Jon Gruden never wanted to leave the Raiders -- and now he's back

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The time Derek Carr went through Gruden's QB Camp (3:17)

Before the 2014 NFL draft, Jon Gruden sat down with Derek Carr to chat about the then-Fresno State QB's pedigree and growing up around the game. (3:17)

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Jon Gruden never truly wanted to leave the Oakland Raiders and, really, very few people inside the walls of 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway wanted to part with him.

So with Gruden coming out of ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast booth to return as Raiders coach, nearly 20 years to the day after he was hired the first time, there is a certain prodigal-son-returning feel to it all.

The question, then, is this: Can he coach in today's NFL?

Sure, he's been in the booth and running his QB camps (that's where he found a certain kinship with second-round draft pick Derek Carr), but the game has changed, no?

"I do get the itch a lot," Gruden said in a radio interview in 2014. "I miss it tremendously. There are some things I don't miss at all. There are things I don't understand, like, what a CBA is, exactly. What an illegal hit is. I don't know if [Jack] Tatum and [George] Atkinson could survive in today's game. But I do have an ambition to coach. Some day."

Welcome, then, to that day, Raider Nation. You got your Chucky back, as Gruden will be named the head coach in a news conference on Tuesday. And the last time you saw him roaming a Raiders sideline was in the New England snow, on Jan. 19, 2002, minutes after the Tuck Rule came into effect.

You know how the rest of the story goes: Gruden was traded by Raiders owner Al Davis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. Gruden then faced the Raiders in the next Super Bowl. Knowing the Raiders' game plan like the back of his hand, Gruden and Tampa Bay blew out Oakland 48-21, and the Raiders didn't get back into the playoffs until 2016. The Raiders beat Gruden in his final game as Buccaneers coach to knock Tampa Bay out of playoff contention in 2008. Gruden returned to Ricky's Sports Theater and Grill in the East Bay in 2009 with the Monday Night Football crew, and a reunion of Raiders greats showed up to party the night away as Gruden rocked a Raiders visor and a white Raiders Bo Jackson jersey with flashes popping so much that the team asked Ricky's to take down the photos from their website, lest Al Davis be made aware that some of his most trusted lieutenants were with Gruden. Gruden, at the behest of Mark Davis, returned to the Coliseum to light the Al Davis Torch in 2012, a year and a month after the elder Davis died.

And, of course, today.

"A little man with a Napoleon complex," former Raiders offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy once told me of Gruden, without a hint of bitterness. "A little man who wanted to take over the world. That fa├žade that the Raider Nation created for him, he wore it well."

Now we're back to Chucky, the demonic doll from the 1988 horror flick "Child's Play" whose manic scowls reminded then-Raiders defensive tackle Grady Jackson of Gruden.

"He's for sure like a mastermind of this game," offered current defensive tackle Justin Ellis, who is scheduled to be a free agent. "It would be an honor."

Former All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman also said the prospect of Gruden coming back to Oakland was "exciting," though Bowman will also be a free agent.

"You know what he's done in the past," Bowman said of Gruden. "You know that he understands the game of football, both sides. He's studied the quarterback position inside and out. He's a guy that is a well-known critic in this game and coach as well. I look forward to seeing what happens."

Among Gruden's primary responsibilities will be getting Carr back on track after he regressed badly following his breakthrough 2016 season.

Carr was not in the locker room during the final media access period of the season Monday, though a copy of Tom Brady's "TB12 Method" book was seen on his bench. Nor did he really want to address his relationship with Gruden in the wake of coach Jack Del Rio's dismissal on Sunday.

But in 2016, prior to the Raiders' Monday night game in Mexico City, the two gushed about each other and their meeting at Gruden's QB Camp in 2014.

"We had two cameras set up, 19 or 20 yards down the field, on each hashmark," Gruden said at the time.

"And we threw some seam passes into the bull's-eye where the GoPro camera was. Most of the guys hit the screen. A couple guys would hit the target. Derek Carr hit the bull's-eye both times and broke my camera."

Said Carr: "He didn't ask me for any money for it, so I appreciate that. But I do remember breaking his cameras and him saying, 'Who is this guy?'"

They will get reacquainted soon enough, and perhaps get to the bottom of why Carr was not rated as highly as Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater then, let alone how Gruden plans to prop Carr back up now.

"[Doing Gruden's QB Camp] was fun," Carr said in 2016.

"We had a great time and looking back on it, man, that's probably the most fun I've had on any of that pre-draft stuff, my time with him."

Gruden, who said in that radio interview that he still considered himself a Raider and maintained a "Raider Room" in his house with old Silver and Black memorabilia, was more effusive.

"Al Davis," Gruden said, "would be very, very proud of Derek Carr."

And Al Davis just might be proud of his son for a savvy move.

Because, casting a cynical eye, Gruden's wild popularity serves non-football purposes as well. In Oakland, where the Raiders need to calm a fan base whose time is running short, Gruden serves as another olive branch, in the Marshawn Lynch mold, and creates more excitement in this long, awkward farewell. In Las Vegas, Gruden has the type of celebrity the team needs to sell personal seat licenses and move merchandise for a team that will be playing there by 2020.

"Jon was a good coach," Al Davis said in 2008. "But don't forget, I took Jon [when] no one else even knew who he was."

He is known now.