Back in the 1970s and 1980s the Raiders were associated with winning. They were not always liked, but they were always feared and respected.
At the height of their powers, John Madden was head coach of the Raiders for 10 years between 1969 and 1978, posting a regular season record of 103-32-7 (0.763), the best ever in the NFL. He also coached the Raiders to Super Bowl victory following the 1976 season.
John Madden always said he had the best owner in the league. He did not have to report to a general manager—he had a hot line directly to owner Al Davis whenever and wherever he needed it.
The success was continued by the next coach, Tom Flores, who was with the Raiders for nine season, posting a record of 103-53 (0.660) and leading the Silver-and-Black to two Super Bowl victories.
This amounted to a 19 year span with a record of 206-85-7 (0.708) which rightly earned the Raiders the titles of the “Winning-est Team” and the “Team of the Decades."
It was a glorious time to be a Raider. They did things differently, the rest of the world seemed against them, but they won through. The Al Davis way worked—a blend of talented athletes, youthful exuberance and re-tread veterans trying to prove a point. Given the very best coaching and a loyal fan base, there was nothing that the Raiders could not achieve.
However, the departure of Tom Flores was to prove a watershed for the Raiders. A young Mike Shanahan replaced Flores and he was to post the first losing record (8-12) on Davis’s watch.
Art Shell replaced Shanahan in 1989 and briefly brought the Raiders back to respectability with a 54-38 (0.587) and within touching distance of the Super Bowl.
Since Art Shell was fired before the 1995 season, it has been a roller-coaster ride, with only John Gruden (38-26) posting a winning record.
Coaches Mike White, Joe Bugel, Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell (mark 2), Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable have combined for a regular season record of 67-125 (0.349) which just one (unsuccessful) trip to the Super Bowl.
It has been such a stark turn-around in fortunes. From being at the top of the tree, the Raiders are now experiencing life at the other end of the spectrum. The Raiders have the lowest attendances in the NFL and posted a record-setting seven seasons with 11 or more losses.
So what has changed? The Raiders still have the same owner. Mr Davis still has the same philosophies on football. The Raiders still try to have a physical running game, a vertical passing game and play man-to-man defense. The roster is still packed with speed and with power, it still combines youth and veteran leaders. There have been and continue to be some excellent coaches in Oakland. Mike Shanahan, John Gruden and Norv Turner have all had instant success with their new teams, winning three Super Bowls between them.
So the question is, why can’t anyone coach the Raiders to success again?
If recent stories are to be believed, Tom Cable joins the list of former head coaches who have parted ways with the Raiders only to launch legal proceedings of one kind or another. There have been rumours of having to carry certain players on the roster, having to play certain players, having to target certain receivers and having to play in a certain way.
But Al Davis has always been clear on the matter—he is the owner and in charge of all of the roster moves, including the draft. The coach’s job is…well to coach. Plain and simple. Coach the players. Make them better. On most NFL teams, the coach is actually the manager of the team—hiring, firing and dictating the strategy. In Oakland they are a coach. This has not changed.
It’s worked in the past and Oakland has gone to five Super Bowls, winning the Lombardi Trophy an impressive three times. But it’s not working now.
The owner is the same, the coaches have the ability and the players are still talented. But somewhere along the line, the chemistry has been lost. Somewhere the magic has died and the Raiders of today have lost that focus they once had. “Just win, baby” was the cry as Raider teams continued to do just that. Recent coaches seem to leave the impression that the message was more: “Just do it my way, buddy” when they were in Oakland.
Who is to blame for the years of fighting?
The Raider Nation is hurting. Too much dirty laundry is being aired in public. Too much hard work and energy is being wasted. Focus is being lost. There are just too many disputes and arguments for Oakland to be a place where winning is at the core. Proving points does nobody any good.
I very much hope that wounds are allowed to heal. I hope Al Davis hires a head coach he likes soon. A head coach he can get on with, one that understands the way he likes to work. I’d like to see him given a minimum of a three-year contract, as a vote of confidence. I’d like to see the owner publicly endorsing him on a regular basis, particularly after a loss. I’d like to see him surrounded by successful coordinators who know how to drive this Silver-and-Black vehicle forward. I’d like to see our best players retained on long-term contracts and another solid draft that is focused on fixing the holes on the roster (offensive line and linebacker).
I’d also like the Raiders to soften their stance slightly towards the NFL and particularly the media. In the age of the Internet and Twitter, the public are ravenous for news of their beloved team. I’d like to see Raider representatives regularly interacting in a friendly and open manner, rather than abruptly denying or ignoring stories in the media.
I’m sure with all of these moves, there is enough will-to-win inside the Raiders that they will start to produce again on the field and the crowds will once again fill Raider stadiums.
Our eyes, once again, turn to Al Davis. He can still work wonders and has it within his powers to once again make the Raiders great. Mr Davis celebrates his 50th year in charge of the Raiders in 2012 and it would be fitting if his retirement party started at the end of that season with yet another trip to the Super Bowl.
I’m ever optimistic about the future, but things need to change. The Raiders need to get the chemistry back between owner, head coach, co-ordinator and player, because without it 8-8 is the world the Raiders live in.