Jon Gruden spent nine years in the Monday Night Football booth captivating audiences with blunt coach-speak: “You never stay the same. You either get better or worse.” It came with the authority of a Super Bowl winner, which he achieved in 2003 when he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the title.
Gruden’s name was bandied about annually for nearly every job opening, as speculation swirled about when the youngest coach to ever win the game’s top trophy would return to the sidelines. When Oakland Raiders owner Marc Davis finally wooed him back in 2018, he crowed at the press conference to announce the hiring: “This is a big f’ing deal Raiders Nation!” Davis said he “chased” Gruden for six years.
Gruden used the leverage of that enthusiasm to sign a historic ten-year, $100 million contract, a record total for any U.S. coach. A fleecing for a franchise that Forbes values at $2.9 billion? Hardly.
“I believe Marc Davis got a bargain,” says Marc Ganis, president of consultancy Sportscorp, who calls the hiring a “brilliant” move. “Hiring Gruden will have permanent financial benefits for the franchise. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. That holds very true in sports when you relocate a team and build a new stadium. The Raiders are doing both.”
The Raiders’ last sustained success occurred under Gruden’s original four-year tenure, which ended in 2003 when he was traded to the Bucs for four draft picks and $8 million in cash. Gruden led the Bucs over the Raiders in the Super Bowl during his first season in Tampa.
The next 15 years for Oakland included only a single winning season and playoff appearance, and a revolving door of coaches—not an ideal sales climate ahead of the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas next season. Ganis figures the move, with a new stadium set to open in 2020, has boosted the value of the franchise by $1 billion thanks to the sale of luxury suites and sponsorships in the team’s new home. The stadium naming rights deal alone, signed with Allegiant Air in August, is worth an average of $20 million annually for 30 years.
Behind Gruden’s deal is the NFL powerbroker they call the kingmaker and godfather, Bob Lamonte, who currently represents ten NFL coaches. When Lamonte started representing coaches in the late 1980s, beginning with Mike Holmgren who would go on to win a Super Bowl in Green Bay, the average NFL head coach’s salary was $295,000. Today, head coaches pull in more than $6 million a year on average. And because there are no league limits on coaching salaries like there are with players, their cut of the action has gone from below the league-average player salary when Lamonte started to more than twice as much.
“Al Davis told me I was an idiot to represent coaches and that they were a dime a dozen,” recalls Lamonte of a conversation with the longtime owner of the Raiders, who passed the team to his son Marc when he died in 2011. “Teams wouldn’t negotiate with agents for coaches. That was how the system worked. Coaches were part of management.”
Name – Team, Career Titles, Average contract value
Bill Belichick – New England Patriots, 6 Titles, $12M
Gregg Popovich – San Antonio Spurs, 5 Titles, $11M
Nick Saban – Alabama, 6 Titles, $9.4M
Mike Krzyzewski – Duke, 5 Titles, $9M