On Thursday, the Raiders played the first preseason game of the first year of the Josh McDaniels era. It would have been the fifth year of Jon Gruden’s return to the team.
And, yes, but for the emails that were leaked last October to the media, Gruden would still be coaching the Raiders. He had survived three non-playoff seasons. Given that interim coach Rich Bisaccia took Gruden’s team to the wild-card round after Gruden left, Gruden surely would have made it there himself. And even if he hadn’t, it would have taken a lot for owner Mark Davis to fire the man for whom Davis had become more sidekick than boss.
Gruden’s agent, Bob Lamonte, recently spoke to Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com about, among other things, the former Bucs and Raiders coach. And Lamonte believes Gruden will coach again — presumably in the NFL.
“I really believe in my heart and soul he will coach again,” Lamonte said. “I’d be very surprised if he didn’t. My question is what did Jon really do? Most people wouldn’t want their private e-mails from 10 days ago looked at. That’s why if this were to go to trial, it would be devastating for the National Football League.”
That’s an ominous hint from Lamonte, suggesting that Gruden will perhaps try a good-for-goose-good-for-gander approach that consists of looking at emails sent by others in and around the league from the past decade.
“This wasn’t good for anybody,” Lamonte said of the fact that a small number of emails that Gruden sent to former Washington executive Bruce Allen were leaked to the media at a time when everything else about the investigation of Daniel Snyder’s franchise was, and still is, largely cloaked in secrecy. “That’s why he ended up suing the NFL and [Commissioner Roger] Goodell — because everyone knows it was wrong. You have 650,000 e-mails and his six were picked out. . . and he wasn’t even in the league. He prevailed in court and he will prevail again.”
Gruden won in court on the preliminary question of whether the case will be required to go to arbitration. The NFL will undoubtedly appeal that as far and as long as it can, delaying the case for not months but years. Eventually, if the case remains in court, the identity of the leaker will be revealed. Although Gruden thinks it was Goodell, others think it was Snyder. The universe of potential suspects is small, because not many people had access to the information.
The fact that the emails were leaked and the timing of their disclosure continues to seem wrong, regardless of the fact that Gruden’s language was bad enough to merit the outcome he experienced. It shouldn’t have happened the way it did, when it did.
“He was in a state of shock and I was worried about him when this first broke because it was a shot in the dark in the middle of the night,” Lamonte said. “I think the hardest thing for him was that it’s in the middle of October. . . . Supposedly, all this information was known in August. Why now, of all things, does that come out in an investigation that had already gone away?”
The information was actually known, as we’ve heard it, in June. Well enough in advance of the season to deal with it long before training camp opened, giving the Raiders a fair chance to replace Gruden and making the whole thing less sudden and dramatic for everyone involved.
Lamonte opted to take things further than complaining about the timing. That’s when it becomes much harder to make a case for Gruden.
“It was 10 years ago,” Lamonte said. “And then why Jon and why the Raiders? He wasn’t even in the league at the time of those e-mails. . . that’s the tragedy of it. You can say what you want, but if anyone really understands Jon, they know he’s not a racist. That’s quite obvious. No one would ever say that. . . . The biggest thing that got him was Jon had called Roger Goodell a female body part that wasn’t becoming. I guess he made some bad comments about the Glazers, but you have to realize he had just been fired by the Bucs and he thought he was on private e-mails. A lot of people when they’re fired say bad things.”
Lamonte eventually used the same term that former Raiders radio play-by-play announcer Brent Musberger uttered last year when discussing the matter — Lamonte called it a “hit job” on Gruden.
“It took a very bad toll on him,” Lamonte said. “Jon will tell you he’s a boring guy. The guy watches films all day, that’s what he does. He’s basically a football junkie and you took it away from him. His family was destroyed, his wife’s answering questions, his son works for the team.”
Gruden apparently still wants to work for one of the 30 teams other than the Buccaneers and Raiders.
“I think Jon looks younger, happier and better now,” Lamonte said. “He’s an infinitely wealthy person and the irony of this lawsuit is that everyone says he’ll make a fortune, He doesn’t really need the money. All Jon Gruden wants is his life back — and he’s going to get it back.”
That’s still hard to envision. Apart from the emails, he sued the league and its commissioner. While it’s legally wrong to retaliate against Gruden for that, there are too few head-coaching jobs and far too many qualified candidates. It will be very easy for teams to give the soon-to-be 59-year-old head coach the cold shoulder.
Besides, let’s not lose sight of the fact that he struggled in his three years back with the Raiders. It appeared that, in many respects, the game had passed him by during more than a decade in the booth. All things considered, Lamonte’s assessment regarding Gruden’s future seems to be far more like wishful thinking than an accurate prediction of the future.