighting Irish “America’s Team” (at least in my household). Grambling, an all-black school, became a national darling for the same reason — national replays of their games were a weekly event.

While it is hard to imagine today, in 1979, ESPN was a fresh new way to bring sports to America. Here’s a quick blurb from ESPN

There were no 24-hour networks back in 1979 - not ABC, CBS, NBC, not even HBO. Fox hadn’t been thought of - even CNN and MTV hadn’t gotten off the mark when ESPN debuted at 7:00 PM, Friday, September 7, 1979.

What I remember, 39 years later, is the excitement we felt when cable TV came to my neighborhood. We’d been waiting a while for our neighborhood to “get wired up”, and my parents jumped on the bandwagon.

My father was a sports lover — growing up in Long Island, he had played ice hockey and baseball, and boxed a bit of golden gloves. I had grown up in Virginia, playing football in the Fall, basketball in the Winter, and baseball in the Spring.

ESPN was a Godsend, and being an impressionable 19-year-old I became an instant fan of SportsCenter with Chris Berman and Bob Ley.

Again, it’s hard to explain how these two guys reinvented sports broadcasting. They were fresh; they were irreverent. They approached their reporting duties as though they were a couple of pals watching highlights on the TV in the local bar.

“Boom!” Berman would shout on the air.

There were creative, and often goofy, nicknames for everyboday.

Berman would accompany the highlights with what quickly became his patented, “He could... go... all... the.... way...”

It was fun, and ESPN became part of a new culture that — in my mind — had started when Saturday Night Live first aired in 1975.

Television was starting to reflect an increasing irreverence in society, and cable TV was changing the way people consumed entertainment — and most relevant to this discussion -- sports entertainment. It was a friendlier, funnier, more relaxed way to bring sport to fans.

Which brings me back to John Madden.

Big John worked a couple of years as the ‘color commentator’ on lower profile games, but he was popular, and in 1981 he was elevated to the network’s top football broadcasting duo with Pat Summerall.

Madden had always been a big personality — colorful, outgoing, and loud. Following on from the breakthroughs of Saturday Night Live and ESPN’s SportCenter team, Madden introduced a brand new style to national network sports broadcasting that had never been seen before.

Madden’s lively and flamboyant delivery has won him critical acclaim and fourteen Sports Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Event Analyst. His announcing style is punctuated with interjections such as “Boom!”, “Whap!”, “Bang!” and “Doink!”’ and with his use of the telestrator, a device which allows him to superimpose his light-penned diagrams of football plays over video footage. Madden’s use of the telestrator helped to popularize the technology, which has become a staple of television coverage of all sports.

Madden was a revalation in the booth. He was a natural. People loved him... people hated him; but everyone responded to him. He was knowledgeable, but he taught the game of football in a way that made it fun to learn. No one, as far as I can recall, had ever talked about the “red zone” on TV until John Madden introduced the term on a Monday night game. He was so jazzed up that he risked being a mere clown, but, as a consistent winner in the NFL and Super Bowl champion, he brought along huge credibility that allowed him to get away with his on-air antics.

For example:

Unless you grew up in Southern Louisiana, turducken was a joke. A chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, the whole thing packed with dressing. OMG! But then something weird happened. Turducken became a serious gourmet enterprise. John Madden discovered turducken, and began giving one away to the winning team at the Thanksgiving Bowl in the late 1980s.

This was sports broadcasting like we’d never seen it before. Forget about trophies or money — Madden was giving away cooked fowl on Thanksgiving! In the 1980s, it was revolutionary TV broadcasting. It was original, unedited John Madden.

For the past 35 years, you’ve seen people trying to copy what John Madden created.

Madden finally conquers the world

Today, the name most synonymous with NFL around the world isn’t Vince Lombardi, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady — it’s Madden.

Madden Football, in all its iterations, has done more for the popularity of the sport than probably any other single factor in its more than 80 years of existence.

John Madden, by embracing technology and opportunity, has finally conquered the world.

Another Jon

Jon Gruden was also the coach of the Raiders.

He also won a Super Bowl.

He also retired from coaching (well, he was fired by Bruce Allen in Tampa Bay in January, 2009).

