On offense, McFadden and several wideouts were in and out of the lineup, and coordinator Greg Knapp's unit struggled to adapt to a zone-blocking scheme. Knapp, who never seemed to find a rhythm with play calls, was fired after the season.
Allen received a pass, but it's questionable whether he'll get another one if the team fails to improve in 2013. What we do know is that McKenzie is safe, regardless of what happens.
Mark Davis is seated in a corner booth of Frank & Albert's restaurant at the upscale Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, where NFL owners are holding their spring meeting. He wears blue jeans and a white long-sleeve T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the Vince Lombardi trophy behind the words SUPER BOWL. Asked to describe the 2012 season, during which that trophy seemed as out of reach as it ever has for a Raiders team, he pauses. "Not sure. I'm trying to look forward."
After a 38--17 loss to the Saints in November, he'd been less cagey. "I'm embarrassed. Pissed. Disappointed," he told reporters. "And I take full responsibility for it. I'm patient, but I want to see progress. Not regression."
That defeat, Oakland's third in a row, triggered reports that the team had spoken with former coach Jon Gruden about returning (a club-issued statement refuted this), and not long after there was speculation that Mike Holmgren, the former Packers and Seahawks coach who'd left his job as president of the Browns on Nov. 25, was being courted for a leadership role.
But as Davis studied the menu in Phoenix, he laughed loudly at the suggestion he's lost faith in his G.M. "Where Dennis and Reggie might have hit brick walls during last season, there was no one for them to talk to," he says. "The one thing I know is what I don't know—that's why I hire people to handle those things." It's an admission Mark's father never would have made. Nor would the senior Davis have shown this much patience after a 4--12 season.
Davis's meeting with Holmgren? McKenzie's idea. Because Davis isn't in the building every day, McKenzie inquired about bringing in an experienced staffer to bounce ideas off. The discussion didn't get far, but if it had, Holmgren never would have been more than a consultant.
"Reggie's my guy," reiterates Davis. "He did inherit a mess, and he's still cleaning. I can be patient with him. I'm giving him the whole shot," meaning the five-year length of his contract.
"Now, I'm not saying everybody else gets that same shot, because not everybody else is my guy. But Reggie is the one hire that I made—him and Carson."
That's a message that even the players get. As Kelly walked out of the Qualcomm Stadium locker room following Oakland's 2012 finale, a 24--21 loss to San Diego, he professed a clear vision for where he saw the Raiders headed. "We [used to] have one dude running the show. Things would get changed at the last minute because he would get involved. That doesn't happen anymore. Now you've got a chain of command. The old man used to sit in on defensive meetings after practice. That doesn't happen no more. It's a tighter ship.... You can see where [McKenzie and Allen] said, 'We're going to bite the bullet our first year and ride out this tough season, get some more salary-cap room and go from there.' There ain't going to be no veterans around here. A lot of people are going to be sacrificed in the process, but they're going to get it right."