What if Jon Gruden had by no means been traded by the Raiders to the Buccaneers?

HENDERSON, Nev. — The rumors had been percolating all yr. A lot in order that Jon Gruden took the time to handle them in workforce conferences all through the 2001 season.

“I am not going wherever,” Gruden would insist to his Raiders workforce. “I do know what you are listening to about Notre Dame. I prefer it right here. I am not going wherever. I need to be right here.”

Gruden was in his fourth season because the then-whiz child coach of the then-Oakland Raiders, and his workforce had shortly grow to be an influence, having already performed host to an AFC Championship Sport. However contract negotiations on an extension had stalled midseason, and Gruden was linked to jobs starting from Notre Dame to Ohio State in school to, sure, Tampa Bay within the NFL.

And when the Raiders dropped 4 of their final six video games, together with the ultimate three, to shut out the common season and end 10-6, there was a thought that the rumors had grow to be an actual distraction. That Gruden might need misplaced the workforce.

Dropping to the New York Jets within the regular-season finale not solely dropped the Raiders out of a first-round bye and right into a wild-card spherical playoff sport, it set in movement a course of occasions the franchise has tried for practically 20 years to course right. And with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set to play the now-Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday on this, Gruden’s third season again with the workforce, it picks at a sure scab.

What if Gruden had by no means been traded from the Raiders to the Buccaneers on Feb. 18, 2002?

‘Dude, what are we going to do?’

Charles Woodson, Gruden’s first draft decide, stood to ask a query of the coach in his standing-room-only return media convention on Jan. 9, 2018.

“Is there a no-trade clause in your deal?” Woodson requested, earlier than these assembled roared in laughter, and Gruden, smiling broadly, answered affirmatively.

Almost 16 years earlier, there was no laughing. No grinning. No guffaws. Simply shock and awe. Sure, even with a half-season of rumors flooding the streets of Silver and Blackdom.

As a result of at the same time as Lincoln Kennedy landed in Honolulu for the Professional Bowl the primary week of February 2002, it appeared a finished deal that Gruden could be gone. So Kennedy gathered with fellow Professional Bowlers Wealthy Gannon and Tim Brown to speak a couple of possible future.

“I used to be like, ‘Dude, what are we going to do?'” stated Kennedy, then the Raiders proper sort out and now the workforce’s radio analyst. “What the f— are we going to do? We have got to rent from inside.”

However the commerce to the Buccaneers, who had moved on from Tony Dungy and have been flirting with Invoice Parcells, didn’t grow to be official till 9 days after the Professional Bowl.

That is when Kennedy spoke with Al Davis.

“He informed me, his phrases have been, ‘I by no means favored it when groups would intervene with coaches beneath contract,'” Kennedy recalled Davis saying. “He informed me, ‘Tampa Bay got here to me and so they stated they needed Gruden’ and [Davis] stated, ‘I felt that I put the worth tag so excessive that they would not conform to it. They usually did. Gruden is now not our coach.’ So, I hung up after I talked to him.”

The king’s ransom for Gruden that Davis thought Tampa Bay would by no means pay? Two first-round draft picks. Two second-round draft picks. And $8 million as well.

“After the commerce went down, all of us met with Mr. D,” Kennedy stated. “I put in my two cents and stated I assumed [the new coach] needs to be [Bill] Callahan. He is aware of the system, we will hold all the things the identical. [Marc] Trestman? He was the quarterbacks coach, however Callahan had the run sport and Trestman was growing the cross sport, however I believe Wealthy had stated he needed Callahan and never Trestman … and Callahan was the offensive coordinator anyway.”

That string of occasions talked about earlier?

Observe this street map: the Raiders, maybe distracted by fixed experiences of Gruden’s departure, fall out of a playoff bye and right into a street sport on the New England Patriots, the place Tom Brady and the Tuck Rule awaited. Sure, it is Gruden’s last sport of his first tenure. Callahan replaces Gruden and the offense will get extra explosive as Gannon turns into the 2002 NFL MVP and the Raiders glide into Tremendous Bowl XXXVII. Besides …

Guess who’s ready?