He also went into the broadcast booth where he became the analyst for Monday Night Football. In his own way he has tried to be the broadcast ‘everyman’, with his Gruden Grinders and 6-legged turkeys (and, this year, his ill-timed foray into the “Turkey hole”).

And this Jon also did a bit to revolutionize how the game is taught by implementing the Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, where he worked with young quarterbacks and televised sessions of those workouts. He became known for his own catch-phrases (“Spider 2-Y Banana”), and was, again, a broadcast personality that was loved or hated in equal measure.

Jon Gruden has been, in effect, John Madden Lite — always striving to be his own man, but always really just following in the footsteps of the master who trod the path 30 years ahead of him.

Until now.

The coaching comeback

Jon Gruden is doing something that John Madden never did -- he is coming back to coaching.

After nine seasons in the booth, Gruden will don the Silver & Black again, put on the headset, and pace the sidelines on Sundays, Mondays & Thursdays for 16 weeks.

Frankly, I’ll be shocked if he succeeds as a head coaching retread, though he will likely succeed as a publicity move by the owner — an owner who is, himself, walking in the shadow of a giant and trying to find his own way.

Mark Davis has been struggling a bit of late, and is now intent on reminding people that there used to be a “Raiders mystique” in the days of Al Davis and John Madden, and he’s trying to bring it back.

Just win baby!

The fact is, Mark Davis, the son of Al Davis and current Raiders owner, is not really a ‘football guy’, despite growing up with the Raiders as his future.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In much the same way that Coach/broadcaster Jon Gruden will forever live in the huge shadow cast by the incredible John Madden, Mark Davis will never escape the shadow of his bigger-than-life old man.

Al Davis was a natural showman; he was a real football guy, who coached in college and pros. Al Davis was what Jerry Jones seems to want to be — a businessman, a football guy, a coach & general manager, a maverick who defied the league and won.

Al Davis had a sense of how to get away with the audacious.

Mark, not so much.

Al Davis moved his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and back again.

Mark Davis recently committed to moving the team to Las Vegas in 2019, leaving the coaches & players with the task of playing ‘lame duck’ football in Oakland for two years.

In 2017, Mark Davis tried to put a band aid on that traumatic wound by getting Beastmode to come out of retirement. Marshawn Lynch made it clear that he would only play for Oakland. The result was 15 games, 891 yards, 7 touchdowns, and a 9-7 finish (and out of the playoffs) for the team. Not a complete failure, but far short of expectations. This wasn’t Marcus Allen or Bo Jackson returned.

In 2018, Mark Davis’s attempt to distract Raiders fans comes in the form of getting Jon Gruden to descend from the broadcast booth and come out of his coaching retirement. Like Marshawn Lynch, Gruden has indicated that it took a special situation — returning to the Raiders — to get him out of the booth and back on the sidelines. The result is likely to be similar — not a complete failure, but far short of expectations. Jon Gruden isn’t John Madden returned. In fact, he probably isn’t even gonna be the same Chucky that once stormed the Raiders sideline.

Marshawn Lynch wasn’t really able to deliver Beastmode last year, and Gruden won’t bring back the Raider mystique.

It will likely be painful to watch Gruden trudge the sidelines now, in his late 50’s — as painful as watching Marshawn remind us all, last season, that Father Time remains undefeated. It would have been better, I think, if Beastmode had stayed retired. I fear I’ll be saying the same about Gruden in the not-too-distant future.

Rocky was a great movie and fun to watch. Rocky Balboa, not so much.

To be honest, Gruden wasn’t really a wildly successful coach the first time around, anyway. He was a respectable 95-81 overall, and, while he did win a superbowl, he accrued a 45-51 overall record, and went 0-2 in the playoffs with Tampa Bay after getting that Lombardi.

Unlike Madden, who coached for only one NFL team in his career, compiling 103–32–7 regular season record, then retiring on his own terms after 11 seasons, Gruden has been traded away once, and fired once as a head coach, and now, after 9 years in the broadcast booth, he’s trying to make a comeback.

