Gruden train rolls on as Raiders fire Reggie McKenzie

Updated December 11, 2018 - 6:33 am

Jon Gruden will arrive in Las Vegas in 2020, when the Raiders are set to open their inaugural season at a new indoor stadium.

I’m not sure how much Gruden knows about the town, but would find it unlikely you see the head coach hanging around any gaming tables.

He would make for a terrible poker player.

The all-Gruden train isn’t stopping for anyone but slowed enough Monday to kick off the one passenger you knew was destined for a tumble, with general manager Reggie McKenzie being fired from a position he held since 2012 and essentially lost in January.

That’s when owner Mark Davis hired Gruden, handing him a 10-year contract and what has proven to be superior power when it comes to any and all football-related decisions.

“I’m not going to sit up here and talk about any disconnect,” Gruden told reporters in Oakland, amazingly with a straight face, about his relationship with McKenzie. “We were connected. We’re very good friends and very connected. …

“We all work for the same man.”

Wait, Gruden works for himself?

Whatever connection he had with McKenzie, it was defined by one guy completely dismantling a team the other constructed. Things were always going to end this way, and it didn’t take the trading of All-Pro rusher Khalil Mack and Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper and the fact just nine of McKenzie’s 50 draft picks before Gruden arrived are currently part of the team’s 53-man roster to prove it.

Well, it actually took all of that, but you sort of got the idea where things were headed as each player was shown the door one way or another.

Look. It’s not like they fired Bill Belichick, who along with his role as head coach and winning all those Super Bowls for the Patriots, has guided every football move on and off the field in New England since 2000.

The Raiders were 39-70 with one playoff appearance with McKenzie as general manager. He lifted them from the depths of salary cap abyss, but was more miss than hit when it came to drafts, especially in the mid-to-late rounds.

Which means this wasn’t about letting go of someone who delivered a championship performance. Hardly.

Which brings us back to the real boss.

There is a theory that most everything Gruden is doing relates to a personal redemption tour, that one of the central reasons he returned to coaching after a 10-year absence was to prove something — to himself, to others, to the idea he only won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay because of those players assembled and prepared by former coach Tony Dungy, that Gruden really isn’t some master football savant so many assumed while watching him as an ESPN analyst.

Draft looms large

The Raiders own three first-round picks in the upcoming draft, when Gruden will truly begin rebuilding that which he tore down. But evaluating football prospects is hard work, and it’s not as if Gruden has ever been viewed as something fabulous in this way.

In fact, you can make the argument he failed more often than not over his career when scouting the one position (quarterback) of which he supposedly owns the most knowledge.

He has much to prove, is right, when it comes to judging who is the best fit and player at a specific spot.

Davis will undoubtedly hire someone to replace McKenzie and that person will undoubtedly be someone Gruden approves of and over whom he will have final say.

So while I’m not sure anyone alive loves football more than Gruden, that doesn’t in any sense mean his player personnel skills will ultimately deliver a winning product.

“It’s a tough, like I said, business,” said Gruden. “Changes happen. There’s been a lot of change in this organization in the last 15 years. Coaches have come and gone. General managers have come and gone. We have to respond. We have to fix the Oakland Raiders. That’s something that we’re dead set on doing.”

Less than two years from now, they will be the Las Vegas Raiders, and whether all is fixed or not by that time falls on the shoulders of one man.

That’s how this deal was set up from the moment Gruden was hired, and McKenzie being kicked off the train Monday was merely the latest inevitable move in the process.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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