Reggie McKenzie/Hue Jackson/Al Davis/Mark Davis; Sean Payton/Jim Harbaugh; Coco Crisp; Drew Brees/Alex Smith
REGGIE McKENZIE’S first move as the new Raiders general manager was a good one: He fired Hue Jackson as coach.
Early this season, I thought Jackson was a good choice, the last one Al Davis made for head coach. He had a creative offensive mind and he was willing to take chances, as few pro coaches ever do.
My opinion started to change with those postgame declarations after a loss that, “This one’s on me. I didn’t coach the players well enough.” That got to be tiresome, just as he was beginning to prove that point. He didn’t coach them well enough. The players continued to make stupid mistakes; my favorite is defensive players lining up offsides when the other team is at third-and-four, giving their opponent a first down. Their personal fouls mounted; Richard Seymour, possibly the most overrated player in the league, got thrown out for punching an opponent on the ground. This is the guy who’s supposed to be providing leadership. He is, all right, but it’s a negative one.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s decision-making got worse and worse, as he passed up chances for field goals that cost the team wins. Even his supposed trick plays, like having punter Shane Lechler pass on fourth down, became predictable. In contrast, when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had field goal kicker David Akers pass to Michael Crabtree for as touchdown, it caught the St. Louis Rams totally by surprise because the 49ers had never done that before.
In fact, the 49ers play all season was an embarrassing comparison for the Raiders, not just because they won five more games but the way they did it, playing smart, cutting down on mistakes while forcing opponents into them – the Niners had a plus-28 advantage in the turnover/recovery ratio, best in the league. Raider fans could only wish their team would play that way.
By the end of the season, it was obvious Jackson was the latest example of the Peter Principle, a good offensive coordinator who was promoted to a job he couldn’t handle. As if to confirm that, he made the worst possible mistake in talking to the media a day after the season-ending loss: He blamed the players. There was no way those players were ever going to play well for him after that.
Amazingly, Jackson not only thought he was going to retain his job, he thought he should have a bigger voice in how the organization was run. It apparently was a total shock to him when he got fired.
At Tuesday’s news conference, McKenzie took some of the heat off Jackson by saying he wanted to bring in his own man; the national speculation is that it will be Green Bay assistant Winston Moss. But, he was a player himself, with the Raiders, 1985-88, when they were in Los Angeles, so he was very aware of how the current Raiders would have reacted to Jackson’s statement.
McKenzie has a tremendous job ahead of him. Though some of the Raiders Nation, who are apparently more enamored of the image than of winning, still idolize Al Davis, the fact is that his genius label got more tattered with each passing year. A look at the last 30 years shows that dramatically. That period started very well, with a Super Bowl win in the second year over the Washington Redskins, but it went downhill after that; overall, the Raiders are 22 games below .500 in regular season games for the last 30 years.
They got to the AFC Championship game one more time in their L.A. years, in 1990, but were demolished by Buffalo, 51-3. In Oakland, the Jon Gruden era was promising. Gruden got the team to the postseason twice, the AFC Championship game once, and the team he turned over to Bill Callahan got to the Super Bowl in 2002. Of course, Gruden’s new team, the Tampa Bay Bucs, destroyed them, 48-21. I’ll be damned if I can see any genius in that record. More like a Commitment to Mediocrity. Or worse.
What happened? In an earlier time, Davis listened to men like Ron Wolf and his coaches, John Rauch, John Madden and Tom Flores. By the time he got to Los Angeles, he apparently had decided that he could do everything himself. He couldn’t, and in his last year, he gave ridiculously high contracts to mediocre defensive backs Stanford Routt and linebacker Kameron Wimbly. Whoever manages the salary cap for the Raiders next season will have his hands full.
Davis had already traded three of the top four picks, and Jackson added the second in the trade for quarterback Carson Palmer, so the Raiders will not have a draft pick in the first five rounds. Good thing McKenzie is known for his ability to pick good players in later rounds because those are the only picks he’ll have.
He’ll also have to totally rebuild the front office. There are no football people there now, only Amy Trask, who handles legal and financial matters, and long-time employe John Herrerra, who has done many jobs for the Raiders but none involved with making football decisions.
At least, he won’t have interference from the owner. Mark Davis, Al’s son, said he knows what he doesn’t know and football is one of those things. He’ll give McKenzie total control of the football operations.
I was pleasantly surprised by Mark, who seems to have taken charge in a way I didn’t expect. He said he’d now be free to concentrate on other matters, especially the stadium issue. He said they’d prefer another stadium in Oakland (no chance), but if that didn’t look like it would happen, he’d look at Santa Clara. That is by far the best choice. Al Davis would never have shared a stadium but I doubt his son will feel the same way.