After 9 years of being paid to talk, Jon Gruden’s not gonna shut up now

Gruden got in front of the cameras and microphones at the Combine in Indianapolis recently. I was amazed at some of the things he said.

Albert Breer in Sports Illustrated:

It was certainly interesting hearing Gruden’s take on analytics at the combine on Wednesday.

“Man, I’m trying to throw the game back to 1998,” Gruden said. “Really, as a broadcaster, I went around and tried to observe every team. Asked a lot of questions. Took a look at the facilities, how they’re doing business. There’s a stack of analytical data … people don’t even know how to read it. It’s one thing to have the data. It’s another things to know how to read the damn thing.

“So I’m not going to rely on GPS and all the modern technology. I will certainly have some people that are professional that help me from that regard. But I still think doing things the old-fashioned way is the a good way.”

I’m a teacher these days, but I had an earlier career as a business manager, and later, a small business owner.

My world thirty years ago

In the early to mid-1980s I was part of a committee that was formed to decide whether we should buy fax machines for our head office and branches, and to decide how to implement the technology if we decided to go forward. We actually bought from a company that sent a trainer in to teach us how to set them up and use them.

I still remember the day — it would have been sometime between 1987 and 1989, that I came to work and there was a PC sitting on my desk that hadn’t been there the day before.

The IT guy, Warren, approached me and asked, “Do you want me to load Windows on your computer, or do you want to use a DOS operating system?”

I looked at him a bit befuddled, and asked him what “Windows” was.

He looked a bit askance, told me to try the computer out first, and he’d come back around lunch time and ask me again. I agreed, but asked him to first — before leaving — show me how to turn the machine on.

I was in my late 20s and seeing a desktop computer for the first time.

In short, back in the day, I was a technological neophyte (or Neanderthal, if you prefer).

My world today

Now I’m in my late 50s. Thailand is a bit different than the U.S. The people here are interested in different things, and different applications are popular.

If you want to stay in touch with friends in Thailand, you use a messaging application called LINE. I made my sister, who lives in Florida, download it so we could use it for video-chats, picture sharing and messaging because I use it all the time, and she wasn’t using anything different.

In my classroom, when we’re about to write a paper, I encourage students to use their phones to get educated first. For example, I taught cause & effect essay writing recently, and in the classroom, I gave the students links to two websites — one about polar bears and one about elephants — and asked them to take 20 minutes to read one of the sites, then write a cause & effect essay with the information they learned in those 20 minutes.

In my classroom, occasionally a student will forget his or her book. Standard practice is to photograph a friend’s book (the pages we are working on in class, anyway) and then use the iPad as a substitute. If the book is a workbook, the kids have the ability to write on the screen and save the virtual page they are working on. Some students, of course, skip textbooks altogether and simply buy the PDF versions of the book, and carry one iPad around instead of several paper-based books.

I create a LINE ‘chatroom’ for every class I teach, and get all my students to join. I send notes, exam specifications, assignments, pictures and reminders to every student in class simultaneously via the chatroom. If there’s a change in the classroom due to a power outage, for example, I can alert all the students in seconds with a short message.

I use simple file sharing technology for most assignments. Although there are better platforms available, Google Drive is free and popular with Thai students, so I use that. Students write a paper and share it with me. I can grade it and return it between classes, making the process both paper free and more efficient. It also allows students to share their corrected work with each other, to enable shared learning from individual mistakes.

In oral communication classes (where we focus on things like job interviews, meetings or giving business presentations), students are required to make a video & audio recording of each assessment (test) on their phones, and those videos are uploaded to Google Drive, where they can be shared with others, archived as formal evidence of graded activities, and where we can access the videos later for training and teaching purposes. For example, this week, in an effort to test a new grading rubric that we’ve recently developed, we have 9 teachers each watching 7 student presentations from last semester that have been shared via Google Drive. Teachers can do the ‘beta’ testing on the rubric at home or office anytime this week. The results will be tabulated and used to assess whether different teachers are applying the grading criteria consistently.

Believing ‘the old ways’ were better

Imagine what my life would be like now if I had resisted the technology available to me.

