Last February, Jack Del Rio signed a four-year extension with the Oakland Raiders after leading them to a 12-4 record and their first playoff appearance since 2002.
At the end of the year, he’s now unemployed. What a weird world we live in.
Del Rio confirmed during today’s postgame press conference that the team will “not retain” him as head coach, with a report from NFL insider Ian Rapoport confirming that Jon Gruden is the prime target to replace him. He exits Oakland with a 25-23 record in three seasons.
“We appreciate Jack’s effort in building the foundation of this team for the future,” said team owner Mark Davis in a statement posted to the team’s website. Thank you to Jack, his wife, Linda, and his daughter, Aubrey, for their important contributions to the Raiders and our local community in Oakland. We wish them all the best.”
It’s a far cry from how the season began, with many fans and analysts pegging the Raiders as a darkhorse Super Bowl contender. However, the team struggled with inconsistency all year, and they ultimately finished at 6-10, with today’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers standing out as the worst defeat yet.
The majority of the locker room respected Del Rio, as evidenced by their success in 2016, but he made himself vulnerable by failing to adjust their strategies during a four-game losing streak following a 2-0 start. It took Del Rio far too long to remove Ken Norton Jr. as defensive coordinator; the unit was playing well under interim DC John Pagano until today.
Elevating Todd Downing from his quarterback’s coach position instead of resigning Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator also proved to be a poor decision. The Raiders offense was downright ugly down the stretch, and Downing’s schemes were a major reason why.
The pending move to Las Vegas is likely a factor as well. Davis most likely wants to generate excitement both in Oakland and in their future home, so why not bring back Gruden, who coached the team in the early 2000’s before getting shipped off to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a trade fueled by an uneasiness with Mark’s father, the late Al Davis.
In any case, Gruden isn’t the head coach yet. Rapoport’s report indicates that the Raiders are willing to make him the highest paid head coach in the NFL and give him an ownership stake, something that hasn’t been done in this millennium. The Raiders will be entering new ground this offseason, and if Gruden turns down a potential offer to stay with ESPN, things may blow up in Davis’ face.