After the main conference brke up, a Chronicle writer approached Mark and asked about the Raiders returning to Los Angeles. Mark said it was a possibility, but I doubt that will happen. Los Angeles is not the Holy Grail that Al thought it would be.
One last note: One of the changes I’ve noticed in these news conferences over the years is the increase in questions from marginal writers/broadcasters who are as ignorant as they are irrelevant. The champion on Tuesday was a black representative from Comcast who hammered McKenzie with questions about why Jackson was fired, even though McKenzie had already said more than once that he wants his own man in the job. The Comcast guy was obviously upset about a “brother” losing his job, but he could hardly claim bias because McKenzie is black, too.
FURTHER PROOF of the nonsense that is on the Internet these days: The story that New Orleans coach Sean Payton was angry because Jim Harbaugh didn’t pay him a courtesy call before their exhibition game. Payton denied that vehemently and Harbaugh said he had never heard that opposing coaches had to talk – and when he asked his brother, John, he said there was no such custom.
When I first got into the newspaper business, there was a premium on getting the story right. No longer. The bloggers have created an atmosphere where anything goes, so it’s never clear whether a story is accurate or not. I generally assume that most of what I see on the Internet is probably false.
BIGGEST JOKE of the week: Eddie De Bartolo is on the short list for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Except that it isn’t a joke. He really is.
The one thing Eddie did right was to hire Bill Walsh, but it was Walsh, John McVay, the scouts and the coaches who did the work that eventually netted five Super Bowl championships for the Niners. Eddie spent his dad’s money freely, but that only became important in the last part of the ‘80s, when it enabled the 49ers to add quality players as backups. The ’81 champions had the lowest payroll in the league and the ’84 champions were still only in the middle.
Eddie did accomplish one thing: His free spending was an impetus for the less generous owners to go for a Collective Bargaining Agreement that included a salary cap. But, that hardly seems much of a recommendation for the HOF.
WERE YOU as surprised as I was when the A’s suddenly signed Coco Crisp to a two-year, $14 million contract?
Apparently what happened was that the the A’s payroll had been driven so low that the players union protested, and there was a danger they couldn’t qualify for a revenue-sharing payout. Miami got in a similar predicament some years back.
Now, the A’s payroll is over the minimum, just barely, so the A’s owners can get the payment that has allowed them to make money (except for last year), while turning the A’s into a Triple-A team.
Meanwhile, one of my Sacramento readers, who has gone to A’s games for years, got a call from an A’s marketing person, offering a deal on a 22-game package. His wife answered the phone and told the A’s salesperson, “If we want to see a Triple-A team, we’ll watch the River Cats.”
DREW BREES: One of the reasons Brees is so effective is that he came to the New Orleans Saints in 2006, the same year Payton arrived as coach. So, he has worked in the same offensive system – and it’s a good one – for six years. Plus, he has excellent receivers.
Alex Smith has had none of those advantages, so it’s a little silly to make comparisons between the two at this point.
Forty-Niner fans often use Joe Montana as the measuring rod for a quarterback but Montana’s career wasn’t uniformly brilliant. He was very good in 1981, the first Super Bowl season, so-so in 1982 when the whole team fell apart, partly because of a players’ strike and partly because of drug use by some players. In 1983, he had another good year, and he was great in 1984, when the Niners went 15-1 and trounced the Miamii Dolphins, 38-16, in the Super Bowl. But, he fell off considerably in 1985 and ’86 and had back surgery in 1987. In 1988, he started slowly and missed two games, very nearly losing his starting position to Steve Young. But in midseason, 1988, a light seemed to turn on and for the next 2 ˝ seasons, he had a run that was probably as good, and possibly better, than any quarterback in NFL history. That’s what put him in the HOF.
Smith has had a rocky time with the 49ers, for reasons that were beyond his control. It is only this year that he’s finally had a coach who understands quarterbacks and has a system in which Smith can be productive.
I think Smith, who can be a free agent again, will choose to return next year, and I hope the 49ers will improve their receiving corps. Then, Smith will have a chance to show what he can do over a space of years. No, I don’t think he’ll equal Montana’s accomplishments, but I think he’ll wind up having a fine career.
MY APOLOGIES for the lateness of this column, but I’ve had a couple of busy days. Yesterday, I went down to the 49ers in the morning, then to the Raiders for their news conference. Because the Examiner is putting out a special edition Friday on the 49ers playoff game, I was asked to send in my Friday column today, and I did that this morning. Then, I had to do my grocery shopping; because I’m the family cook, I’m also the family shopper. It took me longer today because so many store workers wanted to know what I thought about Saturday’s game. They seemed to think my opinion meant something, although I have readers who assure me that I know nothing. With all this, I didn’t get to this column until after lunch.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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