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Josh McDaniels took the fall, but owner Mark Davis has only himself to blame for Raiders’ failures

Raiders owner Mark Davis (left) gave Josh McDaniels only a season and a half to turn around the team's fortunes.Sam Morris/Getty

Josh McDaniels still has 4½ years left on his contract with the Raiders, and he is expected to get a big, fat buyout after being fired late Tuesday/early Wednesday.

Consider it the cost of doing business for Raiders owner Mark Davis to have someone else saddled with the team’s failures.

McDaniels — along with general manager Dave Ziegler, who also was fired — is the one who will be branded with the “bust” label after leading the Raiders to a 9-16 mark in 1½ seasons. He’ll be remembered as the first coach in NFL history to be fired by two teams before completing two full seasons with each, compiling a 20-33 combined record with the Raiders and Broncos. For the rest of his life, McDaniels likely will be referred to as “great coordinator, bad head coach.”


But make no mistake, McDaniels’s firing is really a massive failure by Davis. The owner is butchering his own franchise because he can’t choose a lane.

If Davis wanted immediate results, he should have hired Rich Bisaccia in 2022. He was the Raiders’ wildly popular interim coach in 2021 who went 7-5 after Jon Gruden was fired, and he led the Raiders to their second playoff berth in 19 years. The players loved Bisaccia, and the fans loved the team he had built.

Instead, Davis cleaned house, bringing in McDaniels and Ziegler to run the team and allowing them to overhaul the coaching staff and front office. Davis cited the success McDaniels had with other quarterbacks in New England besides Tom Brady — including Matt Cassel, Mac Jones, and Cam Newton — and wanted him to find and develop the next Raiders quarterback. And Davis liked that McDaniels and Ziegler had a 25-year relationship going back to college.

It was a decent plan as long as Davis allowed them to see it through. Instead, Davis pulled the plug abruptly, axing McDaniels and Ziegler after just 25 games.


Since Davis took control of the team before the 2012 season, the Raiders have had a .398 winning percentage that ranks fifth-worst among the 32 teams, four head coaches, and no playoff wins. The one constant has been Davis.

It’s not that the Raiders were thriving under McDaniels. They went 6-11 last year and now sit 3-5, ranked 14th out of 16 teams in the AFC. Their offense is 30th in points (15.8 per game) and 31st in yards. Last year, the Raiders had six second-half collapses, and this year McDaniels has made some baffling decisions on fourth down.

Star players, most notably receiver Davante Adams, didn’t believe in the team’s leadership. Fans were openly heckling Davis to fire McDaniels. The Raiders didn’t provide the glitz and fireworks to match the Las Vegas Strip.

But what, exactly, did Davis expect?

He gave McDaniels a locker room that was squarely aligned against him, save for the ex-Patriots players Ziegler imported. Davis gave McDaniels a roster that was fit for Gruden’s offense and needed to be retooled. He let Ziegler dump quarterback Derek Carr — doing Davis a massive favor by getting out from Carr’s contract — and sign Jimmy Garoppolo, who had to learn a new offensive system this offseason and didn’t participate in the offseason program because of a broken foot.

No NFL coach would succeed under those conditions, and it was foolish to expect otherwise.


Building a culture and a winning roster takes time with a new regime. Lions coach Dan Campbell went 4-19-1 through his first 1½ seasons, but they allowed Campbell to build and grow. They have gone 14-4 since then, and now, in Campbell’s third season, the Lions are serious contenders.

Gruden went 11-21 in his first two seasons with the Raiders (2018-19) and maintained Davis’s full support. But Davis got rid of McDaniels before he unpacked his boxes. He didn’t even give McDaniels the opportunity to do what he was brought in for — draft and develop a young quarterback (fourth-round rookie Aidan O’Connell doesn’t count).

Now Davis has a true mess on his hands. The roster and coaching staff need to be turned over — again. But which coach worth his salt would take the Raiders job knowing they need a full rebuild, and that the last guy got whacked after just 1½ seasons?

There’s really only one hire who would be a home run for the Raiders, who would excite the players and fans and bring the Raiders back to relevance. That’s Gruden, Mr. Raider himself.

Could Jon Gruden make a return to the Raiders sideline?Ashley Landis/Associated Press

It appeared Gruden’s career was finished in 2021 when old emails surfaced of him using sexist and racist tropes and demeaning key NFL executives, including Roger Goodell.

But bringing Gruden back to Vegas is so crazy that it actually makes sense. Davis is already paying Gruden a massive buyout after firing him 3½ years into a 10-year contract. Now he adds McDaniels’s buyout on top of it.


Davis didn’t want to fire Gruden in the first place, doing so only at metaphorical gunpoint from Goodell and the NFL office. Gruden has remained involved with the NFL despite the animosity from the league office, consulting with the Saints this year and working with Carr.

Now the opportunity presents for Gruden to reclaim his old job, especially if he’s willing to drop his lawsuit against the NFL.

A Nevada court recently ruled against the NFL’s motion to move the lawsuit into arbitration, a major win for Gruden. The NFL might be willing to hold its nose and accept a Gruden return to Vegas if he drops his suit and makes the headache go away.

Gruden might be the only coach willing to deal with the mess Davis has created.

The Raiders can’t decide whether they’re rebuilding or trying to win now. McDaniels gets saddled with the blame, but the Raiders stink from the top.

Ben Volin can be reached at