“With the best way we have been rolling, the one one that might beat us was the man who knew us higher than we knew ourselves,” Kennedy stated. “We simply had that manner about us.”

A 48-21 blowout loss to Gruden’s Buccaneers later, the Raiders have had just one successful season since. Gruden lasted till 2008 in Tampa Bay and was, fittingly sufficient, put out to pasture by the Raiders and, sure, JaMarcus Russell. 9 seasons in ESPN’s Monday Night time Soccer sales space ensued earlier than Mark Davis was capable of deliver Gruden again to the Raiders.

In his first tenure, the Raiders have been on the verge. However because the late Al Davis stated in 2009, “The Tuck Sport was the undoing of loads of issues.”

Mentioned Kennedy: “Here is the factor — if we had gained the Tremendous Bowl [in Gruden’s last year], I believe we might have grow to be a powerhouse as a result of we have been returning all people the next yr.”

Besides …

“If we weren’t enjoying in opposition to him,” Kennedy stated of Gruden, “we might have gained the Tremendous Bowl.”

‘Cannot look again at what if’s’

After all, there was at all times the prevailing thought that Al Davis had grow to be aggravated with Gruden’s conservative playcalling — the place was the vaunted vertical sport? — in addition to “Chucky” changing into the face of the franchise sans Lombardi trophies and was, nicely, merely finished. No less than, the traditional knowledge went, Ken Stabler and Marcus Allen led the Raiders to titles earlier than their respective public feuds with the iconoclast proprietor led to their ousters.

Gruden, although, was at all times beloved by Raiders alumni. Sure, even the old-school guys who by no means performed for him. Guys like Jim Otto, Jack Tatum, Phil Villapiano, Cliff Department, Willie Brown, Tom Flores, George Atkinson and Raymond Chester — all of whom confirmed up for a non-public social gathering in Gruden’s honor at Raiders sports activities bar “Ricky’s” in San Leandro, California, in 2009, when Gruden rocked a Raiders visor and a white Bo Jackson throwback jersey. The restaurant was requested to take down pictures of the gathering from its web site, for concern of Davis seeing who was in attendance and deciphering it as disloyalty.

Nevertheless it was Mark Davis who brokered peace with Gruden, bringing him again to gentle the Al Davis Torch in reminiscence of his father on Nov. 18, 2012.

And it was a “six- or seven-year dance” the youthful Davis did with Gruden earlier than lastly convincing him to return to the Raiders.

“There was no query I needed to have him as the pinnacle coach of this group,” stated Davis, who assumed function of managing common accomplice upon his father’s loss of life on Oct. 8, 2011.

However Davis wouldn’t contact the query: What if Gruden had by no means been traded?

“I can not look again at what if’s?” Davis informed ESPN.com this week. “Are you kidding me? What if Franco Harris did not catch that ball? What if Rob Lytle did fumble the ball? What if Tom Brady fumbled? What if this? What if that? You possibly can try this each day.

“What if? If. If. If.”

Informed “if” is the most important phrase within the English language, Davis howled.

“Most irrelevant, too,” he stated.

And Gruden, besieged with information of COVID-19 and potentially being without his starting offensive line this weekend, was in no temper to reminisce, both.

“That is a loaded query,” stated Gruden, who has stated he by no means needed to go away the Raiders within the first place and acknowledged his being inducted into Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor in 2017 served as a springboard to get him again into teaching.

“I am simply concentrating on this sport, actually. It is a terrific alternative for each groups to attempt to get one other win. I attempt to not get too deep, too philosophical. I had a good time in Tampa. A number of my greatest buddies are nonetheless there and dwell there. So, I am trying ahead to competing.”

Sure, in opposition to his previous workforce within the Buccaneers, and an previous foil in “Tuck Rule” Tom Brady.

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