With the selection of Dennis Allen as the Oakland Raiders' next head coach, a few things became immediately obvious: First, for new owner Mark Davis, these aren't your father's Raiders anymore. Second, general manager Reggie McKenzie, barely three weeks on the job, has demonstrated that he clearly is his own man.
In hiring Allen, who as recently as 2007 was just the assistant defensive line coach for New Orleans – for those taking notes, that's an assistant to an assistant – the duo of Davis and McKenzie stepped way, way outside the Raiders' normal comfort zone. And essentially back-pedaled at least a little bit, it seems, from the legacy created by the late Al Davis.
What's next? Transform the Black Hole into pricey club seats? Replace the eye-patched marauder on the side of the team's helmets to a logo of some East Bay suburbanite munching Brie and sipping white wine? How about changing the Raiders' uniform colors to, say, teal and magenta? Or altering the longstanding Oakland motto from “Just win, baby,” to, like, “Hey, guys, we played hard, right?”
“Pride and poise” could be replaced with “Prim and proper.” The Raider-ettes might show up for the 2012 home opener in tea-length gowns. Heck, defensive tackle Richard Seymour might even quit sucker-punching people.
Yeah, the Earth shook a little Tuesday night with the reports that Allen will replace the impetuous Hue Jackson, whose mouth operated far quicker than his brain, and was at least a step faster than those fleet-but-butterfingered Oakland receivers. The tremor probably didn't officially register on any seismographs, but it definitely was resonating around the league.
Generally when the telephone rings after midnight, the voice at the other end is either delivering bad news or citing incredulity, and early Wednesday morning it was the latter of the two. Even by Wednesday at breakfast time, there were a few calls from confidants who had heard the news of Allen's appointment, and were seeking confirmation, while also questioning the move. To suggest that skeptics exist would be an understatement.
Us? Hey, even though he was here in Atlanta for four seasons as a defensive quality control assistant (2002-2005), basically a guy who charted plays and tendencies and broke down tape, we don't know Dennis Allen from Woody Allen. But this much we do know: The younger Davis, counseled since his father's passing by a trio of former Oakland front office executives, made a dramatic move in not conducting business as usual in his first conspicuous endeavor. And McKenzie didn't play the connect-the-dots game that has become so popular in an era in which speculation suddenly is elevated to news.
It would have been easy, and probably a lot safer, for McKenzie to follow the bread-crumbs back to Dom Capers or Winston Moss or Marty Mornhinweg, all guys with whom he was familiar from his tenure as a Green Bay executive. After all, familiarity has long bred employment, not contempt, within the Raiders' fraternity. Many of the blogger/pundits assumed over the nearly two-week search that McKenzie probably would march into lock-step with the Al Davis philosophy and hire someone with whom he had shared a past.
But as best as anyone can determine, there were no past McKenzie-Allen ties.
Neither was Allen heartily recommended by John Madden, Ron Wolf, or Ken Herock, the triumvirate of onetime Oakland football men who had championed to Davis the candidacy of McKenzie. Nope, this one was a McKenzie call, and, while he positioned the bull's eye squarely on his back, and created an atmosphere of close scrutiny with the decision, he is to be lauded for his individual and separatist viewpoint — and for heeding the voices inside his head rather than those whispering in his ears.
As for the younger Davis, well, it's notable that two vacancies remained in the league as of Wednesday morning. His Hall of Fame father not only would probably have hired someone who bled silver and black when he was cut, but almost certainly would have waited until every other spot on the dance-card was filled. And, in his inimitable style, he would have interviewed a passel of candidates, and bled them of knowledge in the process.
Oh, yeah, Al Davis likely would have settled on an offensive guy, too.
For a Raiders team that dropped four of its final five contests, and surrendered an average of 36.5 points in the defeats, and which hasn't been to the postseason since 2002, some sort of drastic reversal was necessary. We're not certain that Allen, who at 39 becomes the NFL's youngest coach, will succeed, even though he comes with the strong endorsement of the Denver players he coordinated in 2011.
Four months ago, when Al Davis was still alive, hiring a coach from the despised Denver organization would have been anathema. The sudden bit of glasnost was too long delayed, as was the need for the Oakland Raiders to head off in a different direction. Time may eventually conclude that Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie led the franchise down the wrong highway, but for now the abrupt detour is an overdue course correction.
— By Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange