There were times – perhaps too many to count – when Raiders fans were unhappy with Jack Del Rio this past season.
Despite a solid group of young, talented players and experienced pros, Del Rio’s team took several large steps back in 2017 to finish at 6-10, a steep decline from 12-4 a year earlier.
Now Del Rio is gone, fired by owner Mark Davis after Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Chargers, despite a 25-23 three-year record in Oakland and a four-year contract extension agreed to in the offseason. At that time, Davis said Del Rio’s old contract deserved to be "torn up" because the head coach had built a strong foundation for future growth.
On Sunday, Davis still expressed gratitude to Del Rio for what he’d accomplished, but felt the necessity to make a decision after what happened this season.
"He told me he loved me and appreciated all I did to get this program going in the right direction, but that he felt the need to change," Del Rio told reporters. Del Rio said he knows coaching is a "results business" and understood he was held accountable.
Now, the Raiders seem headed toward bringing back Jon Gruden as head coach, though the team will have to go through the interview process.
Yet even as the Raiders look ahead, fans owe a thank you to Del Rio for what he did over 2015, 2016 and 2017 – despite the recent slip.
Finally, after years of disappointment, Del Rio laid a solid, professional foundation for the Raiders, hired a solid staff, helped coach up Reggie McKenzie’s draft picks and set a winning tone. The team got to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, found a young QB in Derek Carr, preached a physical style of play and energized both the team and the fan base.
Gruden – or whoever the Raiders decide to hire as head coach – will come into a situation where the team could certainly rebound and take the division championship in 2018. Whoever does take the job will be stepping into a situation where the team has tasted success and knows what to do.
This all could backfire, of course. Perhaps Del Rio was the best man for the job, as he showed in 2016. Maybe Gruden (or someone else) won’t be a good fit. If Del Rio’s successor fails, it will set the team back significantly.
At this point, though, Davis has made his move. And it appears he’ll hand the reins to Gruden, who just happens to be the last Raiders coach before Del Rio to have a winning record in Oakland.
Whatever happens, Del Rio deserves a round of applause from fans as he exits.