At 4:43 p.m. PST, just 21 minutes after the Raiders’ 30-10 loss to the Chargers went final, Del Rio informed reporters he wouldn’t be coming back. The now former Oakland head coach said he spoke with his owner two minutes prior. Davis waited less than 20 minutes after Del Rio’s third full season in Oakland finished to give him the axe.
When Del Rio addressed his team following the game, no players knew their coach’s fate. Del Rio didn’t either, though doubt regarding his future crept in with recent reports that Jon Gruden-to-Oakland was more serious this time than others. Derek Carr said this speech from Del Rio didn’t feel like a goodbye. Now it’ll be his last.
Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack met privately with Del Rio after hearing the news. The quarterback learned from someone’s cellphone in the locker room. Del Rio signed a four-year contract extension last offseason, so Davis will eat the final three years of that deal. In 49 games as Raiders head coach, Del Rio finished 25-24. Now the possibility of Gruden coaching the Raiders next season heats up with Del Rio’s dismissal just one season after finishing 12-4.
“We had a great talk this week in our Thursday meeting and I didn’t see this coming,” Carr said. “We were excited to just continue to compete. We were getting ready for what’s next.
“It hurts when something sucky happens to someone you care about. We’ve got to move on. We’ve got to do that.”
Del Rio took longer than usual to join the media following the game. He entered the cramped room, slithered his way through reporters and an aisle of chairs before taking the podium for the last time as Raiders head coach. First he addressed the game, a 20-point blowout, a fitting end to a vastly underwhelming Raiders season. He felt this finale was a microcosm of the entire 6-10 year — stagnant offense, turnovers and porous pass defense just a few problems leading to another Raiders demise.
Then, stern as he’s ever been this season, Del Rio broke the news and requested questions be kept short. He offered his gratitude for the opportunity to coach his hometown team, voicing his support for whoever takes over his players next season.
“I honored the owner’s decision. Like I said, it was a great honor for me to lead this organization, to get this opportunity, and I understand it’s a results business,” Del Rio said. “We had a great first two years and this year was a big disappointment. I can’t disagree with that.”
Del Rio had no talks with Davis before Sunday, he said. Yet it became impossible to ignore the possibility of Gruden returning to the Raiders. ESPN reported Saturday night that Davis is willing to offer the former Oakland head coach an ownership stake in the team. Though Gruden wouldn’t delve into detail when reached over phone by the Bay Area News Group’s Jerry McDonald on Saturday night, some close to Gruden rumors in the past indicated this time is no joke.
Even so, Del Rio losing his job after one down year shocked some in the locker room. Less than a year ago, Davis rewarded him with an extra four years after leading the Raiders from 7-9 in Year 1 to playoffs in Year 2. If not for Carr’s injury in the 2016 regular season’s penultimate game, the Raiders may have gone farther than the first round.
Yet in a results-oriented business, Sunday’s abysmal showing that sent Oakland to 6-10 offered no second chance for Del Rio in 2018.
“Definitely enjoyed playing for him, but it just sucks, because he’s a coach,” cornerback Sean Smith said. “We didn’t play up to our expectations and in the end he had to pay the price.”
“Didn’t expect it. It’s a production business,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “You gotta produce to stick around and earn this money. It’s part of the business. It sucks.”
“We did not produce, 6-10 after 12-4, that’s just the bottom line,” tight end Lee Smith said. “At the end of the day, Mr. Davis is the boss of this whole deal and he made a decision. I think everyone knows that when you lose, consequences come with it.”
The Raiders’ success was fleeting, and it cost their head coach his job. Whether Gruden is the next man in charge remains to be seen.
Davis may already have a “yes” from Gruden and that’s why he pulled the trigger so soon after the game. Either way, the Jack Del Rio era in Oakland is over, and it came to a crashing halt.
“He felt he needed a change,” Del Rio said. “I told him how much I appreciated the opportunity he gave me and I mean that. Very grateful. My childhood team. But it’s a results business. I understand that.”
©2017 East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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