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Toward a Theory of Dumb Guys


David Roth’s summary of Jon Gruden is outstanding:

One of the most common misunderstandings about Dumb Guys is that they are not capable of doing things. This is false. They can and in fact absolutely love to do complicated-sounding things like scheme and intrigue. They may not do those things well, and will generally do them in arbitrary and ineffective ways. But they will attack the work of scheming and maneuvering and infighting with all the vigor of a dog trying to carry a too-big tree branch through a doorway.

Anyway, you are familiar with Jon Gruden’s work since taking over as supreme generalissimo of the Oakland Raiders last year. During that time, Gruden has not just made obvious Dumb Guy moves like engineering the disastrous Khalil Mack trade and signing Nathan Peterman to a NFL player contract and generally brainlording his hand-picked team of doofuses and scrubs to a 4-12 record. He’s done all those things, but he has also leaned into the intrigue with typical Gruden vigor. Gruden set up his own parallel shadow front office within the team’s own front office and eventually forced the ouster of GM Reggie McKenzie; he maintained his control over the team’s major decisions even after the hiring of new GM Mike Mayock. Man he really has done a lot.

Because the ultimate Dumb Guy goal is absolute power, it might seem like Gruden’s work was done, and he could just lock in on the task of coaching up his personally selected squad of Grinders n’ Guys until they play a stainless, laser-precise, airtight version of the 2007-style NFL football that is still Gruden’s ideal. It is a common Dumb Guy trait to stop assimilating new information at some moment of great personal success; there is no reason to think that Jon Gruden believes the NFL is any different than it was when he won a Super Bowl in it during George W. Bush’s first term.

The problem is that all that intriguecreates its own sort of paranoid gravity. The Dumb Guy believes that the moment he stops scheming is the moment that he becomes vulnerable, and so must throw himself into constant counter-intrigue and intrigue-maintenance and general amphetamized vigilance. And that, according to Ian Rapoport, is where the Raiders stand today, after Mayock and Gruden sent home the team’s entire scouting department because they “don’t know who to trust.”

This reminds me that I have yet to make fun of the ultimate self-parody of Tantric Moneyball Veganism, the Sloan Conference giving its “Best Transaction” award to…the Raiders trading away Khalil Mack for draft picks, including two first rounders the first of which won’t be a premium one and the second one probably won’t be either, because, you know, the team trading the draft picks acquired Kahlil Mack. This is the ultimate in tanking becoming a dumb one-note ideology that really has nothing to do with “analytics.” There are times when it is perfectly sound for a weak team to trade away a star player, if the return is especially good or the player is too old to plausibly be part of the organization’s next quality team. But this isn’t the case with Mack — the return wasn’t particularly high given the quality of the Bears, and Mack was 27 when the Raiders traded him. Moreover, Jon Gruden, SUPERGENIUS used the money he saved from the trade to just sign a bunch of washed-up old guys who weren’t even valuable in 2018, and he also used two of his three 2018 picks on offensive linemen who he turned over to…Tom Cable, with predictably disastrous results. As Roth says, there’s zero reason to think Gruden has any idea what he’s doing or that the Mack trade is part of some kind of Coherent Grand Strategery.

But lots of people criticized the trade and the Raiders got their brains beat out while Mack played brilliantly for Chicago, and for the DISRUPTION wing of football analysis, that makes the Raiders the real winners.

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