There’s definitely a direct correlation between stability and success in the NFL. Since 2000, the New England Patriots have had one head coach, and they’ve won Six Super Bowls. Since 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had three head coaches, and nobody has more championships than them over that span. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns have had 12 head coaches since their last playoff win. Stability and consistency are important for a team’s success.
But could it be argued that too much stability is a bad thing? If a head coach is given free reign, a lifetime pass, and a decade of bulletproof job security, could it hold the team back? Is it possible that complacency could set in, or even that the wrong person wastes time, money, and draft picks?
For the third straight year, Jon Gruden’s Raiders won’t win the AFC West, and they’ll have to fight to secure one of a NFL-record high three wild-card spots. At this very moment, people on twitter are speculating that should the Raiders lose to the winless New York Jets this weekend, there will be a coaching change in Las Vegas. Here’s why that’s funny.
I’m not saying that Jon Gruden is the problem in Las Vegas. Jon Gruden was hailed as an offensive mastermind, and when his players are healthy, his offense is one of the best in football. The players buy into what he’s selling, and when things are working, these Raiders are a playoff team. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that Jon Gruden should get fired if the Raiders fall apart again… but the possibility should exist.
Nobody should be bulletproof in the NFL, but it feels like Jon Gruden is. He’s in year three of a decade-long deal, with the Raiders on the hook for $70,000,000, and that’s a lot of money to pay someone not to coach your team. The Raiders are still paying Jack Del Rio, and they fired him back in 2018. It’s hard to imagine Davis ponying up the dough to pay three head coaches at once, especially when one is among the best paid in NFL history.
Even if money wasn’t an item, Mark Davis is infatuated with Gruden. From the moment he took over the team, his flirtation with Gruden became a yearly occurrence, regardless of who the coach was. When Davis hired Jack Del Rio, he even told him he would’ve preferred the voice of Monday Night Football. As long as Mark Davis owns the Las Vegas Raiders, and there’s no reason he’ll sell any time soon, it’s hard to imagine a world where he’ll make a coaching change.
Trickle Down Security
Because Jon Gruden’s job is never in doubt, that means anyone he values is safe too. Jon Gruden is fully committed to Derek Carr, so that means Derek Carr’s job is safe, regardless of how he plays. Carr has played extremely well in Gruden’s system, but he’s also had some games where he was a non-factor, if not detrimental to the offense (See: Last week vs. the Atlanta Falcons).
It’s not just true for Carr, some of his coaches receive the same benefit. Paul Guenther’s defense has been putrid since he arrived in Oakland, with his proudest achievement being a game against Kansas City where his defense only gave up 32 points and 413 yards. Most people would’ve fired their defensive coordinator when the unit hadn’t improved over the course of three years, but because he’s one of “Gruden’s guys,” he still hasn’t been fired. Even if he is, he’ll likely be replaced by another one of Gruden’s buddies, Ron Marinelli.
The reality is that job security in professional sports, arguably more than anywhere else in the world, is dependent on performance. Winning as many games as you lose is a problem. If you aren’t putting your team in a position to win a championship, you are failing. Obviously there are different philosophies about how to get a team to that point, and some strategies take longer than others, but the only thing worse than being terrible is being mediocre, because at least terrible teams have opportunities to improve through the draft with elite prospects.
Complacency Kills Progress
The problem with having great job security is that there aren’t any stakes. There’s no sense of urgency or external pressure. If you’re Kobe Bryant, maybe you can generate that kind of internal pressure and stay competitive, but if you’re not… then maybe you get complacent and lose focus. This sounds far-fetched to the more indoctrinated fan, but last week, the Raiders were flat in practice and got demolished in every phase of the game by a 3-7 squad. That doesn’t happen on a team where the coach is fighting for his life.
When you have ten years to build a contender, you don’t take as many risks. You don’t take as many chances. You play it safe and end up with Clelin Ferrell instead of Josh Allen. You can’t manufacture the kind of hunger you have when you’re starving.
If Jon Gruden gets to the end of the contract without winning a single playoff game, it has been a bigger failure than Hue Jackson’s 3-36-1 Cleveland Browns run. At least Hue didn’t waste Cleveland’s time any more than he needed to, and the Browns got Myles Garrett, Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb out of it. Gruden having complete and total control of a NFL team for a full decade without winning anything more than a few regular season games would be an abject failure.
Back Off The Edge
The Las Vegas Raiders overlooked an Atlanta Falcons team that was more dangerous than it looked, and they paid the price. They bought into their own hype a little, and got punched in the mouth. This is the same team that just went to war with the Kansas City Chiefs and barely lost. This team can, and realistically should, still make the playoffs, and depending who they draw, they could get that post-season win right off the bat.
But I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter speculating that Gruden would be fired if the Raiders lose to the New York Jets, and that’s just laughably naive. In the worst case scenario where the Raiders never turn the proverbial corner, I think it’s more likely that Gruden retires early than Davis letting his great white whale get away.