Barber: Gruden’s tough love could force Carr to grow up

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Some coaches solicit advice on game management or roster moves. Here in the Bay Area, we mostly need relationship advice. Forget about Gregg Popovich and Mike Holmgren. Our coaches are writing to Dear Abby.

Two Bay Area teams played over the weekend, and both are being scrutinized not so much for their offense or defense, but for levels of offensiveness and defensiveness.

The Warriors lost back-to-back games in Texas on Saturday and Sunday, and while they were missing two All-Stars and shooting like imposters, what everyone is talking about is whether KD still loves Draymond, and can they find harmony again? On Sunday afternoon, a rare Raiders victory was sullied by footage of coach Jon Gruden in a sideline spat with quarterback Derek Carr.

In beating the Arizona Cardinals on a last-second field goal, the Raiders avoided an extremely lurid week. Had they lost, all the the headlines would be some variation of “He Yelled at Me in Front of My Friends: Derek Carr’s Untold Story.”

The Raiders flare-up is a nonstory, of course. Hurt feelings absolutely can hurt sports teams — bring them down, even. But it’s good to remember that the arguments we see during games are rarely the harmful ones. It’s the disagreements that linger — the cold wars and below-the-surface feuds — that can truly divide a locker room. If Draymond Green vs. Kevin Durant were really about who should bring the ball upcourt for a final shot against the Spurs, it would be forgotten by now. The problem was all the other feelings that had been accumulating unspoken.

One good thing about Jon Gruden is that he doesn’t let much go unspoken. Carr is his current quarterback, his current project and often his current vexation, and it’s a minor miracle that none of us saw them sniping before Sunday.

“I don’t have a ‘no yelling’ sign on the sideline,” Gruden said Monday. “Things happen. We get excited down there. I get excited when we get a first down. Get excited when you work on something all week and it doesn’t work out. I get excited when he makes big plays, too. That’s just part of football. I think cameras can catch things sometimes that maybe make things look a little bit peculiar, but that happens.”

This is nothing new for Gruden. In fact, it’s part of what defines him as a coach. He has been yelling at quarterbacks since Jeff George was wearing silver and black, and probably long before that.

In July, Sports Illustrated ran a story about Gruden’s return to Oakland, focusing on the men who won a Super Bowl with him in Tampa Bay. Their views ran the gamut.

“He’s fair,” former defensive end Stylez White said. “He loves you when you’re doing well, and he’s on top of you when you’re not. You’re going to get what you give.”

“The games were easier (than practice),” quarterback Chris Simms offered. “I didn’t have this psycho 5 feet behind me yelling at me all the time.”

Maybe retired wide receiver Joey Galloway said it best: “It happens in a lot of locker rooms, but maybe the gap was wider between guys who liked him and guys who didn’t.”

And what about Derek Carr? How is he handling the public rebuke? Will it make him better or worse?

Sunday’s tiff wasn’t the first hint of Gruden’s frustration with Carr, who is in the midst of a five-year contract that includes $70 million in guaranteed money. At times, Gruden has scolded Carr for throwing senseless interceptions. Other times he suggested the QB was being too cautious.

Monday, I asked Gruden about his blunt approach to quarterbacks.

“I’m a big cheerleader sometimes,” he said. “I’m very positive a lot of the time. Every once in a while, I think you have to make your points in some different ways. Sometimes raising your voice … I look ridiculous to some people, but I want urgency. I want to have some urgency to get things right. It doesn’t mean I’m always right, either. Derek pointed that out to me yesterday. So be it.”

Everything Gruden said there was accurate. He hasn’t shied from criticizing Carr’s decision-making at times. Nor has he stopped praising the quarterback’s abilities or referring to him as a long-term starter. And last week, after Carr spiked the ball into the ground on a crucial fourth-and-5 snap, it was Gruden who claimed responsibility for a bad play call.

“A lot of my criticism is constructive criticism,” Gruden said. “I think he has the ability, I tell him, to complete every pass he throws. I mean that. He’s got that kind of arm talent, and I am going to continue to raise the standards for him. I thought he threw a fly ball yesterday to Jalen Richard, I thought it landed out of (bounds) and I let him know about it.”

Gruden added: “I think deep down somewhere, he appreciates that.”

I’m not sure how Carr is responding to Gruden’s tough love behind the scenes, but I do believe it’s good for him.

Carr has been coddled a bit ever since he came to Oakland as a second-round draft choice in 2014. His family is very protective of him. One older brother, David (the former NFL quarterback), has a platform on NFL Network, and another, Darren, is highly active on social media. Both are quick to defend Derek, sometimes aggressively. Darren Carr blocked me on Twitter, apparently, though I’m not exactly sure why.

Before Gruden arrived, Derek Carr’s Oakland handlers — head coaches Dennis Allen and Jack Del Rio, and offensive coordinators Greg Olson, Bill Musgrave and Todd Downing — had all been quite nurturing. There was nothing wrong with that. The praise was appropriate to where Carr was in his career and, especially at first, his lack of a supporting cast.

Now it’s time for Carr to put on his big-boy jersey. And Gruden can help him do it. The coach has lost some luster during this abbreviated second stint in Oakland. Some of his play calls have been dubious, his roster moves downright puzzling. But if there’s one thing Chucky is good at, it’s helping players grow up.

Though he has looked gun-shy at times this year, you have to give Carr credit for physical toughness. He has played through a variety of injuries in his career, including a broken bone in his back last year. Is he mentally tough, too? This difficult season is helping to answer that question. And so is Jon Gruden’s blunt honesty.

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