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5:15PM

Gruden has a list of regrets, but not the one you might think

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — His regrets? “I’ve got a list of things,” Jon Gruden told us Tuesday. And, he suggested, so do the rest of us, because none of is perfect.

But the rest of us are not the head coach of an NFL team with a 1-5 record. The rest of do not have a multi-million-dollar contract as that coach has.

With rare exceptions — Bill Walsh leaving, George Seifert being elevated — winning teams do not change coaches. Gruden may have arrived in a swirl of fame and anticipation, but the head coach is only as good as his players.

And it has become obvious that many of the players on the Oakland Raiders are not very good. Especially on defense, where games are won — or, mostly, lost.

If, apropos of nothing but pertinent to everything, you choose to believe one of the reasons for the Raiders’ mess was the absurd trading of Khalil Mack, who not only was their best defensive player but arguably their best player, you are permitted that belief.

Does Gruden regret that transaction? Does Gruden regret returning to the Raiders after a departure some 20 years earlier? If anyone did chance to ask him either question, especially on leaving ESPN to rejoin the Raiders— and none of us has the temerity to do so at this juncture — he wouldn’t respond candidly. And who would blame him?

So instead, the questions deal with injuries (the Raiders have many, but so do other NFL teams). With Derek Carr’s quarterbacking. With opponents (did anyone doubt the Seattle Seahawks still have a solid team?). And with the bye the Raiders have this weekend.

Gruden still has that sly look we’ve come to know over the years, on the sideline, in the TV booth. He hasn’t become disagreeable as, say, Pat Shurmur of the New York Giants has.

In the better old days, the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gruden was known for his work ethic. He came to the office early (really early, as in 3:30 or 4 a.m.) and stayed late. Presumably he still keeps long hours — although at age 55 are they as long as they were at 35? — and he still keeps his enthusiasm.

He wanted this job. At least the job offer, with the huge salary, with the opportunity to follow his muse, was one he couldn’t refuse. What he didn’t want was a roster that seems to be spending days in the training room, a roster of older players being replaced by younger — if inexperienced — new ones.

That trip to and from London for a game at Wembley Stadium is one against jet lag as well as an opponent. Gruden on Sunday in the locker room said he enjoyed the journey. “Unfortunately,” he added, “I’ll always remember it in a bad way.”

There haven’t been too many good memories this return season. That game against the Seahawks wasn’t even entertaining, Oakland down 27-0 until mercifully kicking a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to lose, 27-3.

The London Daily Telegraph headline described the Raiders as “limp,” and the story promised that the next NFL game at Wembley, on Oct. 21 between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers, “looks likely to be more competitive.”

Hard to say if the Raiders next game, on Oct. 28 against the Indianapolis Colts at Oakland, will be, but it couldn’t be any worse than the most recent.

“We’re trying” said Gruden. “We’re working hard. I’m not going to never throw the ball on first-and-goal again. All my friends in the league do it. I don’t really think it’s living dangerously, either. When it’s intercepted and it’s ugly like it was, it’s going to be magnified.”

That was the previous week against the Chargers, in San Diego. He took a chance, but that’s what coaches are supposed to when they know down deep their team is not as good as the other one.

“You just have to continue to go with your gut feeling,” said Gruden. “Go with your preparation. Be true to your gut. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. There are going to be some mistakes, and I’ll take responsibility for all of them.”

Change is coming. “We’re still looking at the roster,” said Gruden. “We’re looking around the league to find means to get better. Reggie (McKenzie, the general manager) and I had a long meeting Monday. I know that’s a shock to some people. They don’t think we have any meetings. I’m telling you, we’re working hard to solidify this roster every day and improve ourselves and get the right people on the field ... We’re going to stay on the gas pedal and go as hard as we can.”

And hope the road doesn’t run into a mountain.

8:31AM

Niners, Raiders get necessities, not attention or quarterbacks

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Let’s see, the Raiders took Kolton Miller and the 49ers Mike McGlinchey. Or was it the other way around?

For sure it wasn’t Baker Mayfield, the instigator, or Josh Rosen, Miller’s verbalizing teammate from UCLA, and that’s the disadvantage of having at least a decent team.

You don’t get glamour guys or the attention when you’re competent. What you get are necessities, players who block, who open holes for runners, set up pockets for passers and, even though they are usually the most perceptive and smartest players on any football team, rarely get mentioned until they miss an assignment.

The Niners and Raiders have their quarterbacks. Or so we think, Oakland having Derek Carr and San Francisco, after that seemingly brilliant deal during the 2017 season, Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Cleveland Browns, with one victory in their last 32 games, didn’t.

That lack of success and signal caller enabled them to have the No. 1 pick, and on day one of the draft that’s big stuff.

TV loves a train wreck. The stories were whether Sam Darnold of USC, a quarterback of course, or Josh Allen of Wyoming, a quarterback, or Rosen, a quarterback, would be the first player selected.

