Jon Gruden has a new sounding board, and this one just might be able to keep up with him.
Whether Mike Mayock has the goods to be an NFL general manager based on 15 years as a television analyst remains to be seen. But it does appear Gruden has someone to work with who may be as manic and obsessive as he is.
When Gruden was initially paired with GM Reggie McKenzie, the hope was it could be a point/counterpoint relationship. McKenzie, deliberate and methodical, would provide balance for a head coach who is prone to working an insane schedule at a hundred miles an hour.
And Gruden needed McKenzie at the outset. He was in the process installing entirely new systems of football and he leaned on McKenzie to run the scouting department and provide information for the draft and free agency.
But as time went on, McKenzie simply couldn’t keep up. That’s no knock on McKenzie, because not everyone is suited to work with Gruden. A psychiatrist would have a field day with someone who is so singular of purpose, driven in such a way that there are never enough hours in a day to squeeze in more football.
Mayock may not know the ins and outs of being a GM – the “mechanics” as he calls it – but he knows Gruden. And talking football with Gruden reminds Mayock of an interview he once had with perhaps the only other person on the planet to whom football was a be-all and end-all in a way that was either something to be admired or borderline unhealthy.
It happened a decade ago, when Raiders owner Al Davis was looking for a personnel executive to replace Mike Lombardi. Davis didn’t hire general managers, at least not in title. Davis liked Mayock. Davis wanted people who are prepared and can talk football, and he’d heard good things.
So Mayock made his way to Oakland under what he described as “clandestine” circumstances. And Davis put him through the same drill Gruden received in several interviews over three years when he was first in line to be offensive coordinator and then head coach of the Raiders.
The questions were rapid fire like an arcade game. Get up on the board and draw this front. Who are the top quarterbacks in the draft, one through five. One after the other.
“For six to eight hours, he hopped from topic to topic,” Mayock said Monday. “I realized my answers needed to be on point because he’s moving on. That’s how he challenged people … he’d get you off kilter a little bit and see how you react.”
Mayock, who lived in Philadelphia, has been talking with Gruden for 20 years since the coach was a kid offensive coordinator with the Eagles. They talked so often of late Mayock wasn’t sure what was an interview and what was just football talk. But Gruden’s way of extracting and trading information was familiar.
“When you deal with Jon Gruden, and I learned this a long time ago, he’s looking you right in the eye, he’s challenging you,” Mayock said. “Everything’s a question or a challenge. You’d better be ready for it. With Jon, you have to be ready, you have to be prepared. He’s so quick mentally on the football side, it is a lot like Mr. Davis.”
If that sounds as if Mayock will be working for Gruden, well, what did you expect? The two were careful to play the collaboration card, just as Gruden did with McKenzie.
The difference is Mayock will match Gruden in terms of RPMs when it comes to football. Where McKenzie made some changes in the operation after careful thought, Mayock brings outward energy and passion. Just the way the coach likes it.
You got the impression that while Gruden liked and respected McKenzie, their approaches simply didn’t mesh. When Gruden wanted answers, McKenzie would ponder. And while pondering may have been the right call, Gruden was always ready to move on to the next issue.
The big unknown is how Mayock will function in areas other than the draft, for which is knowledge is unparalleled. He said he’s been preparing for the last “seven or eight years” in terms of the pro personnel side after being advised by coaches who knew he wanted to get into a front office some day.
This isn’t like Gruden being in a booth for nine years and returning to his profession. This is someone who’s never done it before, and everything he learned by osmosis over the last 15 years is no substitute for actual experience.