I would have a desk piled with paper. I wouldn’t be able to have a portable workplace that allows me to sit in my office, in a pub or on my sofa at home and get my work done. I’d be photocopying paper and hauling it around with me. To do a rubric assessment like the one we’re doing this week would require bringing everyone in a room together for a painful 2-hour session of sample grading (if it would even be possible at all — after all, it’s the use of technology to record and save student assessments that we’re relying on for the sample material).

Gruden the throwback

I’m absolutely shocked that Gruden would speak publicly about having a stack of statistical analysis available and not knowing how to use it (or even wanting to use it, really).

Good gosh, man! The NFL is an industry that will spend $178,000,000 per team on players this season. Can you imagine how much talented statistical analysis a coach could buy for the cost of, say, one million dollars per year?!

Surely Gruden’s time as a broadcaster would have given him an appreciation for the power of technology.

But Gruden isn’t alone in the NFL in his refusal to embrace the world that is changing around him.

The NFL in general is slow to understand the very technology that brings the game to its fans. Rumors fly on Twitter, surprising coaches and personnel guys.

The internet makes the game and every aspect of it available to a broad mass of fans, but the NFL treats its copyright ownership as though restricting access and keeping it out of the hands of fans who want to dissect the game and its strategy together is a laudable goal to strive for.

As a group, the owners don’t understand the challenges of instant replay, poor officiating, or the social messages that are sent by the players who create the product.

In a very real way, the owners, are losing control of their own product. They aren’t keeping up with their employees or their fans.

The NFL is a league run by old white guys like me, who (unlike me) have made a ton of money in other industries and don’t really understand the tiger they have by the tail. They are slow to adapt, and the NFL is a big ship to turn.

Jon Gruden is part of the ‘old boy network’ now, in a way he never was when he was a coach before.

Trying to emulate Madden, but not getting it right

In his attempts to talk about “throwing the game back to 1998”, Jon Gruden is once again trying to be Maddenesque in his communication. Of course, Madden could talk about ‘back in the day’ as a broadcaster because he was a broadcaster and not a coach anymore.

Now that Gruden has returned to coaching, his words — instead of being a bit of outrageous entertainment — simply remind us that he has been off the sideline and in the booth for a decade. He sounds out of touch.

He sounds like a dinosaur (or a Neanderthal, if you will).

I get it... I do — Gruden wants to remind people — Raiders fans and players — that football is about the basics, and that basics don’t change. He wants to communicate toughness and hard work. Got it. But so far, in his comments about the CBA, the technology available, and his desire to go 20 years back in time, he comes off sounding like a fossilize dinosaur — which is an odd image to project at the still relatively young age of 54.

Jon Gruden, in his first month on the job, appears to be flailing about, unhappy and disconnected from the world of the NFL in 2018.

A young man’s game

Coaching is hard. It’s physically demanding and it’s mentally demanding and it’s emotionally draining. I understand why Gruden might miss the old days. Hell, I miss the days when I could drink & carouse all night and then show up for work the next day... it was a lot of fun! But at 58 years of age I simply can’t do it anymore, and, really, I don’t want to.

Yeah, there are older coaches who are a success — Pete Carroll is probably the poster child for youthful enthusiasm on the sidelines. But guys that are still succeeding as coaches in the NFL in their 60s, 70s or 80s (hello Dick Lebeau) are guys that haven’t left the sidelines.

They never had the chance to get soft.

I think Gruden is going to get out worked and out hustled. I suspect that he’ll be unable to be as dynamic or creative as the Sean McVays and the Pete Carrolls of the coaching world, who will bring energy to the job, along with an ability to connect to today’s players. I see Jon Gruden, instead, demanding that those players embrace a decade-old philosophy. I see him struggling to understand or succeed in a league that’s changing quickly while Chucky is trying to stop the ride from spinning.

Gruden’s rejection of the technology that is available to make his job easier and more effective is symptomatic of an inability to realize that he’s rooted in an era that’s already gone, and I think that inability to keep up will eventually bite him in the ass.

Gruden’s desire to “throw the game back to the past” will almost certainly leave him stranded there. The train is moving, and Jon is standing on the platform.

Prior to his comments at the Combine, Gruden spent a bit of time lamenting the rules that don’t allow off-season discussion of work between the coaching staff and the players.

