The last time that Raiders coach Jon Gruden had to deal with controversy surrounding a star player on his team, he shipped Khalil Mack off to the Bears and spent most of the next season defending the trade during a 4-12 season. This year, he’s taking a bit of a more level-headed approach, despite the controversy being a lot stranger.
Gruden was asked on Friday about star wideout Antonio Brown threatening to quit football because he’s not allowed to wear the helmet he wants out on the field. Rather than deliver an expected backhanded compliment, or outright snide remark, the Oakland-for-now coach offered nothing but support from the podium, according to ESPN.
“I support this guy. I think that’s what needs to be said,” Gruden said after the Raiders’ 14-3 exhibition-opening win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday at RingCentral Coliseum. “I don’t know what anybody’s writing or what anybody thinks, but this foot injury wasn’t his fault. This was a total accident. It really wasn’t his fault, and it’s a serious injury. I know that some people are [joking about] it, but it’s really not a laughing matter. The guy is hurt, he didn’t do anything wrong, and the helmet thing is a personal matter to him.”
“I have a lot of confidence that he’s one of the premier competitors that I’ve ever been around,” Gruden said. “And I’ve got a feeling he would play with no helmet — that’s how much he loves to play. But I’m not going to put words in anybody’s mouth. We’re going to support him, and whatever his decision is, we’ll stand by it. But we’re confident that he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders for years to come.
“It was a total accident and injury that he’s looking to get right from, and hopefully, with all the people that have seen it, that he’s gotten it cured, and he’s ready to roll.”
This is definitely a case of damage control meant to not only assuage any potential fears that fans have, but also to put up a front so that the organization can at least pretend that this whole situation hasn’t that big of a distraction. For a franchise that is better known for things they’ve done wrong than done well, it’s a refreshing step in the right direction. But the quote should obviously be only taken with a grain of salt since, well, it’s only the preseason. Sure, there’s always a chance that this is what Gruden actually thinks, but I personally believe these compliments came only because the coach was fresh off a win that featured a 51-yard run from Nathan Peterman.
Let’s see how Gruden’s tune changes once the season starts, and he’s forced to start Derek Carr for the whole game.