Much was made of Gary Neville’s not-so-seamless segue way from commentary to coaching.
His ill-fated spells with Valencia and England served as proof that on-screen and on-pitch analyses are not one and of the same, the abstract tactical post-mortems common in punditry a far cry from the altogether more practical grind of management.
That the two roles jived so uneasily should really have come as little surprise, Neville’s ignominious attempt to reconcile the two ends merely the latest in a long line.
The nature of modern media ensures his won’t be the last though, pundits seemingly more prominent within the sporting spectrum than ever before.
Jon Gruden’s lucrative deal with the Raiders speaks volumes in that regard, 10 years and $100m worth of guarantees testament to the value of visibility.
The Ohio native has served as ESPN’s front of house for almost a decade, Gruden by some distance their highest paid employee. Only by throwing in the kitchen sink could Oakland possibly have coaxed him from those cosy confines; Gruden knew it too.
He’s got the t-shirt, after all, a seismic championship run as head coach of Tampa Bay the rock upon which he built his church.
Not that his new employers need much reminding. Oakland made up the numbers at the Buccaneers’ 2002 coronation, that reverse their last Super Bowl appearance.
Oakland Raiders new head coach Jon Gruden answers questions during an NFL football news conference in Alameda, Calif. Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Of course, Gruden’s own ties to black and silver date back yet further still. It was in those feted colours that his brand was first born, ever-irreverent Raiders owner Al Davis having handed him the coaching keys in 1998.
Gruden returned the favour and revved the engine in kind, his smash-mouth style putting the spluttering outfit back on track. By 2000 they were purring, a run to the AFC title game followed up with another postseason appearance 12 months on.
The infamous ‘Tuck Rule’ loss to New England would grind things to a halt however, that premature playoff exit seeing Gruden banished from the Bay with business very much unfinished.
Inevitably, there was more to the departure than met the eye. Gruden’s West Coast offense never tallied all that well with Davis’ penchant for aggressive play, the pair’s marriage made somewhere far from heaven.
It’s taken some 17 years to wholly un-burn those bridges, Mark Davis choosing to extend the olive branch snapped so unceremoniously by his late father.
For him, it’s as much an investment off the field as on it. His team’s pending move from a fervent footballing hotbed in California to the uncharted environs of Nevada is still some way down the track, but the Las Vegas charm offensive has begun in earnest.
Thankfully for Raiders Inc, few can charm quite like Jon Gruden.
"I just, in my heart, I feel this is the thing to do”, he proclaimed ahead of his second coming. “This is what I want to do. This is the organization that I want to be a part of, and I am all-in. I only live one time. This is something I feel deeply, strongly about, and I am going to do everything I can to hire a great coaching staff and restore the Raiders to the top."
“Working as a broadcaster has given me the chance to learn and see some things that I’ve never gotten to see as a coach. I’ve had a chance to study different offenses, different defenses, and the chance to get into personnel more. I think I’m more big picture now than what I was in the past.”
“Most of all though, I’m just glad to be back. I never wanted to leave. I am thrilled to be here and I plan on doing everything that I can with this opportunity. Let’s go. That is what I say to Raider Nation. Let’s go. No more talking, let’s get to work.”
He never stopped working, of course, Gruden’s interpretation of the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” credo a quasi-design for life.
The famed 20-hour days which moulded his mystique followed him through to the booth, his broadcast colleagues enamoured by the ‘war room’ feel of his production briefings.
It’s just as well. After nine years in the neutral zone, Gruden has another battle on his hands.