Ranking the Oakland Raiders' 2012 Offseason Hires in Terms of Importance

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystFebruary 20, 2012

Rolando McClain is one player that could benefit from improved coaching and organizational stability.
Rolando McClain is one player that could benefit from improved coaching and organizational stability.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Al Davis carefully planned his estate so his son could retain full control of the team. It will be Mark Davis who leads the team into an era of Raiders football without his legendary father. 

Mark Davis waited three months before making any changes on the football side of the organization, but changes were inevitable. 

Perhaps the best slogan for the 2012 Raiders would be, "Under New Management."

The Raiders have hired 21 new people on the football side of the organization and whereas a quality control coach will have little to no impact on the immediate or long-term success of the team, a general manager will have significant impact.

21. Eric Sanders, Quality Control - Defense

He's been with the team for two years and even the most die-hard fan doesn't recognize the name. Sanders coached linebackers at U.C. Davis for two seasons and he was a psychology major before joining the Raiders.

He'll make copies of play sheets and get the rest of the staff coffee. That's probably short-changing Sanders, but he sits firmly at the bottom of the pecking order.

Importance: Negligible impact.

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:   Zach Miller #80 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates with Justin Griffith #36 after scoring a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers during an NFL game on September 28, 2008 at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, California.  (Photo b
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

20. Justin Griffith, Quality Control - Offense

Griffith has mostly followed Greg Knapp around the country. As a player, Griffith followed Knapp from Atlanta to Oakland to Seattle to Houston. He was no longer wanted as a player in 2010 and left Knapp to be a coaching intern with the Seahawks for the 2011 season.

He's well-schooled in the zone-blocking system and an ex-player, and that may prove to be a valuable resource for the offensive staff.

Importance: Familiar with zone-blocking system. Slight impact.

19. John Grieco, Assistant Strength and Conditioning

This is Grieco's first NFL position, but he comes well-credentialed, and he'll assist legendary strength coach Al Miller. While the strength coaches are some of the more underrated coaches on the staff, let's not get carried away putting an assistant strength coach in front of position coaches.

Importance: Injury prevention and recovery time. Slight impact.

18. Keith Burns, Assistant Special Teams

Special teams is the third phase of the game and only one or two coaches are devoted to it. Burns has been coaching for almost 30 years and was believed to be hired as a secondary coach. In fact, his Raiders.com biography says Burns is a secondary coach.

Importance: Impact on kick coverage. Slight to moderate impact.

17. Mark Hutson, Tight Ends

Like Burns, Hutson is a veteran of the college ranks. He'll have the narrow focus of dealing with the tight ends. He'll likely focus on blocking as he was the offensive line coach at Tulane dating back to Matt Forte's final year there. 

Importance: Couldn't hurt to have tight ends who can block. Slight impact.

16. Clayton Lopez, Defensive Backs

For the most part, the Raiders went to the college ranks to fill position coaches, but the defensive backs coaches are one of the exceptions. 

Lopez has a good track record at the NFL level, but he's bounced between teams. At the surface, Lopez's work looks good, as his secondaries tend to improve upon his arrival.

Impact: Lopez will not be around long if there is not a noticeable impact on one of the team's weakest position groups. 

11 Oct 1998: Guard Steve Wisniewski #76 of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the game against the San Diego Chargers at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 7-6.
David Taylor/Getty Images

15. Steve Wisniewski, Assistant Offensive Line

He's not going to be real familiar with the zone-blocking system Greg Knapp will deploy, but he's loved by fans and the organization.  

Wisniewski was a big part of the reason for the surprise Raiders' offensive line in 2011. His role may be reduced, but the organization realized that he is more than worth keeping around.

Importance: Proven teacher of man-blocking techniques and will help transition to zone-blocking scheme. Noticeable impact. 

14. Al Miller, Strength and Conditioning

Miller helped teams win four Super Bowl rings. He retired in 2004 to be with his wife, who has Alzheimer's disease. Dennis Allen, who he worked with in Atlanta, recruited him to be strength coach before he had been formally offered the Raiders position.

The strength coach is often overlooked, but strength and conditioning is a big part of injury protection and healing. Miller is one of best in the industry and only stopped to take care of family matters.

Importance: Noticeable impact on injury prevention and recovery.

13. Steve Hoffman, Special Teams Coordinator

Hoffman makes a lateral transfer from the Kansas City Chiefs. He inherits two of the best kickers in the NFL. As long as he doesn't mess with Sebastian Janikowski or Shane Lechler, he'll be a success.

