Raiders fixed a symptom, not the source

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

This article has 26 Comments

  1. Going after Gruden isn’t thinking big. Thinking big would be finishing off the trade Cleveland couldn’t last offseason.

  2. Agree with Jack. Gruden hasn’t proved anything in a decade and tends to ride on some other coaches work. Plus you (Grant) have a high school way of writing and articulating your thoughts.

  3. How many top 10 or top 15 first round draft picks have the raiders had in the last 10 years? How many played in a pro bowl? How many are still in the nfl?

    1. Al Davis’ measure was that a 1st round draft choice should make the ProBowl within 3-4 years. How many of his worked out? Yeah, Upshaw and Shell and Guy and Stabler and Long and Millen worked out well.
      Who was the last one? Marcus Allen?
      It wasnt Marinovich or Jamarcus or the big DT from USC. Hayden (Reggie’s) is so far a no-show, but Mack looks great. If the Sio guy would play with some discipline he could be good too. So far he’s got a lil too much Curry in him.

  4. Grudin will not work for that organization again?Grant might as well have suggested they rehire Shanahan.
    Who did Reggie have to choose from with the Allen hire? Wtf wanted to work for that organization? He had a choice between losers and posers and not-ready-rooks.
    Who is still out there that would want to work there? Would you want anyone who wanted that job? Crumb catchers like Allen and Kiffen? So what is Reggie to do?
    You almost have to hire a GM/HC combo, but who wants to work for Mark Davis? Good luck wid dat.

  5. What would help the hapless Raiders is if Mark Davis sells the team to someone that knows how to build a quality team.

    1. MidWest Mark Davis does’nt own the team he is the managing partner his mother is the majority owner.

      1. Thanks Coach. Still, it would be in the best interests of that franchise to be out from underneath the Davis name.

        1. MidWest it may happen its rumored that when his mother passes away he wo’nt have enough money to pay the inheiratance tax and he may have to sell controlling interest.

    2. I think you guys are being a little too hard on Tommy Boy aka. Mark Davis. He did the right thing when he got control of the team, hiring somebody to run the operation (McKenzie) and letting him make all the football decisions. Unfortunately, it appears he hired the wrong guy. Ron Wolf and John Madden both vouched for McKenzie so again I don’t think you can blame Davis too much. For the most part he’s stayed out of the way and let his football guys run the team.

      The biggest issue is simply the state the team was in when he hired McKenzie. They had a salary cap disaster and little talent to build around. The first draft didn’t provide a pick until the end of the 3rd round. It’s tough to achieve anything resembling success when you are faced with that kind of situation.

      I agree with the firing of Allen as he just looked overwhelmed and incapable of leading a football team from day one. He was a bad hire and McKenzie deserves criticism for that along with some suspect drafting last season. However, I’m not sure McKenzie deserves to be fired yet simply due to the fact his first two seasons were trying to get out from under a mess left by big Al. I’d give him another year with a new HC and see if he can build on this years draft which looks to be pretty good. The only way I wouldn’t take that route is if I could find a President with a great resume and respect around the league to take over day to day operations. At that point if he wants to hire a new GM, no problem, but this team needs stability and firing yet another GM or HC in a short span doesn’t achieve that. The Raiders are a toxic place to work for that very reason. Unless somebody sees it as a challenge they want to take on, I would stay put.

      Oh and Jon Gruden is the most overrated HC in the game. He put together some decent seasons in Oakland but the guy who took over for him got them to a SB. He then won a SB in his first year in Tampa with Dungy’s team and proceeded to tailspin into mediocrity the rest of his time there. I don’t think Gruden is interested and if he is, he shouldn’t be because a TV gig with an undeserved reputation is better than 18 hour days knocking the shine off it.

  6. The HC position for the raiders is a big enough job for anyone by adding the GM job to it almost guarantees failure. I have a perfect candidate for the job Bill Bellicheat he may be done in NE and he possess’s the ego to think he could turn the Raiders around.

    1. The bay area sports media would commit mass suicide if they had to attend Belichick and Harbaugh press conferences on a regular basis. Then again, Kawakami deserves to have both the Grumblelord and the Jive Turkey Gobbler inflicted upon him.

    2. Since we are throwing out names of candidates who would never touch this turdpile for all the money in Silicon Valley, how about Parcells? Jimmy Johnson? Gee, is Steve Spurrier ready for another NFL go-around?

      Bro Tuna is right, the Raiders will again have to scrape the bottom of the barrel and somehow hope they can capture a little lightning in a bottle (enough mixed metaphors there?)

  7. What’s the bigger news out of Oakland, the Raiders dysfunction or the A’s choking away a promising season?

      1. They were until Beane traded away their slugger for a pitcher. Next year, he’ll be without both of them. Nice job money ball :)

  8. Jimbo Fisher is one of two likely college candidates. The other is Kevin Sumlin. I personally feel Kevin Sumlin would be the better fit. He is a high energy no nonsense coach. He’s succeeded at Texas A&M with two QBs in 3 years now.
    As far as NFL assistants go, Vic Fangio is probably due or Jim Tomsula. I doubt that Davis is willing to put the money into the position. Is Tony Dungy ready for a GM position?

  9. “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” ………. David Shaw????????

    An unproven College coach who is just as QUIET & unnoticeable as Dennis Allen? Wow that’s a guy who’s fiery & shows some passion huh? A guy who would instantly command respect & is an immediate leader of men in the NFL?? LOLS

    Gruden over Shaw by a LONG SHOT

  10. I like David Shaw. He seems to have a solid football mind. Yes I agree I like him better than Allen by miles & miles even though Allen has NFL Coaching experience.

    Was Allen even in the room?? He just seemed invisible. No personality, fire, or any football impact. Just saying Shaw has the same quiet personality but I think Shaw shows me quiet CONFIDENCE & the motivation to Win that could influence players & coaches where he could sell them winning football & hopefully put together a solid Staff for the next leap into the NFL if he ever wants & makes the jump.

    But too big a reach & risk for the Raiders IMO

  11. McK picked the players…..let McK now coach them. As long as Al’s kid is in charge no top talent will come to Oakland. Anyone argue this point?

    1. If you pay them, they will come.

      While the Raiders org isn’t a stellar place to call home, it is nonetheless an NFL franchise and that in itself is enough to lure qualified people…..and it can only get better from here.

      I like the idea of Fangio, but I honestly believe they will look for a big/established name to rebuild with, and possibly cede control from McKenzie with the hire. My $.02

Comments are closed.