Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor looks at the Oakland Raiders and sees some similarities in how he hopes his own team can rebound from a tough beginning.
Jon Gruden, a 1986 graduate of the University of Dayton, returned to Oakland last year for a second stint as Raiders head coach, following a decade away from the sidelines, and endured a 4-12 season. This year, he’s already guided the Raiders (5-4) to an improved record with seven games left.
Taylor is still looking for his first win in Cincinnati and declared earlier this week that this 0-9 start is the toughest stretch the team will go through in the next 20 years. The Bengals are seeking to avoid matching their worst start in franchise history when they match up against Gruden and the Raiders on Sunday in California.
“They probably didn’t have the year last year that they thought they would have, but they stuck together and found ways to create some momentum,” Taylor said. “We played them last year in Week 1 when I was (with the L.A. Rams), and it was a good football team that gave us a great run. We won it in the fourth quarter. I know they did that to some other teams. They’ve done a good job staying the course. They’ve done a nice job.”
Gruden said during a conference call with local media Wednesday that Taylor doesn’t need any advice from him on how to bounce back from the 0-9 start.
“You have to put your team together, you have to build your football team,” Gruden said. “We’re in the process of doing the same thing. You’re going to have some tough days, no doubt, but stay true to yourself, your core beliefs. Lean on your coaching staff and lean on your players and just keep working. Good things will happen, just keep digging.”
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Taylor briefly played for Gruden when he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent quarterback in 2007. He went through offseason workouts with the team but ended up cut at the start of training camp.
In the brief time he spent with the Bucs, Taylor said he could see Gruden was a “great teacher” who captured people’s attention. Taylor joked that Gruden probably wanted him just because he could call the plays in rookie minicamp, having come from Nebraska, where his coach, Bill Callahan, had a similar offense and similar verbiage as Gruden.
Gruden sees more potential in Taylor as a coach than he did as an NFL player.
“He probably wasn’t going to make it in the NFL as a player, but he had a really good run as a college quarterback and he’s a great, great young man,” Gruden said. “He’s an excellent teacher of the game. I’m really excited he has this opportunity and hopefully everybody just has a little patience, I know they will, and he’s going to be great.”
There are other connections between the coaching staffs that will face each other on opposite sidelines at Oakland Colesium on Sunday. Most notably, current Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was Gruden’s quarterbacks coach in 2018.
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Callahan mentored quarterback Derek Carr, who continues to be an effective leader on the field for the Raiders. He currently has a career-best completion percentage of 70.8 percent, while throwing for 2,202 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions over nine games.
“It always helps, especially with the personnel, when you’ve been around players,” Taylor said of Callahan’s experience with Oakland. “You know what makes them tick. Schematically, everybody evolves over time. Just like when we played the Rams, everybody is evolving as the season goes. You don’t want to look too far into that because sometimes it gets you in a little bit of a trap. We watch the tape and we form our own opinions that way.”
Callahan said Sunday’s game will be “real special” for him because he is so connected with the Raiders, dating back to when his father, Bill, was Gruden’s offensive coordinator during his first stint in Oakland from 1998 to 2001. Bill Callahan, now interim head coach for the Washington Redskins, replaced Gruden as Raiders head coach in 2002.
“I spent a lot my life being involved somewhere with the Raiders,” Brian Callahan said. “…I’ve got a ton of respect for Jon. Jon has taught me a lot. To me, Jon is a master coach. He’s an accomplished offensive mind. He’s got great energy. He’s a great presenter. And he’s got a vision and a real good idea what he wants his team to look like, so they’ve kind of built that and it looks very much like he said it would look back when we got there last February.
“They’ve got a great staff, good people. Really good friends of mine, so I root for them all the time. Except this weekend. I want to try and beat their (butts), to be honest with you. I think they feel the same about us.”
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