Yes, it’s probably a stupid rule. But it’s been a rule since the last CBA came into effect more than six years ago. Every coaching staff faces the same restrictions.

As an on-air broadcaster, Gruden can bitch about that stuff -- that’s his job.

As a head coach, that kind of bitching should be reserved for meetings with his boss. Fans don’t wanna hear a single head coach bitch about a rule that applies to all teams equally! He might as well bitch about his defense being penalized 5 yards and an automatic first down given when a holding flag is thrown on his defensive backs — it’s just the rules, baby. You may not like them, but you just gotta live with them.

Stop yer’ bitching.

Channel your “inner Al”: Just win baby!

Unfulfilled expectations

The rumor mill this week says that Marsawn Lynch — last year’s Raiders savior and fan favorite in Oakland — may be cut prior to the start of free agency.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Raiders are “uncomfortable” with Lynch’s pay for next season and the team could make the decision to move on from him in 2018 to save some money.

Although it’s not clear what the right price is for the Raiders, it appears they definitely don’t want to pay Lynch $8 million in 2018, which is what he can make as part of the final season of the two-year deal that he signed in April 2017 after being traded from the Seattle to Oakland.

Something tells me that, as the decade of the 2020’s gets underway in just a few years, the Raiders will be having the same “uncomfortable” feeling about Jon Gruden’s reported 10-year, $100,000,000 contract.

I wonder if they’ll find it as easy to part ways with Chucky when the time comes.

Other reports about Jon

From a Sports Illustrated article about Jon Gruden published online 19 February, and in print a week later:

If Gruden ever writes The Football Gods, Al Davis will be one of them. Hell, maybe football heaven ends up a version of this very office. Because, at least in Gruden’s mind, this return to the game isn’t all about proving critics wrong, or justifying that 10-year, $100 million contract, or giving Oakland a playoff run before its planned move to Las Vegas in 2020. Years ago Gruden called the Raiders, got the name of Davis’s cologne (Antaeus, by Chanel), mispronounced it at a New York department store, bought a bottle and, to his wife’s dismay, doused himself with “four scoops,” à la Al. There’s a bottle in his Hampton Inn hotel room right now. Gruden, for gods’ sake, wants to channel the old pirate.

“A lot of coaches are miserable,” Gruden says. “These guys have been fired, hired, fired again; they’ve got houses here, got to move over there. They’re distraught. I grew up [associating] every team with a coach. Pittsburgh Steelers, I’d think Chuck Noll. Seahawks, Chuck Knox. Now? Who’s coaching up in Jacksonville? In Miami? I don’t know how many coaches they’ve had in Tampa since they fired me! I don’t like it.

“So, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to come back and put it all on me. Everybody’s going to want to kick my ass, step on me. They can’t wait to talk about what a dumbass I am, and how s----- I was to start with. How ‘overrated’ I am. I hear it all. I know it’s going to happen. And I’m like: Come on! Just like Al Davis. When I was here, he said, ‘The great thing you’ve got going, Jon, is they’re never going to rip you. They’re going to rip me.’ ”

Mark Sessler on

The Silver and Black are either (A) a playoff-worthy team that lost its way last season, or (B) the remnant of a fluky postseason campaign in 2016. Either way, Jon Gruden faces immediate pressure to get Oakland back to the party next season. In what feels like a boom-or-bust scenario, Chucky will double as headline news every time he opens his mouth. It promises to be a wild ride for Raiders fans, but it’s easy to forget Gruden’s final years in Tampa Bay (45-51 with an 0-2 playoff record after winning Super Bowl XXXVII). Anything less than a double-digit-win season is bound to disappoint a fan base expecting its returning coach to act as a savior from the skies.


On a scale from 0-5, with 5 being "wildly successful with superbowls & stuff" and 0 being "total freaking disaster", how successful do you expect Jon Gruden to be as the head coach of the Raiders?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    (4 votes)
  • 20%
    (22 votes)
  • 35%
    (39 votes)
  • 25%
    (28 votes)
  • 12%
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    (2 votes)
109 votes total Vote Now