For over 40 years, Al Davis was the heart, soul and character of the Oakland Raiders—until his death in October of last year. The franchise itself personified the rebel attitude of its maverick owner, general manager, managing partner and captain. Since he first grabbed the reins as their head coach back in 1963, Davis had been the Raiders—and the Raiders were Al Davis.
It didn’t take long for the Raiders to change their identity, however.
On Tuesday, Oakland formally announced the hiring of the first general manager not named Al Davis in team history—Reggie McKenzie. And within hours at the helm, McKenzie made his first decision, one that ushers in a new era in the Oakland Raiders’ lore. McKenzie quickly fired coach Hue Jackson, a move that is paradoxically reminiscent of Davis, a tendency of his throughout his reign.
The decision comes as somewhat of a shock to the Raiders organization, players and fan base, as Jackson was considered to be a likable coach with a fiery passion for the team. Furthermore, his confidence in the ball club was something many felt the team could build upon—after all, 2011 was his rookie season as a head coach, and he persevered through tremendous tumult, notably numerous player injuries and, of course, the death of Mr. Davis.
But according to CSNBayArea.com, McKenzie wanted a fresh new start. "The decision to move forward and where we are going into this new era, it's going to be a time for change,” stated McKenzie, at his introductory news conference. “I felt there was a need for change at the head coaching position, from the top. We're moving into a new era. No disrespect to coach Jackson but this was something I wanted to do, start anew."
It appears that McKenzie wants to bring in his own personnel, people who he trusts and knows well. Jackson alluded to McKenzie wanting to “gut this place,” ridding the old leadership group and marshaling a brand new one. It’s a bold pronouncement, one that ironically would fall in line with the many forthright vows that Jackson made in his short stint as Raiders head coach.
After all, it was Jackson who affirmed Oakland’s defense would improve this past season. That proved false, as the Raiders gave up the fourth-most points in the league (433), setting franchise records for most touchdowns passes allowed in a season (31), passing yards allowed (4,262) and total allowed (6,201).
Jackson also promised that the Raiders would return to the playoffs. Throughout the season, his staunch belief that his team would win the AFC West, in honor of their departed owner, Davis, was their driving force. The Raiders crumpled down the stretch, ultimately losing a spot in the postseason altogether by doing so. Win one game. That’s all they had to do. But they didn’t.
Of course, the big, bad, brash statement was made when Jackson traded for former Cincinnati Bengal quarterback Carson Palmer. Yes, Campbell sustained a would-be season-ending collarbone fracture; yes, Kyle Boller was a terrible back up at best; yes, Terrelle Pryor was only a rookie. But Jackson averred that acquiring Palmer was the “trade of the century,” believing it would lead to the Raiders’ first playoff berth since the 2002 season. Instead, Palmer’s sweaty hand threw 16 interceptions (and 13 touchdowns) in 10 games. That type of production was certainly not what fans had in mind knowing the team sacrificed a first-round draft pick and a conditional second-round draft pick (would become another first-round pick if Oakland advanced to AFC Championship in 2011 or 2012 seasons.)
Obviously, Jackson was married to the idea of winning the AFC West with Palmer in the driver’s seat. Palmer had a very hand-in-hand relationship with Jackson’s offense. However, now that Jackson is out as head coach, and given the inconsistent play of Palmer in his short time with the Raiders, the next decision is whether Palmer will be kept on the team for next season.
But would that result in getting rid of Palmer? After all, Campbell performed decently in his six games as the starting quarterback, guiding the team to a 4-2 record. Should the Raiders trade Palmer? Retain Campbell? Keep both?
As part of the trade to bring him over, Palmer has three years remaining on his contract, with $12.5 due to him in 2012, $13 million in 2013 and $15 million in 2014. He will turn 35 during the very end of the 2014 campaign. That’s a lot of money for a quarterback who some feel played as though he is on the downhill of his football career.
Meanwhile, Campbell becomes an unrestricted free agent following the end of NFL season. So keeping him would be a difficult option, especially given the lack of loyalty and confidence that both Jackson and previous head coach Tom Cable had in him. Financially, it’d be impossible to hold onto both Campbell and Palmer. One of them is definitely not returning. The bigger question is, Will both of them?
Certainly, since McKenzie is truly going to bring in his “own man” as head coach, it’s likely that Palmer will be let go as a result. Palmer was Jackson’s guy—but with Jackson out, it might not make sense to hang onto Palmer.
If McKenzie decides to empty the coaching staff of Jackson’s corps, it might behoove the Raiders to ship Palmer out as well. It looks like it was a short term for Jackson as head coach; and it could be a shorter one as the Raiders’ starting quarterback for Palmer.
Such is the result of rapid decision-making by the new Oakland Raiders. It didn’t take long for things to change.
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