ALAMEDA — Reggie McKenzie believes he put together a roster capable of competing for a playoff spot. When that roster got off to an 0-4 start and wasn't even competitive in two games, the Oakland Raiders general manager decided he needed to fire coach Dennis Allen.
McKenzie replaced his hand-picked coach by promoting offensive line coach Tony Sparano on an interim basis Tuesday with the hopes that can spark a turnaround for a team that has lost 10 straight games dating to last season.
“Yes, I do believe what we put together this offseason was a roster that could win,” McKenzie said. “I'm not going to get into all the particulars of why it didn't work for Dennis. But the bottom line is it didn't work. For whatever reason, not only the 0-4 start but our play did not represent what we were capable of. That's the bottom line.”
Allen was the first head coach hired by Oakland after Al Davis' death in October 2011. His 8-28 record is the worst for the franchise since before Davis arrived in 1963. His contract was set to run through next season.
McKenzie made the decision to fire Allen and then let owner Mark Davis know his plans. Davis supported McKenzie's call but now pressure turns to the general manager whose additions have not led to a better record.
Allen is the third coach fired during the season by Oakland since Al Davis arrived. Mike Shanahan was fired after four games in 1989 and Lane Kiffin was let go four games into the 2008 season.
“In my analysis, I think we do have players that can play in this game,” Davis said. “I just think that there may be some changes in how the schemes are utilized.”
Sparano becomes Oakland's eighth coach in the past 12 seasons. The Raiders have not made the playoffs or had a winning record since winning the 2002 AFC championship.
Sparano had a 29-32 record as head coach in Miami from 2008-11. He took over a one-win team in 2008 and led the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and an AFC East title. That was his only winning season and he was fired with three games remaining in 2011.
Sparano said he was still working out particulars about play-calling and other details and would talk to his players on Wednesday about what changes he planned to make.
While he was not ready to offer specifics on Tuesday, he did say there would be a philosophy change when the team returns from the bye week to play its next game at home against San Diego on Oct. 12.
“We need to make sure we're asking our football players here as coaches to do the things that they do best,” Sparano said. “We have some good football players here, a lot of them. They do a lot of good things. We need to let them do what they do best.”
Allen and McKenzie were hired after the team finished 8-8 under coach Hue Jackson in 2011, falling one game short of a playoff bid.
They were expected to steady a franchise that fell into disarray during Al Davis' final years as owner. Instead, the team has only gotten worse, posting back-to-back four-win seasons before getting off to the 0-4 start this year despite adding players like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, James Jones, Antonio Smith and Matt Schaub in the offseason.
Even worse, the Raiders have looked overmatched at times. They fell behind 27-0 after three quarters of their only home game against Houston and trailed by 31 points after three quarters against the Dolphins.
In all, Allen had more losses by at least 20 points (nine) than wins. It was performances like those that Mark Davis said he no longer wanted to see in Allen's third season and that ultimately led to his downfall.
“To me, that's not what the Raiders are,” Davis said. “And we're still trying to get to be what the Raiders are.”
Davis cited this year's draft class led by linebacker Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and guard Gabe Jackson as players who could form the foundation.
But he was not willing to commit long-term to McKenzie, who has two years remaining on his contract, or Sparano. Davis said he would have more involvement in the hiring of the new coach than last time when he let McKenzie pick Allen.
He also said he might reach out to former coach Jon Gruden about a possible return.
“That's the future and I'm not going to talk about future coaches,” Davis said.
Sparano has 12 games to show that he should be that guy.