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The New Silver and Black
Jim Trotter
April 22, 2013
SI FOLLOWED OAKLAND'S BRAIN TRUST OVER THE COURSE OF A YEAR AS IT WORKED TO TRANSFORM THE CULTURE OF AN ICONIC FRANCHISE THAT LOST ITS WAY DURING AL DAVIS'S FINAL DECADE. REASONED DECISIONS, MODERN MANAGEMENT AND PLANNING FOR THE LONG TERM? THESE AREN'T YOUR FATHER'S RAIDERS—AND THAT'S A GOOD THING
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April 22, 2013

The New Silver And Black

SI FOLLOWED OAKLAND'S BRAIN TRUST OVER THE COURSE OF A YEAR AS IT WORKED TO TRANSFORM THE CULTURE OF AN ICONIC FRANCHISE THAT LOST ITS WAY DURING AL DAVIS'S FINAL DECADE. REASONED DECISIONS, MODERN MANAGEMENT AND PLANNING FOR THE LONG TERM? THESE AREN'T YOUR FATHER'S RAIDERS—AND THAT'S A GOOD THING

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If Jackson's firing caught people off guard, the hiring of 39-year-old Dennis Allen floored outsiders. Allen had never been a head coach at any level; in fact, he had only been a coordinator (on defense, with the Broncos) for one season.

During the hiring process McKenzie focused on two of the seven people he had interviewed: Allen and Winston Moss, an assistant head coach with the Packers who most people thought was his guy. McKenzie says he would've felt comfortable with either, but something kept drawing him to Allen. "We just clicked on every level," he says.

The call to Moss, another former Raiders linebacker and a friend from their six years working together in Green Bay, was difficult. McKenzie knew, too, that he would disappoint members of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, whose objective is to increase diversity among NFL coaches, executives and scouts. (Moss, like McKenzie, is African-American.)

If nothing else, the decision confirmed that the G.M. is an independent thinker, willing to do what he believes is best for the franchise. Many did not like what they saw of the Raiders in their first season under Allen—the defense was sievelike, allowing 42.3 ppg in November, and the offense was virtually nonexistent, ranking 26th in scoring—but McKenzie saw progress, particularly when it came to instilling discipline (after being cited for a league-high 163 penalties in 2011, Oakland ranked 8th, with 108) and holding players accountable.

"The old man was more of a player-owner," says Kelly, the defensive tackle. "He gave you a little more leeway because all he cared about was production on Sunday. [Dennis Allen] is more of a disciplinarian. He wants you seven days out of the week to do the right thing."

Take Rolando McClain, the underachieving middle linebacker who was drafted with the No. 8 pick in 2010. After being demoted from the starting lineup for his on-field performance in November, he got into an argument with Allen during a practice. The former Alabama All-America was sent home, suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team and kept off the field the rest of the year.

"I want guys here who love football, who are willing to work and put the team first," says Allen. "The more people we can get that exemplify those characteristics, the better we're going to be as a football team."

But getting better on the field in the short term has been tricky, given the hurdles set up by McKenzie, who has to think long term. For the G.M., getting his salary cap in order meant releasing higher-priced players like veteran defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, who was second on the team in sacks in 2011 but whose impending contract restructuring would have compromised future salary caps.

In 2012 Oakland released or allowed to leave through free agency its top five cornerbacks from the previous season. In their place McKenzie rolled the dice that he could get a year out of veteran free-agent signees Shawntae Spencer and Ronald Bartell, despite their recent problems with injuries. True to form, the pair appeared in a total of eight games because of foot and shoulder injuries, respectively.

Adding to matters, that season was a physical wreck for the Raiders. In Week 1 long snapper Jon Condo went down with a concussion, and the team botched three punts in a 22--14 loss to the Chargers. Against Cleveland they lost three defensive backs to concussions, and rookie QB Brandon Weeden threw for a season-high 364 yards in a 20--17 Browns win. Seymour, who had actually restructured his contract to create cap space, missed the final eight games because of a torn hamstring.

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