Culture is a buzzword in corporate America.
In organizational terms, it’s defined as “a learned set of behaviors that is common knowledge to all the participants.” In the dictionary, it’s defined as “the customs, arts, social institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.”
In Oakland, the culture of the Raiders organization has been dominated and defined by one man: Al Davis. The Raiders entire identity was a reflection of him and his personality. Outlaws, renegades, outcasts, mavericks and underdogs. There was no end to the “mystique” Davis cultivated about his team. That mystique served them well in the 70s and early 80s as they won three Lombardi Trophies while harboring misfits and castoffs like John Matuszak, Jim Plunkett and Lyle Alzado. Their branding as a “criminal element” did wonders for their reputation and made the Raiders internationally popular.
Fast forward 30 years and we see what that label and culture get you in the modern NFL: nothing.
The Raiders haven’t won a Super Bowl in almost 30 seasons and haven’t made the playoffs in almost a decade. A once proud franchise became an absolute laughingstock in the mid-2000s, proving that although the “renegade” label will sell a lot of t-shirts, it doesn’t win football games.
Davis’ death last October provided an opportunity to change the culture of the entire organization. For the first time in almost 50 years, someone other than Davis will be making the decisions. I’m not advocating a total alienation of the traditions that made the Raiders great, but a modernization of ideas and philosophies that will make the team what it should be: the finest organization in professional sports. Davis himself always had this as his goal, and it’s time to make it happen.
So, how do you take an organization that was dominated for years by an outdated, broken philosophy and implement a modern, winning approach?
Initially, leadership must be put in place that is adamant about changing the philosophy of the organization. In Oakland, this is questionable. Not a lot is known about Mark Davis, who has stepped into his late father’s shoes. If Davis decides to hire a GM and allow that hire to make personnel decisions, it would appear the organization is headed in the direction it needs to go. If Davis decides to exercise total control over everything, like his father, the Raiders will continue to flounder. Smart, innovative and motivated football people are needed at the helm of the Raiders franchise now.
The Sergay Group, a corporate management consulting company that boasts a client list containing some of the world’s biggest corporations, cautions that the next step is absolutely critical in changing corporate culture:
“If insufficient effort is put towards identifying aspects of the culture that may impact on what you are trying to achieve, then insufficient actions will be taken to circumvent obstacles in a timely manner or harness the way things are done in an opportune direction.”
Translation: If you can’t take a hard look at yourself as an organization and make some tough decisions to change what isn’t working, you’re not going anywhere.
There are a multitude of changes that need to be made in the Raiders organization. The complete failure of head coach Hue Jackson to instill professionalism and discipline in his players is first and foremost. The Raiders set two penalty records this season, one for most penalties by a team in a season and one for most yards penalized in a season.
Taking a look at the other teams on the dubious list of most penalized of all time, we can see that the penalty problem has long been the scourge of the Raiders franchise. The Oakland/LA Raiders occupy three of the top five spots, including No. 1, and have led the NFL in penalties an incredible 13 times. Historically, the penalty issue was shrugged off as just a symptom of the Raiders aggressive, outlaw approach. That justification is no longer acceptable or valid. Penalties are killer to a team’s momentum and psyche. Players who consistently commit them should be cut and coaches who accept them or refuse to correct the problem should be fired.
Jackson sounded completely beaten on the subject of his team’s sloppy play, saying:
"I don't have the answer, obviously," he said. "I talk to the team about it all the time. I yell. I scream. I threaten. I've done everything."
Leadership plays a critical role in changing an organization’s culture, according to the Sergay Group:
“One of the surest ways to align the culture to the organization’s strategy is to apply leadership practices that are also aligned. The leaders, at all levels, need to know what the required culture is and then determine ways of establishing practices and procedures in all operations that will closely reflect the desired culture.”
Translation: If the organization’s leaders don’t practice what they preach, nothing will change.
The lack of leadership in the professionalism and preparedness departments suggest Hue Jackson isn’t the correct person to guide the Raiders franchise into modern times. His acceptance of players like Stanford Routt, who was flagged for more penalties this season than the entire Green Bay Packers defense, is akin to condoning the unprofessional, undisciplined play.
Once the right leadership is in place and a strong strategy and goal is defined,
“the way deliverables are produced in the organization needs to be examined and challenged. This is to ensure that every process is geared towards achieving the strategy.”
Translation: Everyone needs to get on board with the plan. Players and coaches need to buy into the new culture 100 percent in order for it to be as successful as possible. Any member of the organization that isn’t on board with the changes is detrimental to the new strategy. This means getting rid of players who may be talented but are unable or unwilling to conform to a more disciplined style of play, such as Routt or Richard Seymour. Only when these players are gone and unable to hurt the team on the field or by influencing others can the new strategy be properly implemented.
Aside from the penalty aspect, the defense (particularly the secondary) showed a softness and lack of sound fundamentals all season. Many times, opponents seemed to march effortlessly down the field regardless of the urgency the defense should have been playing with (think the Chargers steamrolling the Raiders defense after being pinned inside their own five-yard line late in the final game of the season). Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who returned to the team this season after serving as defensive coordinator from 2000-'03, obviously doesn’t fit into any potential plans to change the organization’s course. He’s a retread, a throwback to the old days and needs to be moved out of the organization. Players who are incapable of playing tough, fundamentally-sound football also need to be identified and removed as soon as possible.
Without wholesale changes like the ones outlined here, the Oakland Raiders will never become a top-notch football team. The time to scrap the old, outdated ideas and ideals has come. Because of their past, the Raiders will always have something of a “renegade” reputation, and it will always keep them near the top of the merchandise and marketing lists. Unless changes are made, none of those t-shirts they sell will say “Super Bowl Champions.”