Jon Gruden wasn’t coaching the Oakland Raiders in 2014, but his voice was being heard by one key member of the organization. Raiders owner Mark Davis reportedly spoke to Gruden about personnel moves leading up to the 2014 draft, and those conversations nearly resulted in a disastrous decision.
As the 2014 NFL draft was approaching, Davis reportedly started to sour on pass rusher Khalil Mack in favor of quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Some speculated Gruden had something to do with that, according to Jenny Vrentas and Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated.
Back in 2014, McKenzie had asked Davis to sit in on their combine interview with the University at Buffalo pass rusher. But before the draft, Davis told one member of the organization he’d watched tape of Mack and saw him “get his a-- kicked in coverage.” Davis pushed for the Raiders to instead choose Johnny Manziel, according to multiple people with knowledge of that pre-draft process. Some believed Davis’s assessments of both players came directly from Gruden, who made no secret of his affinity for the Texas A&M gunslinger and regularly discussed personnel moves with Davis.
Despite Davis’ preference, the Raiders took Mack anyway. Mack rewarded the team with two All-Pro selections and three Pro Bowl appearances in his four years with the club. Mack was then shipped to the Chicago Bears for multiple first-round picks shortly after Gruden returned to coach the team.
Manziel played just two seasons with the Browns, putting up a 7-7 touchdown to interception ratio. He is trying to work his way back to the NFL, but hasn’t played since 2015.
While it’s no secret how much Davis admires Gruden, the Raiders’ owner may have been too open about pursuing the coach. Davis reportedly had no problem telling former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio that he wanted Gruden badly, according to SI.
When Davis hired Jack Del Rio in 2015, after making yet another run at Gruden, he openly told his new head coach that he would continue trying to land the one who got away. “He was always very straightforward with the fact that he was in love with Jon, and if he had the chance, he was going to hire him,” Del Rio says now. “He said it every chance he got.”
In the end, Davis got his man. Gruden signed a 10-year, $100 million deal to coach the team in 2018.
Gruden’s second stint with the team hasn’t gotten off to a great start. He went just 4-12 in his first season back with the franchise, and this offseason has been marred by Antonio Brown drama.
For better or worse, the Raiders’ success depends on whether Davis made the right call on Gruden. Both men have nine more seasons to figure that out.
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