The decision to fire defensive coordinator Paul Guenther did not come easy for Raiders’ coach Jon Gruden despite the team’s struggles on that side of the ball.
Gruden and Guenther are close friends. Guenther was one of the first hires Gruden made when he returned to the Raiders before the 2018 season.
“It was a difficult night because I love Paul and I’m going to miss him,” Gruden said of dismissing his friend following the team’s crushing 44-27 home defeat to the Colts on Sunday. “He is a great friend and a great coach. He’s given a great effort here for two and half years. It was a very tough circumstance with the COVID, players coming and going with all the injuries. I think it’ll help Paul in the long run, probably, getting away from me. Certainly, he’s a great coach. We thank him for everything that he has done.”
There just came a point where something needed to be done with the Raiders running out of time on a season that looked far more promising when the Raiders were 6-3 than it does sitting at 7-6 on the heels of several defensive collapses.
“We need a new voice right now,” Gruden said. “I think we need a new energy.”
For that, Gruden will turn to Rod Marinelli. The 71-year-old defensive line coach has spent time as a head coach in the NFL and has served as defensive coordinator for both the Bears and Cowboys.
“We have a good staff and a lot of young players,” Gruden said. “We want to service those players the best way we can with a new voice and new energy and a guy who’s had a lot of experience in some tough situations.”
Marinelli has run successful defenses throughout his career as a coordinator, but Marinelli is faced with a stiff challenge in his new role.
The Raiders have been besieged by injuries and have had a multitude of players miss time to COVID-19 and related protocols, stunting the development of some of the younger players.
Now he has a short week to get ready for a must-win game against the Chargers on Thursday night.
“He’s one of the great teachers and great motivators and great people that I’ve met in this business,” Gruden said of Marinelli. “He looks forward to adversity. He thrives in it. I think he looks forward to the challenge of the building of this defense and putting it all together. That’s why we brought him here in the first place. It would certainly help if his soldiers got healthy up front, but he’s got great experience in situations like this.”
Marinelli isn’t expected to have his full complement of players available, though Gruden wasn’t ready to commit to which defensive players might be in or out of the lineup on Thursday.
Safety Johnathan Abram and linebacker Nicholas Morrow suffered concussions on Sunday and are in the protocol. Cornerback Damon Arnette still has not been cleared after suffering concussions in back-to-back games against the Falcons and Jets.
Defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell suffered a shoulder injury that forced him out of Sunday’s game.
None would have been available if the Raiders had practiced on Monday.
“Right now, we have a lot of players in question,” Gruden said. “A lot of guys are unavailable right now. We have to do some damage control. We’ve got to continue to coach and grind and stay positive and hope that Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, some of these newcomers can step up and play key roles for us.”
NOTES — The Raiders made a series of roster moves Monday, including waiving guard Patrick Omameh.
Defensive tackle Niles Scott was signed to the practice squad and defensive tackle Lee Autry was released from the practice squad to make room.
Defensive end Vic Beasley, who was activated to the active roster and played on Sunday, was sent back to the practice squad.