Raiders in similar situation without Davis, but who is calling shots?
Head coach Hue Jackson went 8-8, the same record that got Tom Cable fired
Raiders had chance to make playoffs but collapsed; Jackson blamed players
Jackson made curious move in giving up so much to get QB Carson Palmer
This is the time of year when the football world would normally be wondering if Al Davis is going to fire his head coach.
A bitter end to another disappointing Raiders season. The overwhelming sense of underachievement. A coach blaming his players for the collapse.
That's a classic recipe for another Raiders head coach firing. Six times in the past decade, Davis changed coaches after a season. The wait would drag out for weeks and usually be capped by a fascinating and unique question and answer session.
But Davis died in October, changing everything, including normal January routines. And the questions the Raiders face now are ones that have never been asked before. Who will make the decisions? Who will set the Raiders' philosophy?
And is Hue Jackson -- the man who plunged in to aggressively fill the void Davis left behind -- the right man to have control?
Jackson started the most critical offseason in Raiders history with a committed power play, promising to "take a stronger hand in this whole organization."
But he also said things that would likely have gotten him fired if Davis were still alive. Jackson laid the blame on his players, saying over and over how "pissed" he was at his team. He pointed the finger directly at the Raiders' defensive coaching staff, though the organization denied a report that coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and his staff had been fired Tuesday.
And Jackson's biggest sin was overseeing the collapse of the Raiders' season. The Raiders have lost 99 games since they last appeared in the Super Bowl, but Sunday's defeat may have been the worse. With the AFC West title within their grasp after Denver lost, the Raiders gave up a 99.5-yard drive to the Chargers and lost. The failure punctuated a late-season fold when -- leading the AFC West -- the Raiders dropped four of their last five.
Sure, the Raiders suffered key injuries this season. But the collapse came as players were getting healthy. The team failed to show up at all in Miami, in the game that ultimately meant the difference in their season. In another critical game against Detroit, Jackson made some questionable coaching calls. And along the way the Raiders set an NFL record for penalties, after Jackson promised to find a solution to the ongoing problem.
The end result was an 8-8 record. That's the same record that got Tom Cable fired last year. Back then, when a reporter suggested .500 amounted to progress, Davis shot him down by sneering, "if that's the world that you live in."
It's easy to argue that Jackson's 8-8 was much more disappointing than last year's, which had actually been a marked improvement.
Jackson talked big all season about building a bully, about getting to the Super Bowl. But this week he confided that he was bluffing the entire time.
"Now I can tell you what I really feel," he said.
And what he really felt was that the Raiders were a flawed team and that their signature moment was their late-game collapse in Week 2, in Buffalo, when they couldn't protect a 21-3 halftime lead and lost 38-35.
"That's who we really were," Jackson said.
But that was in Week 2 and, as head coach, it was Jackson's job to fix it. Instead, in the season's aftermath, he is coming across as though he was still an offensive coordinator protecting his own turf and pointing out the shortcomings of his defensive counterpart. Not as a head coach who had both responsibility and control of the entire team.
Jackson went from offensive coordinator to rookie head coach -- he'd never been a head coach at any level -- to, on one Saturday in October, in control of an NFL franchise.
It was too many hats for one man to be wearing. The question of "what would Al do?" has lingered over the entire season, particularly when Jackson made the bold and risky move of dealing two high draft picks for Carson Palmer. Davis likely never would have paid that high a price.
Palmer proved that concerns about his arm were unfounded and Jackson may be right that, without Palmer, the Raiders would never have been in contention. But Jackson made the move in a vacuum and his fate is now wedded to Palmer.
Jackson clearly needs help going forward. Davis rarely relied on a strong general manager but that's exactly what the Raiders need now (there's a report that former Raiders linebacker Reggie McKenzie will interview for the GM job). The Raiders have a roster full of holes, few draft picks coming up and a future full of questions.
The Raiders always thrive on mystery and secrecy and that hasn't changed with Davis' death. No one is entirely sure who will make a decision on a general manager. Will it be Mark Davis, Al's son, who inherited control of the team? Will Amy Trask, who runs the business side, have a say?
Will Jackson have some control over who becomes his own boss?
Or will the Raiders simply stumble forward into their new future without anyone taking firm control of the fate and philosophy of the franchise?
There are a lot of questions this January. Just not the usual one.
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