ALAMEDA, Calif. — Jon Gruden is known as a quarterback-minded football coach, but on Tuesday he looked like he’ll be equally adept working with another position — punter.
During a news conference at which Gruden was introduced as the Oakland Raiders’ new head coach, he was personable and funny in front of a large crowd at the team’s training facility. But in the face of delicate questions, Gruden punted — and without the flair of Raiders Hall-of-Famer Ray Guy.
Surely Gruden was prepared for the questions, such as those about his reported contract, a 10-year deal worth $100 million. Before the press conference, Gruden’s agent, Bob LaMonte, boasted that the deal is “without a doubt a contract for the ages.’’
But Gruden sounded as his agent never bothered to brief him on how exactly millions the coach will be making.
“I don’t really know the terms,’’ Gruden said, although he did say he would not be getting an ownership stake of the team. “All I know is this year I’m going to be coaching in Oakland and next year I’m going to be coaching in Oakland and I want to help deliver the best football team we can for the people here in Oakland."
Perhaps Gruden should be given a break. Maybe he is used to being the one asking the questions after an eight-plus year run as an analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football. But the news media didn’t let him squirm free on Tuesday, with another reporter asking Gruden about the expectations attached to an unprecedented contract.
“I know there’s a big bullseye on my chest,’’ he said. “There might be people who want to use that as incentive, so be it. I worked for Al Davis in 1998, that was pressure. I was 34 years old. I’ve deal with pressure before. I really don’t feel pressure.’’
Yet Gruden looked uncomfortable minutes later when asked how he felt about Raiders’ plans to move to Las Vegas, with the team expected to be in Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
Seated next to Raiders owner Mark Davis, Gruden replied, “Mark can talk about the move to Las Vegas.”
Then he added, “I’m a real short-term, goal-oriented coach. Big reason I’m here is my passion for the city of Oakland and this franchise. People in the Black Hole, if you’re out there listening, I can’t wait to see you guys. I’d like to fill that place (Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum) with Raiders at least seven or eight more times. That’s all I care about.’’
There was yet more punting when Gruden was asked about Lincoln Kennedy, the former Raider-turned-sideline reporter who speculated that player protests during the national anthem undermined the Raiders during their 6-10 season.
“I’m going to look into all that,’’ Gruden said. “Honestly, I’m not aware of any protests. I’m not really aware of that subject at all. So when I gather some information, maybe we can cover it.’’
Then came the follow-up question: How Gruden would he feel if his players protested during the anthem? The punter seemed to be warming up for another boot.
But the question was paired with another: Could Davis explain why hiring Gruden was a dream come true? Davis happily answered. Gruden never bothered to address the anthem further and instead field an innocuous question about Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Although there was no scoreboard in sight, by most accounts, Gruden probably won the press conference. After all, the man who will be signing his massive paychecks was beaming, as were the likes of Howie Long, Jerry Rice and other Raider greats who attended the press conference.
But the Raiders are forking out $100 million for more than a punter, and eventually Gruden should be prepared to answer the tough questions, too.