- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Is it any wonder that the team was a league-high $31 million over the salary cap when McKenzie took over?
Davis's handling of the draft—when he did keep his picks—was equally wayward. Of the 10 first-round selections he made from 2001 through '10, including six among the first eight selections, only McFadden remains on the Raiders' roster, and he has yet to play a full season. Guard Robert Gallery (No. 2, 2004), quarterback JaMarcus Russell (No. 1, '07) and cornerback Fabian Washington (No. 23, '05) have been out of the league since the end of '11. Russell lasted just three years and is viewed by many as the greatest draft bust in NFL history.
McKenzie knows he must be spot-on in this year's draft. Oakland has the No. 3 pick and the fourth pick of the third round, but its second-round selection belongs to Cincinnati as part of a 2011 swap for Carson Palmer. He'd love to trade down for more choices, because the Raiders are far more than one player from being relevant again. But if he's unable to find a trade partner, then he has to find impact players with his high picks. Imagine the best draft ever. If McKenzie replicates that, his team is mediocre at best.
And so, much of the G.M.'s energy the last 15 months has been spent on upgrading Oakland's scouting and personnel departments. When he went to view the club's draft room last year, he discovered that none existed, so he had one built from scratch. When he requested the team's scouting questionnaires for evaluating college prospects, he learned there weren't any, so he created them.
Such resources are givens in most NFL organizations—but not with the Raiders and Davis, who had his own way of doing business. He was the only owner who didn't use one of the national scouting services for college prospects, and the only one who didn't subscribe to the psychological-testing program available to each team before the draft.
Davis was so behind the times that even toward the end he didn't allow employees to use direct deposit, and he kept the budget for coaching and support staffs in his head rather than on paper. In his video department, the software was tragically outdated.
There were, of course, members of the organization who knew the Raiders' approach needed updating, but all decisions ultimately ran through Davis, who was set in his ways. In 1999 he hired Mike Lombardi to be his senior personnel executive and told Lombardi to modernize the operation—but then Davis consistently blocked his hire from making changes, explaining that he just couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger. Lombardi was fired in 2007.
As opposed to the traditional pyramid model of organization, the Raiders had people in various positions at various levels each reporting to Davis. Multiple current and former employees say that the goal under Davis was to recommend not what was best for the franchise, but what would keep the owner happy. McKenzie, a Raiders linebacker from 1985 through '88, knew this. And he knew that changing this culture would be among his most important jobs.
"My mind-set coming in was, I'm gonna have to be highly organized and firm in my beliefs," says McKenzie. "Because when you've got a building that's used to a certain way for so long—I knew change wouldn't be easy. I had to have a plan and a way to implement my plan."
To imagine that plan's eventual fulfillment—to picture the resurrection of the Raiders—it helps to see the muck that the organization has waded through. Going back to Davis's death in 2011, the Raiders have undergone a three-part healing process: the hiring of McKenzie, the first man other than Al Davis to run the Raiders' football operations in nearly 50 years; the firing of Davis's last major hire, promising head coach Hue Jackson; and the commitment of new owner Mark Davis, Al's only son, now 57, to break with his father's ways and seek a long-term fix rather than a short-term solution.