This piece is the first of a few in which I will go through my thoughts on the likely direction of the Oakland Raiders at the conclusion of the season. Future articles will discuss my predictions on the direction of the offense and defense in general and specific players.
Here are my thoughts on the coaching staff. I try to walk through this very logically and sequentially so each successive point builds off the previous points. The future articles will build on these points as well to create as full a picture as I can.
So, please enjoy my predictions on the coaching staff for the 2013 Oakland Raiders and let me know what you think either in the comments section or on Twitter @AsherMathews
Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen aren’t going anywhere:
“My long-term goal was to research and identify a general manager to lead the Raider organization into the future. I consulted with Ron Wolf to help me identify potential candidates, one of which was Reggie McKenzie.
“Unfortunately, league rules prohibited us from contacting any current employees of other National Football League teams until the end of the regular season. So for three months, I did extensive research into all the potential candidates for the job.
“But early on, I recognized that Reggie McKenzie was the man I was looking for to lead the Raiders into the future. On January 1st, the shackles were off and we were finally able to ask the Green Bay Packers for permission to interview Reggie McKenzie to become general manager of the Oakland Raiders. On January 2nd, the Green Bay Packers graciously granted that permission.
“I called Reggie, we spoke briefly, and made arrangements for him to fly in for an interview. We met with John Madden for about six hours and reached an agreement that Reggie would become the general manager of the Oakland Raiders. After the meeting, I texted Reggie that my father used to say, ‘The greatness of the Raiders is in its future.’
“Reggie, the future is now. Ladies and gentlemen, Reggie McKenzie.”
This is how Raiders owner Mark Davis introduced General Manager Reggie McKenzie at the press conference on January 10th. While Davis has expressed dissatisfaction with the current record it seems unlikely that, even with a disappointing year, he is going to replace McKenzie already.
No, Reggie McKenzie’s job is safe for another year, at least, but likely for a few more years while he tries to bring some consistency and stability to a franchise that has seen upheaval after upheaval in recent years.
Reggie McKenzie’s first job was to get a head coach, a guy that he felt comfortable with – his guy. He found that coach in Dennis Allen. In introducing Dennis Allen to the media and fans at the press conference on January 30th, McKenzie said, “Guys, today is a great day; a great day for the Oakland Raiders.
“As you know, I wanted to execute a detailed search in finding the next head coach for The Oakland Raiders. This search quickly led me to coach Dennis Allen. To say I was excited after the interview with Coach Allen would be a major understatement.
“Guys, I was extremely excited after this interview. As a matter of fact, after the interview, I quickly called two people -- Mark Davis and my wife. They could feel the excitement I had and I wanted to let them know that I think I had found my guy. When I talk about the guy I was looking for, I’m looking for a guy that could lead these men, that was passionate about the game, that was passionate about teaching, and that was passionate about the Oakland Raiders.
“Guys, not only did Coach Dennis Allen do that for me, he exceeded those expectations. Coach Allen is extremely bright, extremely intense. He’s focused on one thing and that’s what we are all focused on, and that is winning Championships.”
So like McKenzie from Davis, Allen received a ringing endorsement from the person who was to be his boss. Recently, at a Q&A on November 30th, McKenzie had another chance to address how he felt Allen was doing in his first year as the Raiders head coach. He said, “I’m still pleased with Dennis. I’m a rookie in this thing; Dennis is a rookie in this thing. He has some rookie mistakes, but overall, I’m happy with Dennis.”
It certainly seems likely that Dennis Allen will, then, also be back next year hoping to take the next steps in his plan to turn around the franchise. And he should be allowed a chance to return. Continuity is something this team lacked under Al Davis, save Davis himself, and it is something that teams thrive on. It takes time for players to learn how the coach’s schemes work and, when coaching staffs change, it takes time for the team to find the right players to fit those schemes.
But none of these predictions are breaking ground. Even Mark Davis said that Allen would be back next year in an impromptu meeting with media in the team’s locker room after a hard loss on November 18th. When asked by the media if McKenzie and Allen had passes for this year’s disappointing results and would be back next year, Davis responded, “I wouldn’t call it a pass. They’ve got contracts; they’re going to be here.”
The old adage is that there are 3 phases to the game and in order to win, your team needs to beat the other team in at least two of those three: offense, defense & special teams. It’s fairly safe to say the Raiders didn’t do a lot of winning in any of those three phases this year and the bulk of that blame falls on head coach Allen and his chosen Lieutenants, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and special team coordinator Steve Hoffman.
Tarver gets a second chance:
I’ll start with the prediction of which I am most sure: defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will be back next season.
Tarver is a young coach who has a lot of promise and although his defensive unit underperformed this season I see no reason he wouldn’t be brought back to try to bring the defense back to respectability. In his favor was that the defense started the season looking very stout and it wasn’t until the secondary sprung some major injuries (specifically at cornerback) and the defensive line wore down and became ineffective at creating pressure that the entire unit started to spring leaks.
After all, if Allen was only going to give a defensive coordinator one year he wouldn’t pick a guy that was an NFL rookie. Tarver made mistakes this year but the defense also responded well at times and he’ll get another shot next year after the team hopefully retools in the off-season.
Knapp comes back, too:
Initially, I wasn’t sure about offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. First, he has been unable to correctly implement his zone blocking run scheme and pass protection has been poor as well. The offense seemed to get worse as the season progressed instead of better. Darren McFadden, who looked like a superstar under former offensive coordinator and then head coach Hue Jackson, looked like the 4th or 5th worse running back under Knapp.
