It’s difficult to predict how an assistant coach will do when he becomes a head coach, as Dennis Allen is set to do for the Raiders, and even a glimpse of Raiders history doesn’t help much.
John Madden and Tom Flores prospered, but they were given talent-laden teams. Mike Shanahan didn’t last out a season, but that was partly because he was trying to put in an offensive system Al Davis hated.
What the Raiders have to hope is that Allen will follow the path of Jon Gruden, who took over a team of underachievers and, with the help of trades that brought in team leaders Rich Gannon and Bill Romanowski, built it into a Super Bowl team.
The two reasons to believe that Allen, who reportedly will be introduced Monday after officially agreeing to a four-year deal this week, will succeed: 1) His age, just 39; and 2) His proven ability to coach defense.
His relative youth is important because the Raiders are a long-term project, not a quick fix. This is a team that Al Davis put together based on 40 times and measurables, not on football ability. It is, in fact, much like the team of underachievers that Gruden inherited.
The first task that Allen faces is identifying the players with reputations who are not producing. Heading the list is linebacker Rolando McClain, a high first-round pick who has never played as he did in college — and now will be tried in May in Alabama on charges of firing off a gun near the ear of another man.
The second task will be to convince his team that they have to take responsibility when they screw up. That is especially important with penalties, a long-time problem that peaked in 2011 when the Raiders set an NFL season record for most penalties and most penalty yardage.
On defense, he must stress that players fill their roles instead of free lancing, which leaves big holes for the other team to exploit.
He’ll have one advantage: New general manager Reggie McKenzie will give him the authority to make changes.
There will be no running to the owner with complaints, as players often did with Al Davis. Now, Mark Davis is in charge, and he has made it clear that McKenzie will have all the power, including the ability to build a legitimate front office.
The Raiders are facing a complete overhaul as they strive to become a legitimate NFL franchise, not the cult they were under Al Davis.
That includes getting into a new stadium which, realistically, means sharing the stadium the 49ers are planning in Santa Clara, as the Giants and Jets are doing with their second shared stadium in New Jersey. That is definitely what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants and it is the best option for the Raiders, who will never get a new stadium in Oakland.
But the first step has to be rebuilding the team.
McKenzie did all the right things in his search for a coach. The early media buzz was that he’d select Packers assistant Winston Moss, with whom he was familiar, but he did his interviews and determined that Allen would be the best choice.
Now, Allen has to prove that he was right.