This is my Tuesday column on the firing of Dennis Allen. WARNING: This is a Raiders column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.
ALAMEDA — Unfortunately, Dennis Allen was not the Raiders’ biggest problem.
Yes, he is a bad head coach. And, yes, he deserved to get fired. But he didn’t deserve to get hired in the first place.
Allen had been an NFL defensive coordinator for one season and an NFL position coach for four seasons before Reggie McKenzie hired him in 2011. Never in his life had Allen been a head coach. Not in college, not in high school, Pop Warner, you name it. McKenzie hired a first-timer and asked him to turn around one of the most dysfunctional organizations in sports.
What chance did Allen have to succeed? His first two seasons, the Raiders were in Salary Cap Hell – paying players who no longer were on the team. Not Allen’s fault. That was Al Davis’ fault.
The past two years the front office spent millions of dollars on Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub, two quarterbacks who failed. Not Allen’s fault. That was McKenzie’s fault.
And it was McKenzie’s fault for spending a first-round pick last year on D.J. Hayden, the fragile one, and for signing a bunch of veterans no other team wanted this offseason.
Unfortunately, McKenzie specializes in making bad decisions. He couldn’t even pick the right interim coach to replace Allen. McKenzie made Tony Sparano the interim head coach. He had been the Raiders’ assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
McKenzie held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to introduce Sparano. They sat side-by-side at a table in the Raiders’ auditorium, McKenzie leaning forward, elbows resting on the table, arms crossed, head down, like he was in mourning at his own funeral.
Someone asked McKenzie if he interviewed any other coaches before he picked Sparano. “No,” McKenzie said with pride. “My intentions were to talk to Coach Sparano, make sure we were on the same wavelength. He was hired as an assistant head coach for a reason.”
Sparano also was hired as the offensive line coach for a reason – to coach the offensive line, the largest group of players at any one position on the team. Sparano’s new duties as head coach and practice planner will take away from his time to prepare all those offensive linemen.
I asked Sparano about that. I said, “Tony, when your defense is on the field and you’re on the sideline handling the head coaching duties, who will be discussing run blocking and protection schemes with the offensive line?”
“I’m going to make sure that I handle that responsibility first and then get to the sideline as quick as I possibly can,” he said, “because there are game management things that have to go on during the course of a game as well – the use of timeouts, clock management and all those things.”
Really, Tony? You don’t say.
McKenzie should have made Al Saunders the interim head coach and let Sparano focus on the offensive line. Saunders doesn’t have a position to focus on. He is not a position coach. He is the Raiders’ senior offensive assistant. And he has coached in the NFL for 31 years.
Unfortunately, Saunders wouldn’t have saved the Raiders’ season, either. It is not savable. Mark Davis has to start over, has to find an experienced head coach who can work with an experienced personnel man not named Reggie.
That’s right. Davis must fire Reggie after this season. Davis must not allow Reggie to hire another head coach. Reggie is not qualified.
The Raiders must hire a head coach who will command respect and put the fear of God into people before he walks in the front door. Not many coaches can do that.
Maybe Stanford head coach David Shaw could do it. But why would Shaw give up Stanford when there is no certainty he could succeed with the Raiders? Which experienced, successful coach in his right mind would want to coach the Raiders? It will take at least two or three years before they get enough talent to win in the AFC West.
Unfortunately, there may not be an experienced, successful coach open to coaching the Raiders.
Davis might as well make a run at Jon Gruden, the Raiders’ former head coach.
I asked Davis if he plans to reach out to Gruden to coach the Raiders next season. Sparano’s press conference had just ended and Davis was standing at the back of the auditorium talking to reporters.
“I don’t know, he may reach out to me,” Davis said, smiling.
No, Mark, he will not reach out to you. He doesn’t need you. You need him.
Offer Gruden the world. Make him one of the highest paid coaches in the league. Make him your general manager, too. And make the offer public.
It’s time to think big time.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.