His coverage units will be under scrutiny, but perhaps not as much as his field-goal team after the Raiders blocked two kicks en route to a win in Week 16.

Importance: Ability to impact one phase of the game significantly. Noticeable impact.

Anthony Spencer is a free agent that could help the Raiders transition to the 3-4 defense.
Anthony Spencer is a free agent that could help the Raiders transition to the 3-4 defense.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

12. Terrell Williams, Defensive Line

Williams is yet another college coach to have been added to the Raiders staff. He won't design the scheme, but Williams will need to get the Raiders front to stop the run, something they haven't been able to do since 2002.

Coincidentally or not, the Raiders haven't made the playoffs since 2002, which is the last time the team held opponents under 125 yards per game rushing.

Williams coached Cliff Avril and Anthony Spencer, both free agents, during their college years at Purdue. Only one is likely to be available, but the link is worth mentioning. 

Importance: Williams will monitor a position needing improvement against the run. Significant, specific impact.

11. Ted Gilmore, Wide Receivers

Gilmore has been coaching receivers in the college ranks since the mid-1990s and most recently was coaching receivers at USC. This will be his first stint in the NFL and he'll inherit a young and talented group of receivers that still need to grow at the position.

The continued growth of the Raiders offense may rely on the receivers and it will be up to Gilmore to make sure Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore and Louis Murphy improve on their 2011 seasons.

Importance: Gilmore will monitor a position needing improvement. Significant, specific impact.

10. John DeFilippo, Quarterbacks

DeFilippo is another coach who seems to find a home wherever Greg Knapp lands as an offensive coordinator. This time around, DeFilippo will not be saddled with Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper and JaMarcus Russell as his three quarterbacks.

DeFilippo will have a proven veteran Carson Palmer and a young, athletic developmental player in Terrelle Pryor. DeFilippo and Greg Knapp will likely be able to hand-select their backup quarterback of choice. Obviously, this is a much better situation for DeFilippo than his previous stint with the team.

Importance: It's a quarterback-driven league and the Raiders will need to get Palmer playing well and start planning for the future. DeFilippo could make a break a season or multiple seasons with his coaching of the quarterbacks. He's likely to get assistance from Greg Knapp, without it, DeFilippo would have more impact on team performance than any other position coach.

HOUSTON - OCTOBER 09:  Running back Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders is tackled by strong safety Glover Quin #29 of the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Oakland won 25-20.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

9. Kelly Skipper, Running Backs 

Skipper has had opportunities to leave the Raiders and he remains on staff for his sixth season. Skipper has done a nice job bringing out the best in Darren McFadden.

McFadden had detractors coming out of Arkansas, but he has corrected many of the issues scouts had with him in college while under tutelage of Skipper. 

Importance: Significant impact on running game, which also happens to be a key of Greg Knapp's entire offense. 

8. Johnnie Lynn, Defensive Backs

The Raiders aren't messing around with defensive backs or defensive backs coaches. Stanford Routt was released, and the Raiders hired two defensive backs coaches with NFL experience. 

Lynn comes over from Philadelphia, but he has years of NFL experience. He's been an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. That experience can be valuable to his superiors. 

He's experienced and has been successful at each of his coaching stops, with the exception of his one-year stint in Philadelphia last season. His secondaries have always keyed on getting turnovers, and that's an area of the Raiders defense that most needs to improve.

Importance: His expertise in many areas and track record as a secondary coach will make a significant difference for the entire defensive staff. 

7. Frank Pollack, Offensive Line

Pollack has been the assistant offensive line coach for the zone-blocking Houston Texans for the past five years. He should have a very good handle both the zone-blocking system and how to teach it to NFL players. 

Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's entire offensive system is based around the running game and the proper execution of the zone-blocking system.

Pollack is a unique find because he's well-versed in the system and was available. Knapp's implementation of his system is made many times easier due to the hire of Pollack. 

Pollack's challenge is to team with Steve Wisniewski and get the young Raiders' offensive line executing the zone-blocking system like they've been running it for years. 

Importance: Significant impact to a pivotal area of the offense. 

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 24:  Defenders Aaron Curry #51 and Lamarr Houston #99 of the Oakland Raiders stop running back Jackie Battle of the Kansas City Chiefs short of a first down on a fourth down play during the second half on December 24, 2011 at Ar
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

6. Johnny Holland, Linebackers

Holland was well-respected and well-liked in Houston. He was ousted with the rest of the defensive staff at the end of the 2010 season after a five-year stint as linebackers coach.

He was one of the few position coaches at the time who was expected to stay with the team. Wade Phillips apparently had his own guy, so Holland sat out the 2011 season.

