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Gruden's Status Under Review

Pro football: Raider coach heading into final year of his contract with no extension in works.

January 22, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Oakland Raiders are out of the playoffs, and after next season, they may be out of a coach as well.

"It's my opinion, based on conversations I've had with Jon, that Jon Gruden will not be coach of the Raiders after the 2002 season," agent Bob LaMonte told The Times.

Gruden, 37, just finished the fourth season of the five-year deal he signed as a rookie coach in 1998, and a source familiar with the situation said neither side is interested in extending the contract.

A scenario gathering steam has the Raiders essentially trading Gruden to Tampa Bay for draft picks. The Buccaneers, whose hopes of replacing Tony Dungy with Bill Parcells were dashed over the weekend, are precluded by tampering rules from initiating such a deal. The Raiders have to make the first call.

Raider executive Bruce Allen did not return phone messages Monday, but a day earlier said of Gruden's status: "We plan to address that."

Allen has long been a strong supporter of Gruden's. But the tension between Gruden and Raider owner Al Davis has been building for the past two seasons and now they barely speak, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Gruden, who has three sons, said he plans to spend more time with his family in the coming months, and that could make the Tampa option even more appealing. His parents live there, and his younger brother, Jay, is the coach-turned-quarterback of arena football's Orlando Predators.

LaMonte was reached while boarding a plane to North Carolina, where another client, New York Giant defensive coordinator John Fox, is interviewing for the Carolina Panther coaching vacancy.

Twice in the past year, Gruden turned down the chance to coach college teams. Ohio State offered him a 10-year, $25-million deal last year. And, before the George O'Leary fiasco, Notre Dame was very interested in Gruden, and several sources say the job was his if he wanted it.

Gruden told reporters Monday he's leaving all negotiating to LaMonte.

"I've got one year left on my contract; I have nothing to report," he said. "There have been no renegotiations. There have been no years added to my contract. I'm not worried about it. It will all work itself out."

Gruden appeared to have taken the Raiders to the AFC championship game for the second consecutive season on Saturday before the team suffered a 16-13 overtime loss in a New England blizzard, a defeat marked by a controversial call that cost them the game. With 1:47 remaining in regulation and the Patriots behind by three, cornerback Charles Woodson jarred the ball loose from quarterback Tom Brady for an apparent fumble. Linebacker Greg Biekert recovered, and it looked as if his team needed to only run out the clock.

Officials decided to review the play, however, and overturned the call, ruling it an incomplete pass. Four plays later, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal to tie. He clinched the victory with another field goal on the opening drive in overtime.

"I'll go to my grave believing that was a fumble," Gruden said.

A lot of people inside and outside the Raider organization adhere to conspiracy theories, that the NFL is out to get the litigious Davis and his team. The Raiders are quick to point out their two postseason opponents were flagged a total of one time--the New York Jets had no penalties, and the Patriots had one. Gruden sought to distance himself Monday from the paranoia.

"I'm not going to go there," he said.

"The NFL is not about that. I'm not going there at all .... Find a way to win and there is no conspiracy. There are no theories."

Gruden was--and still is--the league's youngest coach when he took over a 4-12 team in 1998. After consecutive 8-8 seasons, his team finished 12-4 and 10-6, winning back-to-back AFC West titles. The Raiders reached the conference championship game last season, making their first postseason appearance since 1993.

"I'm pleased and proud about a lot of aspects that have happened the last four years," he said.

"We're all sick to death about this season being over. But at the same time, we're excited about the things that have happened to this team."

And what if next season is his last with the Raiders?

"I've been called a lame-duck coach," he said. "But I've been called worse."

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