There are those who believe the Oakland Raiders took a colossal jump into the abyss by hiring a TV guy to be their general manager, and they could be correct. When Jon Gruden announced that Mike Mayock would be taking the Silver and Black's front office reins, he wasn't exactly following the traditional playbook. For a guy so beholden to offensive staples like his beloved Spider 2 Y Banana, Gruden looked like someone committed to a wild, new frontier that was completely incongruent in the copycat NFL.
As you might imagine, Mayock doesn't see things that way. And he shouldn't.
Despite what many people say, he's not a "TV guy." He's a football guy and has been since he would climb out of bed as a youngster to watch game film with his father, a high school coach. He graduated to scouting teams with Mike Sr., calling out down and distance, play formation, play run and the result to his dad and then learning whether he was correct. (He usually was.) It was a natural progression from there to high school stardom at The Haverford School in suburban Philadelphia, All-East honors at Boston College and two seasons with the New York Giants.
He may have spent nearly three decades behind a microphone and in front of a camera for a variety of media outlets, most recently NFL Network, but this is no teleprompter-reading network shill. Mayock is a classic hustler who began his media career providing sideline reporting for high school games on the radio, once "interviewed" the Navy goat on live TV and has taken his love of the game and legendary work ethic to the upper reaches of the nation's foremost professional sports league. Mayock isn't a recycled exec or a lieutenant getting his shot after serving as aide-de-camp to an established winner. He's someone for whom eight hours watching tape are bliss and in whom Gruden found someone with the same high level of passion for the rigors of scouting and identifying talent.
"I like guys who do a lot of work," says Gruden, who met Mayock when he served as offensive coordinator in the mid-'90s for the Eagles. "I like the guys who actually look at the tape and don't look at the Internet to find what other people think. I want them to do the work and really evaluate players."
Mayock built that reputation as NFL Network's draft analyst. He was renowned for attending practically every pro day and looking at tape like a league executive. After proving himself to NFL scouts, GMs and personnel directors, Mayock became as much a resource for them as they were for him. As each year's draft neared, Mayock would spend hours on the phone with New England's Bill Belichick — an assistant coach when Mayock was with the Giants — comparing their evaluations and arguing about various players.
In 2012, Belichick said, "He sees the players; he's not just going on reputation or somebody else's opinion. He watches tapes. He can recall players and games, and refers to specific things to back up his opinion. He looks at the game in a way I'm familiar with: He places emphasis on production."
Mayock has brought all of that to Oakland, at a crucial time for the franchise. The Raiders have had just one winning season in the last 16, played in one postseason game (a 2016 loss to Houston) and have burned through coaches and GMs like few other NFL teams. Gruden took over before last season and went 4–12, the eighth time during that 16-year stretch Oakland has managed four or fewer wins. He made big headlines with his decisions to deal Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper and upset more than a few fans. The move to bring on Mayock, who had been courted several years ago by then-Raiders owner Al Davis, was just as controversial as the trades Gruden executed. A TV guy taking over as GM? Looks like the Raiders are at it again.
Charles Davis doesn't look at it that way. The NFL Network analyst has known Mayock for nearly 15 years. He has seen his friend slowly gain traction, acceptance and eventually significant respect among NFL scouts and personnel people and isn't surprised at all by the move.
"The multiple scouts and personnel people I talked to all said the exact same thing," Davis says. "They felt like one of their own got the job. That speaks volumes."
When it comes to the circumstances surrounding Oakland's trading a third- and a fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft for Antonio Brown and then bestowing a contract on him that includes $30.125 million in guaranteed money, Gruden is careful not to give Mayock too much credit. "I don't want him to think [team owner] Mark Davis didn't get the deal done by paying the most money ever for a wide receiver," Gruden says, laughing. "Mike didn't discover Antonio Brown. He's not paying him. I don't want to give him too much credit."
Then, Gruden turns serious. "Mike did a great job in the minutiae of the deal."
And there was plenty of it. Mayock and Gruden insisted that Oakland was not going to surrender a first-round pick in a deal for Brown, even though the Raiders had three in this draft. At one point, Mayock went to bed feeling there was no shot at the trade, but thanks to persistence by both the team and Brown's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, things finally came together.
When April's draft began, Oakland played a starring role, especially in the first round. And Mayock and Gruden didn't mind being in the spotlight, no matter how hot it became. With the fourth overall pick, the Raiders selected Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who had been rated as a low first-round pick (and even a second-rounder) by most draft analysts. It was a classic Mayock move. Unable to get one of the clear top three players — Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa and Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams — he took the player he felt best fit the team's need at rush end, regardless of spot in the draft, and certainly with little concern about what others thought. Ferrell was a high-character guy with a great work ethic and love for the game. So what if some thought Mayock and the Raiders had picked him too high? This was the man who withstood a torrent of criticism when he said the Raiders' decision to draft JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007 was a mistake. He was proven right then and expects to be correct this time, too.
"It all goes back to, there were flashier players, players that other teams may have had higher on their boards," Mayock said. "On our board, it was he and [Nick] Bosa at that position. Right next to each other at that position. So we knew that he would probably be there, everyone else had the bigger names, but Jon and I went in there this morning and double-checked everything, and he was our guy. He checked all the boxes. He's going to be a three-down player, he's 264 pounds, he's a captain. When you talk to the guys at Clemson, they all talk about this kid as being the cornerstone of that defense, so everything he does reminds me of what we want in the Raiders."
That's Mayock. He does his work. He sets his mind. He makes his choice, and he moves forward. But that decisiveness wasn't there when he was working to enter the broadcasting world. He split his time between TV and his successful commercial real estate career until his son, Michael III, pointed out that he had told a group of high school kids to follow their passions without reservation, and Mayock was still splitting his attention. That led to a single-minded approach to his new career that included roles with ESPN, CBS, NBC, Westwood One and NFL Network. In the process, he developed a reputation for intense preparation.
"Mike knows football at the NFL level," says Kevin Kugler, with whom Mayock worked on Westwood One NFL radio broadcasts. "It was obvious that he had watched copious amounts of tape — two or three games — and studied the individuals above and beyond most analysts.
"They studied tape. He studied individuals. And he was able to apply it."
Gruden says he and Mayock enjoy debating players' values, and even though they may raise their voices and get a little heated, at the end they usually come to a strong consensus.
"We'll argue, and then we'll look at each other and start laughing," Gruden says. "We don't have many disagreements on the draft, the salary cap and our vision for putting together a team."
For Mayock, those showdowns with Gruden are what keep him coming into the office at 6 a.m. and fuel his overwhelming enthusiasm for the game and for his new position. He looks forward to establishing a culture within the Oakland front office that emphasizes accountability and fills the halls with people who truly love what they do. The kid who used to watch tape with his father is now working to create a winning NFL team. To use a favorite Mayock phrase, "How great is that?"
"I had the greatest job in the world on television," Mayock says. "The NFL Network was awesome to me, and I loved it. But at the end of the day, I feel like I'm where I belong. I don't miss [TV] at all."
And he doesn't care if anyone thinks he should still be there.
— Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports' 2019 Pro Football preview magazine.
(Top photo by AP)