Prior to his death last year, Al Davis had been with the Raiders as either a coach, general manager or owner since 1963. Fittingly, the Oakland Raiders’ slogan for this season is A new era of excellence, and it’s certainly going to be interesting to see how the team does with a new coach and general manager leading them into the next chapter of their history.
After Al Davis’s death, his son and now-team owner Mark Davis decided to leave the football decisions to someone who knows the game best, appointing Reggie McKenzie as the new man in charge of the Silver and Black. The Raiders’ new general manager, a former Raider who played for the team from 1985-1988, is in his 24th overall NFL season as either a player or administrator. McKenzie had previously been with Green Bay as director of player personnel and director of football operations since 1994, and during his tenure, the Packers went on to win eight division titles, three conference championships, and Super Bowls XXXI and XLV.
The team’s new head coach is 39-year-old Dennis Allen, who was hand-picked by McKenzie to turn the storied franchise back into a Super Bowl contender. While Allen is a first-year NFL head coach, he has 16 years of coaching experience. He began his career as a graduate assistant with Texas A&M University in 1996. After a two-year stint with the University of Tulsa coaching the secondary, he spent 2002–2005 with the Atlanta Falcons as a defensive assistant. Moving onto the New Orleans Saints from 2006–2010, he was on the coaching staff when the team won Super Bowl XLIV. Last year he was with the Denver Broncos, and as the NFL’s second youngest defensive coordinator, Allen guided the Broncos to an AFC Wild Card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, Allen is the 18th coach of the Silver and Black, and the first to emphasize defense.
Al Davis had certain tendencies. He always stressed offense and drafted players to reflect his philosophy on scoring as many points as possible. Although the Raiders would draft running backs and receivers known for their speed, their overall game often lacked other fundamentals. Back in 2006, Al Davis picked JaMarcus Russell as the top overall pick in that year’s NFL draft. Arguably, that proved to be possibly the worst pick of all time and a lengthy conversation at a watering hole could be had to debate that point.
Before Al’s passing last October, his final draft pick was quarterback Terrelle Pryor from Ohio State University. Last year, in only his second season with the Raiders, coach Hue Jackson made a controversial decision trading away two top draft picks for Carson Palmer. Palmer had been a top flight quarterback at the height of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, but in recent years, due to injuries and age, Palmer had been benched in favor of Andy Dalton.
The trade to get an aging Palmer was, in theory, the final hurdle to get the Raiders into the playoffs. Instead, the team lost four of their last five games. Oakland still had a chance to win the division by beating the Chargers in their final home game, but failed. That sealed Jackson’s fate and he was not invited back to coach the team––one of McKenzie’s first decisions as the team’s new GM was to fire Jackson.
Raider fans are all too aware of their team’s recent past––they haven’t had a winning season since the team’s last appearance in Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2002. Since then, the best records the team has achieved were the 8-8 records in both 2010 and 2011. Many feel that Jackson mortgaged the Raiders’ future for years. Now the team has to rebuild but stay within the salary cap.
The Raiders last season set NFL records in penalties and penalty yardage. During the preseason, Oakland averaged six penalties and 43.3 penalty yards––a vast improvement.
Oakland will begin its 2012 campaign hosting the rival Chargers on September 10 on Monday Night Football.
Ryan Leong has reported on over 2,800 games in the Bay Area since 1998, covering the Sharks, Giants, A’s, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders and the local college teams for radio networks and wire services. Having the best seat in the house to watch sports has been a thrill and Ryan still enjoys going to the games giving fans some insight and perspective on the players and coaches. His work can be found on Examiner.com.