As general manager Reggie McKenzie tries to resurrect the Raiders, he faces a double challenge, from the fans who believed the Al Davis legend and the local media who don’t seem to understand the situation.
I was fortunate enough to know Davis at his peak, in his early career, when he was making great decisions on players. He was also listening to others. Then-general manager Scotty Stirling and coach John Rauch talked him into trading for Daryle Lamonica and Ron Wolf talked him into drafting Ken Stabler. In the ’70s, John Madden changed the offense from the wide-open one favored by Davis to smash-mouth football. There were intense internal debates over that, but Madden remained as coach and the Raiders won their first Super Bowl in January 1977.
Over the years, though, Davis listened less and less to others. After Jon Gruden left, Davis made all the draft decisions, and they became increasingly erratic. He also overspent enormously. In a desperate attempt to win one more championship before he died, Davis wrote contracts with balloon payments, saddling the team with huge debt and bad salary-cap numbers.
Yet, every time I criticized Davis’ moves, I’d hear from fans who thought he was always right. I’m sure McKenzie is now hearing from the same fans that he’s defiling Davis’ legend.
McKenzie knew Davis well. He had played for him in Los Angeles and he watched from afar while working for Green Bay. When he was introduced to the media, he made the ritual genuflection to the Raiders history, but also made it clear that he would be operating much differently.
Since then, he has shed many underproducing and overpaid players, while talking of the problems of getting under the salary cap because of the way contracts had been written. Yet, just last week, a local columnist praised the 49ers for their moves in free agency and criticized the Raiders for not pursuing big names. Huh? Haven’t you been paying attention?
Meanwhile, other writers have been speculating on whether coach Dennis Allen would be fired if he has another losing season this year, as seems inevitable. In fact, no coach wins with bad players; Bill Walsh was 2-14 in his first season with the 49ers. McKenzie knew that, which is why he gave Allen a four-year contract. He knew it would probably take that long for the Raiders to be good enough to let Allen show that he can be a good coach.
At this point, nobody can really say whether Allen will be a successful coach, but there are some good signs. He had his players playing hard last year. The Raiders cut down on their penalties significantly. Going forward, I expect to see more progress.
Meanwhile, McKenzie is trying to build a different kind of team, with hard-working, solid players. He has re-signed his own free agent, offensive tackle Khalif Barnes, and signed five free agents to bolster the defense, none of them big names nor flashy players.
McKenzie and Allen are not flashy, either, but I’m betting they’ll put together solid teams in the near future. Give them a chance.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.