It turned out to be Mayfield of Oklahoma, a quarterback. Yes, Saquon Barkley of Penn State, a running back — and is he terrific — went second, but as we were reminded by the guys on ESPN and NFL TV, this was all about quarterbacks. Even the last pick of the first round, Lamar Jackson of Louisville, was a quarterback.

It’s understood that in the NFL — in football at any level — you must have a quarterback. He handles the ball on every offensive play, run or pass. And you also must have a defense, otherwise you’ll be receiving kickoffs from start to finish.

That said, the late Al Davis, who led the Raiders to championships and then in his declining years with draft selections such as JaMarcus Russell, a quarterback who just happened to look like an offensive lineman (the man could eat), led them to mediocrity, always believed the most important part of a team was the offensive line. You do remember Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, Bob Brown and Dave Dalby, right? All but Dalby are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Whether McGlinchey, a 6-foot-8, 315-pound tackle from Notre Dame taken with the ninth pick, or Miller, a 6-9, 309-pound tackle from UCLA taken with the 15th pick, turns out like those guys, we’ll learn over time.

Whatever, they fill a need for each team. And if drafting offensive linemen is not as entertaining as drafting QBs or running backs, that’s the way it has to be.

When you get your quarterback, you’d better keep him healthy and happy. When he was with ESPN, once and current Raiders coach Jon Gruden ran a “quarterback camp,” which was as much a TV show as a football test. He understands a quarterback needs coordination, arm strength, quickness — and an offensive line.

He passed that understanding to Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, not that McKenzie didn’t already feel the same way.

“What Kolton can do,” said McKenzie of his No. 1 pick, “when you talk about pass protection and staying in front of the guy, that’s what he does. He’s got the length. He’s got the great feet. And when you talk about the second level, pulling, this guy has a lot of talent.”

Surely so does McGlinchey, who was taken by San Francisco but was admired by McKenzie and Oakland. “We would have upgraded with either one,” said McKenzie.

O-linemen are somewhat obscure. Except to the coaches, players and front office.

Niners GM John Lynch said McGlinchey “has a special presence to him. He’s real. He’s authentic. And he’s a badass. We like that.”

Similar comments before the round would have made for great theater.

Rosen said a few things when he finally was chosen with the 10th pick — that Oakland had traded to Arizona — and they were explosive. And captivating.

“There were nine mistakes ahead of me,” said Rosen about the players taken earlier than he was. “I thought I should have been picked 1-2-3.”

The draft is all about opinions — and this year was about quarterbacks.

9:06PM

Gruden: ‘I’ve got something to prove’

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — It was part Las Vegas, of course. Have to plan ahead. Part Hollywood. Part pronounced humility. Jon Gruden had arrived with all the flash and fame expected of, and for, a prodigal son who, with a reputation and recognition gained elsewhere, is ready to show us he can go home again.

What a production on Tuesday, at a facility the Oakland Raiders will flee in a couple of years for the Vegas strip. There in the huge barnlike building called the performance center, which in season is full of athletes pumping iron, we were awed by a video that must have reminded Gruden of his most recent employer, ESPN. Do they have an Emmy category for Team Hype?

Then, after introductory remarks by owner Mark Davis, gloating as if he were the one getting the $100 million and not paying it, out stepped the Savior, his own self, Gruden, telling us, “I’ve got something to prove.” Which he does. Which he doesn’t.

He’s a football coach now, again, at age 54, because — and you’ve heard this before — that’s what he feels the need to be. For the previous nine years, including through last Saturday night, he was an analyst/commentator for ESPN, in the broadcast booth, not down on the field.

That looked like the best job in sports, picking apart the game plan of others, for $7 million annually, rather than have others pick apart his. And he did have the satisfaction and glory of coaching a Super Bowl champion, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who obtained Gruden from these very same Raiders in a trade.

It wasn’t that he did a poor job at Oakland in the four seasons, 1998 to 2001, he was, well, not in charge, because it was Mark’s daddy, Al, who was the power in those days, but at least the head coach.  

As the story goes, Al was somewhat pushed out of shape because Gruden, with his winning ways, charming personality and photogenic looks — hey, TV knows what sells — became the Face of the Franchise. Tsk, tsk. Off with his head, said the Red Queen, uh, or rather the silver-and-black knight. 

After the ’01 season, the one climaxing for Oakland with the NFL snow job, i.e. the Tuck Rule, conveniently called after the New England Patriots lost a fumble to the Raiders in the playoffs.

“For my career to end that night in New England, it still ticks me off,” Gruden said. “I’m so thrilled to be back here. I hope people understand the emotion inside.

“I feel there’s unfinished business. I feel a lot of loyalty and responsibility to get the Raiders going again. It’s been a while since the team has consistently performed at a high level. I’m going to do everything I can to help this team get right again.”

