Mark Davis and Jon Gruden Ready the Oakland Raiders Farewell Tour


Since Oakland Raiders management and the NFL made their intent to move to a new, taxpayer-funded stadium official, owner Mark Davis has shown signs of obsession with buying himself some goodwill among the fans — a transparent effort to keep Oakland Coliseum full despite the franchise’s exit.

After all, Davis needs to fill the Coliseum for the next two seasons with the knowledge among fans in the Bay Area that the team and its identity will pack up for Las Vegas.

The signing of local legend Marshawn Lynch (Oakland Tech and Cal) brought excitement in the first of three seasons along the Oakland Raiders Farewell Tour. However, after a dismal 6-10 finish kept the Raiders out of the playoffs, Davis opted to go all-in, finally landing his blockbuster attraction: Jon Gruden as head coach.

For years, the Raider Nation has dreamed to a return of the Gruden Era, and for good reason. The only period of success during the Raiders second stay in Oakland came with Gruden in command and only failure has followed since his departure from the franchise.

It is no secret that Davis has long sought of the opportunity to bring Gruden back. Before hiring recently ousted Jack Del Rio, Davis attempted to hire Gruden. On Tuesday, Davis called the accomplished mission a dream come true.

A fanbase that has never fully gotten over the Tuck Rule Game and lived off nostalgia of its past glory naturally has fallen right into the Raiders new pitch. Forgotten is a failed season from a roster of experienced talents expected to compete for the Super Bowl, and in its place is excitement over the potential of a returning beloved former coach guiding them to success before leaving for Las Vegas.

Gruden even addressed the narrative of Oakland’s favorite coach coming back for a sendoff in the Coliseum’s final two years in his press conference. The savvy Gruden promised two years of exciting football in Oakland before the team departs for Las Vegas in the final eight years of his 10-year contract; a promise that should drive ticket sales for the Raiders in the Coliseum, a stadium with a tarped upper deck for much of the post-Gruden era.

The early 2000s nostalgia was so high during Gruden’s introductory press conference it commanded an appearance from the legendary Charles Woodson, the victim of the Tuck Rule and a living Raiders legend.

Woodson also referenced Gruden’s history, grabbing the mic and chiding the mistake of trading him to Tampa Bay after the Tuck Rule loss.

It is easy for the Raider Nation to get caught up in the return of Gruden to the sideline and particularly to the Raiders. Gruden was an iconic head coach and was the perfect fit for the Raiders sideline at the perfect time in a perfect era with a perfect cast of characters.

It is understandable to want that era to return, but there are serious challenges to recreate that magic along with Gruden’s personal challenge of returning to the league after a decade layoff. There is a risk in any comeback of things no longer being as magical as they once were and Gruden will need some help from an underachieving roster if immediate success is to be achieved before the team departs to Vegas.

Derek Carr will need to mature and become Rich Gannon 2.0. Amari Cooper has to put a highly discouraging third year behind him and turn into a consistent number one target at wideout. The Raiders poor defense will need to turnaround completely, specifically in a secondary that needs to find a leader they lost when Charles Woodson hung up his cleats.

Davis is betting big on Gruden’s ability to elevate the young stars on the Raiders to the next level. Reaping the benefits of nostalgia along the way, it appears to be the perfect hire at the moment off the field. Certainly worth $100 million over 10 years if Gruden can sustain the buzz he has generated in his return.

If that is to happen, Gruden will need to produce wins right away — which means Gruden’s first season in Oakland this time around must surpass the back-to-back 8-8 seasons in his first two years during his initial run with the Silver and Black.

Davis is paying Gruden to guide the Raiders to the Playoffs immediately and create similar memories for a new era, similar to the ones he delivered under Al Davis now nearly two decades ago. For athletes, living up to former heights in a return to a former team almost always goes poorly. For head coaches, it is a task that is achievable despite the impossibility of living up to the lofty demands of nostalgia.

At the moment, it is hard not to look at the Gruden comeback as something similar to an athlete coming out of retirement for a big payday or a rock band going on a comeback tour to fill out stadiums.

Gruden hasn’t coached since 2008 and like the Raiders, hasn’t won a playoff game since 2002 — an era notable for Blink-182’s wild popularity and George W. Bush’s first term in the White House. For this to not feel like a grab at marketing the memories of better days, Gruden will need to win right away and prove that he is still one of the NFL’s premier head coaches, worthy of both an unprecedented contract and the support of a fan base with only the present to look forward to.