In his impromptu interview with media in November, Mark Davis used the word “regression.” The offense was where that regression was seen the most clearly as the Raiders took a dynamic offense under Jackson and made it downright terrible under Knapp. For all of these reasons and more, I would think he should not be brought back. I dislike taking away the continuity of the team like that but I think in this instance it’s warranted. If Allen wants to keep the zone scheme, there are other coaches that can teach it but I don’t think Knapp is the right coordinator for this team.
However, this piece isn’t about what I’d do – it’s predicting what coach Allen will do and no one really knows what he’ll do. Knapp certainly doesn’t appear to be very confident of his job status as he spent his time in a recent meeting with the media defending the zone blocking scheme and explaining that it’s not his fault that things didn’t go well this year.
“I’m a firm believer in the scheme,” Knapp asserted. “I’ve been to too many places and had too much experience to know it’s a very productive scheme. Like it is for anywhere you go, when coaching changes occur you want the coaches who are the teachers to teach what they know best. If you do that with the coaches, they’re going to have answers for the issues that come up in the system.”
“Every place I’ve been to, it’s usually going to take at least a year’s transition time to get everything taught,” Knapp added. “If you take a business structure and you make those changes, it’s going to take a year’s time to process everything and learn it. Once they master it, you can add to it. Right now, it’s taking some time.”
While those comments in themselves aren’t too significant – you can hear that sort of argument from hot seat coordinators on every team that isn’t looking to make playoffs this year – Allen seems to agree with Knapp that it’s more the players who are not executing than Knapp’s failings that have held this offense back.
Allen had a chance to start cutting his losses right now, look to fire Knapp in the offseason and start afresh on offense in his second season but instead he’s sending out messages that he supports Knapp, which certainly means Knapp is likely to come back. After all, Allen has the authority to run his own staff.
When asked about why the offense suffered in his first year as the Raiders head coach, Allen seemed to reaffirm that he think the offensive problems are not Knapp’s doing. Allen said, ““There’s been a lot of change, and when there is a lot of change, sometimes you don’t get the results that you’re looking for right away.” He added, “But when you believe in something, and you stick to it and you know it’s the right plan, it ends up working out.”
Allen believes in the zone blocking system and he specifically brought Knapp, with whom he worked in Atlanta, to the team to teach that scheme to the offensive line. Based upon his quotes, above, it seems likely Knapp will be back.
Steve Hoffman will be fired:
While I predict the other two coordinators keep their jobs, special teams’ coordinator Steve Hoffman does not. The reasons for this are many. The Raiders special teams has been anything but special this season.
The return game was laughable, sometimes literally. In fact I can think of two such examples where I laughed aloud at the special teams’ pathetic play, both involving Coye Francies.
One was when punt returner Phil Adams was trying to make his way up the left side of the field and Coye Francies, not expecting him to go the direction he did, ran into him at full speed, taking both of them down. The other was when Coye Francies, finally having gotten some decent blocking and having a chance to get a decent return on a kickoff instead tripped over the field and fell without having been touched by a defender.
It was the little things like that as well as many big ones – how many times did the Raiders take the ball out of the end zone only to fail to be able to get close to the 20 yard line. It got so bad that I pleaded with the returner to simply kneel every time the ball crossed the goal line.
Specials teams was a team weakness and this on a squad that has two of the best legs in the game. No, I think Hoffman pays for the special teams’ general incompetence and the Raiders will look for a new special teams coordinator.
There are two many assistant coaches with too many responsibilities to be able to accurately predict which will stay and which will go but I think it’s safe to say that a number will be let go after the disappointing season. I will highlight a few that I think are deserving one way or the other.
John DeFilippo – Quarterbacks: DeFilippo is widely respected as a quarterbacks coach and there are some who believe he may be in contention for some lower level college head coaching positions. If not, however, the Raiders will love to keep him on their coaching staff.
Johnny Holland – Linebackers: Another keeper, Holland presided over one of the only squads that showed improvement this year. A large part of that was the additions of Miles Burris and Philip Wheeler but if I am to blame position coaches for their players failings I must always praise those who have helped make their squad better.
Mark Hutson – Tight Ends: Brandon Myers is about to finish the season as one of the most productive tight ends in the league. Raise your hand if you thought that was going to happen. Yeah, me neither. When Myers was drafted in the 6th round out of Iowa it was as a blocking tight end. He now is average at blocking, at best, but Palmer has said he has the best hands on the team.
Time for an upgrade:
Frank Pollack – Offensive Line: There was no position as disappointing as the offensive line this year. They struggled in run blocking and pass protection. They struggled with pressure up the middle and on the edges. The team’s highest drafted rookie, Tony Bergstrom, was a non-factor despite many thought he was the best zone blocking player in the draft and his being older than a typical rookie was touted as a strength to get him on the field quickly.
Terrell Williams – Defensive Line: The Raiders definitely miss Mike Waufle, the teams’ former defensive line coach. The defensive line was terrible this year, hardly creating pressure in many games. That is not completely Williams’ fault, of course. Much of that must be put onto the players themselves but the regression of the defensive line was so complete I must put much of the blame on Williams.
Ted Gilmore – Wide Receivers: Gilmore presided over another squad that had high expectations and was a big disappointment. Second year receiver Denarius Moore regressed significantly in his second season, having more drops than even much-maligned fellow receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey although he also had significantly more targets. Whatever the reason, the receiving corps in general was very bad this season and that lack of production roles up to Gilmore.
Dennis Allen has acknowledged that the team must do better next year and he has expressed optimism that a second year under his control will help the team work toward it's first winning season since 2002. If it does not, we will likely have to go through this all again next year. Only next time, Allen won't be assured of coming back for another season.