Gruden’s first season in Tampa ended with a 48-21 win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, but he never won another playoff game in the next five seasons. Not that it matters, or maybe it matters greatly, but no coach — Lombardi, Parcells, none of them — has won a Super Bowl with two different teams.

“I haven’t changed all that much since 2008,” said Gruden. The game has changed, but Gruden, announcing, conducting that ESPN QB Camp, maybe knows more about the players and changes than he would have as a coach. He has been to every one of the league’s 32 training complexes. He has worked Derek Carr, the man who will be his Raiders quarterback.

And if Carr wasn’t on site Tuesday, numerous former Raider players were, including Mike Haynes, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Charles Woodson, and the QB Gruden beat in the Super Bowl, Rich Gannon. Remember how critics said Gruden knew what was coming because he knew the Raiders, his former team. 

Woodson worked for ESPN this season, on field at halftime. He also is involved in a Napa winery carrying his name. In 1998, he was the first draft pick of a rookie coach named Gruden. 

“All of us want to know,” said Woodson, whose playing career went from Oakland to Green Bay to Oakland, “is there a no-trade clause in your deal?”

Gruden laughed, “You’re going to make me want to go home, Charles.”

But this is home, isn’t it?  “I’m glad to be back,” Gruden conceded. The Raiders, at $100 mill, are glad to have him back.

9:26AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Raiders show respect for Eli Manning as they prepare to host Giants

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

ALAMEDA, Calif. — His brother, David, was the backup to Eli Manning on the Giants who rarely played. Now, as fate and fable would have it, Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders will be the first to play quarterback against the Giants since Manning was replaced as starter.

“I know this about Eli,” Carr said. “He’s a great person. I was able to learn from him a couple of years ago at the Pro Bowl. I was fortunate and blessed to be on that same team as him. Just learn from him, ask questions, all of those things.”

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2017 Newsday. All rights reserved.

9:35AM

Raiders did so much to lose and just enough to win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Raiders did so much to lose this one. Then they did just enough to win.

Those complaints about the NFL, that it’s dull, that the anthem protests have ruined the game, that the fans don’t care? Well, the head coach of the Raiders, Jack Del Rio, certainly cares. The sport enthralls him.

For the very reasons that were present Thursday night at the Coliseum, tension, passion, frustration and then, with 0:00 left on the clock, exhilaration.

“That’s why we love this game,” said Del Rio. “We talked about love, loving each other, loving the opportunity to compete, loving the challenges that are part of what we do. Love to be in the theater when you’re putting your neck out there for the whole world to watch.”

At least the part of the world that included the 55,090 in the stadium and the millions in front of television sets.

The winning play was the last play of a game that early in the fourth quarter seemed like Oakland’s last chance.

But headed for a fifth straight defeat, the Raiders turned things around and headed elatedly to the locker room with a 31-30 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Derek Carr, who had completed 28 passes for 415 yards, completed his 29th for two more yards and a touchdown to Michael Crabtree just across the goal line, and then Georgio Taveccio kicked the extra point.

The Raiders somehow managed to get the victory, despite having allowed KC to go 99 yards in three plays for a touchdown — so much for field position. Despite being thwarted when, inexplicably and stupidly, hometown guy Marshawn Lynch left the bench, shoved an official and was ejected. Despite being burned by scoring pass plays of 64 and 63 yards.

The win was absolutely vital. “Yeah,” said Del Rio. “It’s been vital. It was vital last week. It was vital the week before. It’s vital to win in this league.”

Especially when the Raiders appeared destined to lose to a team they rarely beat.

The closing sequence was chaotic, offensive pass interference against Crabtree that nullified an apparent touchdown with three seconds to go, defensive holding with time expired, defensive holding again and finally the completion for the touchdown.

The purists tell us the only thing that matters in a sport is the score, but that would be like only watching the final act of “Hamlet” where they’re carrying him. Sure, getting the victory was paramount, but the way this one played out, with excellence and mistakes, with leads that couldn’t be held and passes that could be held, was so much a part of the tale.

The Raiders go in front, 14-10, their punter Marquette King kicks a ball that is downed on the Chiefs’ one and almost before anyone knew it, three plays, 1 minute 32 seconds to be exact, KC was ahead, 17-14.

Then there was Lynch, Beast Mode. He hadn’t done much, two carries for nine yards, when midway through the second quarter there was an unnecessary roughness call on KC that seemingly kept alive an Oakland drive. But Lynch, from the sideline, dashed onto the field and into an altercation. Next thing you saw, he was manhandling an official, the Raiders had first and 25 and he had a seat in the locker room.

“I was disappointed,” said Del Rio.”We were in good shape. Next thing I knew he was being tossed.”

It was the tossing by Carr, his second game after returning from a broken bone in his lower back, that meant more. He passed for three touchdowns including the game winner.

“We’re going to find a way,” said Del Rio of the Raiders' grit. “Our guys came in with a great mindset, and we were determined to leave here with a victory.”

They did. “It was huge,” said the said the coach.

And incredibly exciting.