Both DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing achieved rookie of the year honors under Holland.

The Raiders are in desperate need of a coach who can motivate and challenge Rolando McClain and clean up Aaron Curry's pass coverage. 

Impact: Potentially huge impact on the Raiders defense. Even if the defensive line improves, if the Raiders don't also improve at linebacker, they can't expect to hold opponents to less than 125 yards per game rushing.

5. Jason Tarver, Defensive Coordinator

There is no denying that Tarver is a relative unknown. He's young and has his only experience as a defensive coordinator came last season as co-defensive coordinator for Stanford. He wasn't the play-caller. 

This will be Tarver's first time calling defensive plays and running his own defensive staff. It's a good thing that Dennis Allen is the head coach and is likely to have his hands heavily in the defensive game plan.

Greg Knapp is mostly self-sufficient on offense and Allen should and will have input on the defense.

It will be interesting to see if Allen allows Tarver to call the defensive plays as he said he would in his introductory press conference, or if the coaches Allen was able to hire might have changed his mind. 

Importance: The potential impact Tarver can make on team and the defense is significant. The defense was the problem in 2011 and Tarver is the man specifically tasked with correcting the issues, although he will work closely with Allen. 

4. Al Saunders, Senior Offensive Assistant 

The retention of Al Saunders can't be understated. He'll be an adviser on offense now, and he's familiar with the personnel and their strengths and weaknesses. He'll be a valuable resource for Knapp and Allen to draw from for offensive information.

Saunders' retention could mean Knapp isn't going to force the Raiders offense to fully convert in one offseason. If that is the case, it bodes well for the young players as the Raiders transition. 

The Raiders could be attempting to use Knapp's zone-blocking running scheme combined with a little more of Saunders' Air Coryell-style passing game, which better suits the Raiders' options at receiver and quarterback. 

Importance: Potentially large impact on the Raiders offense, particularly Carson Palmer and the passing game. 

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 01:  Carson Palmer #3 of the Oakland Raiders scrambles away from Antonio Garay #71 of the San Diego Chargers at O.co Coliseum on January 1, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

3.  Greg Knapp, Offensive Coordinator

His first stint with the Raiders was a disaster. He didn't call the plays and he was forced to start JaMarcus Russell at quarterback in his second season.

He's experienced, but that also means he hasn't been overly successful. In the past, Knapp has fallen in love with the running game, but his recent stint as quarterbacks coach of the Texans may have reignited a love for the passing game.

Knapp needs to craft his offense carefully to fit the skill set of Carson Palmer. Al Saunders could be a valuable resource to Knapp.

The offense gained respectability under Hue Jackson, and Knapp needs to build upon that success. A step down in offensive production is not likely to be well-received. 

Importance: Knapp has a nice group of players to work with and should be able to put them in position to make plays, but a step-back on offense is likely to be considered a failure.

2. Dennis Allen, Head Coach

Not since John Madden have the Raiders had a defensive-minded head coach. Allen comes well-respected from his prior stops in Atlanta, New Orleans and Denver. According to various accounts, it was only a matter of when and not if Allen received his first shot at being a head coach. 

Allen's tasked with taking a roster full of players and getting the Raiders back to greatness. Allen will preach discipline and accountability, two things the Raiders have been lacking since Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay

Allen has quietly put together a solid coaching staff and the team is hard at work preparing for the draft, free agency and the new era of Raiders football.

Importance: McKenzie's commitment to Allen for four years and the organizational change marks a sharp contrast to the Al Davis era. The impact will be significant, even if that change does not immediate alter the Raiders win total.

1. Reggie McKenzie, General Manager

While Dennis Allen will be the face of the Raiders, it is Reggie McKenzie that will sit behind the curtain and pull the levers and strings. McKenzie will have total control of football operations, but as he's mentioned multiple times, he wants the Raiders organization to work as a team.

McKenzie will listen to input from his coaches and scouts, but when a decision has to be made, it will be McKenzie who makes that call. 

McKenzie will let Allen coach and he'll do what he can to assist his team in any way he can. Much of that has to do with the players who are brought in.

The players are the ones who actually play the game and that's what makes McKenzie the most important hire the Raiders have made in decades.

Ron Wolf suggested McKenzie, and his interview with Mark Davis and John Madden went well enough that Mark Davis didn't feel the need to continue the search.

Importance: The Raiders are committed to McKenzie for years to come. General manager hires are usually not the variety the team wants to be making every few seasons. The most stable franchises at top of the organization chart are also the franchises that are winning the most games.