7 Qualities the Oakland Raiders Need in Their Next Head Coach
Every team currently looking for a head coach is going to place an emphasis on different qualities that they believe make a successful one. Not every team is going to do that the same way because there are unique qualities that are required to be successful in certain cities.
The Oakland Raiders are one such team that has a unique set of qualities they need in their next head coach. No singular candidate is likely to possess all the qualities they need, but they’ll have to get as close as they can.
Aside from the obvious prerequisites like leadership skills and coaching experience no lower than the college level, there are at least seven qualities the Raiders need in their next head coach that aren’t necessarily required in other NFL cities.
1. Tolerance for Owner Mark Davis
One of the reasons the Raiders are considering removing the interim title from interim head coach Tony Sparano is because of the relationship he has built with owner Mark Davis. Aside from the abysmal on-field performance of his team, former head coach Dennis Allen failed to develop a good working relationship with the man that signs the checks.
Any head coach that comes to Oakland in 2015 has to know that building a relationship with Davis is vital. Due to his involvement, there are also candidates who just aren’t going to be interested in the job in Oakland.
A candidate who agreed to interview with the Raiders is likely comfortable with Davis’ level of involvement, but that doesn’t make them equally capable of nurturing a relationship that could get rocky if expectations aren’t met. Relationships can sour quickly in such situations, especially if the players aren’t happy and they’re letting the owner know about it.
Of the candidates the Raiders have reportedly interviewed, Jack Del Rio and Mike Shanahan have the most experience fostering a close relationship with an owner. Del Rio stuck for years in Jacksonville because of his relationship with then owner Wayne Weaver. Shanahan’s experience with ownership is more mixed, but he was very close with Pat Bowlen, the owner of the Denver Broncos.
2. Receptiveness to Working with GM Reggie McKenzie
Davis isn’t willing to fire general manager Reggie McKenzie, even if it could land a talent evaluator like Scot McCloughan to run the show. Regardless of your opinion on McKenzie, the reality is the Raiders need a head coach who is receptive to working with him.
With the odd way the Raiders have gone about interviewing candidates, we can’t assume that every candidate interviewed is receptive to working with McKenzie. Davis interviewed Del Rio without McKenzie present, so we don’t know how receptive he really is to being paired with him.
McKenzie interviewed Darrell Bevell and Pep Hamilton without Davis, so it’s reasonable to think they are receptive to working with him. Although the Raiders are down on the list, they have requested permission to interview Todd Bowles, who worked with McKenzie in Green Bay in the 1990s and interviewed with the team three years ago when they hired Allen.
3. Skill to Develop Derek Carr
Aside from all the off-the-field issues a head coach has to deal with, their job is to get players to perform on it. One of the most important questions the Raiders are asking in interviews is what the candidates think of quarterback Derek Carr.
Asking the candidates to break down Carr and provide examples of how they will help him improve is a start, but it doesn’t end there. Developing Carr will involve the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and personnel.
The Raiders will likely spend the offseason trying to build around Carr, so the philosophy of the head coach will be important. Do the Raiders focus on fixing the running game to help Carr or do they get him a pair of great receivers? The head coach has to have a plan and it has to mesh with what McKenzie and Davis think as well.
Darrell Bevell and Pep Hamilton have developed two of the finest young quarterbacks in the game in Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, respectively. They would both be great choices for the sole purpose of developing Carr.
4. Charisma to Win the Locker Room
One of Allen’s problems in Oakland was that he didn’t win the locker room. It was clear from the effort the Raiders put on display over the final half of the 2013 season that the players weren’t playing hard for him anymore.
Even though Allen’s job was on the line, the players didn’t have gritty performances as they did under Sparano in 2014. They lost their final six in a row in 2013 while Sparano’s crew went 3-3 in 2014.
The Raiders need someone with the charisma to win over a locker room divided between young players and old players. The veterans will sniff out anything overly manufactured, so it has to be natural.
Sparano seemed to be able to win over the locker room, but several other candidates have proven able to do the same. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton followed Jack Del Rio to Denver and he is playing great for the Broncos. There are also no well-documented cases of Del Rio having issues with players.
Eric Mangini had some issues with the locker room in Cleveland and Scott Linehan feuded with star players when he was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Neither of them would be a good choice if dynamics in the locker room are important, but it’s possible they’ve learned from their mistakes.
5. Connections to Hire High Quality Staff
The Raiders aren’t going to morph into a very talented team in one offseason so good schemes and coaching will be important for them in 2015. For the Raiders and the new head coach to be successful, they have to be able to hire top coordinators and assistants.
Del Rio is well connected, and the recently fired head coach of the Atlanta Falcons Mike Smith would be a natural pick to be his defensive coordinator. Shanahan is also well connected and his son Kyle would be the obvious choice as offensive coordinator as long as the Cleveland Browns are willing let him make a lateral move.
It’s not as clear what kind of staffs the other candidates could put together in Oakland. That’s especially true the longer they wait to make a decision. Coaches will start taking jobs soon, so the talent pool is going to start drying up if the Raiders don’t make a decision soon.
Del Rio, Hamilton, Linehan and Bevell won’t be available until their respective teams lose, so the timeline could be a problem. At this point, the Raiders are lucky that none of the other teams with head coaching vacancies have made a decision either.
6. Name Recognition to Attract Free Agents
The Raiders need to attract top talent in free agency and they can’t do that with a ho-hum name at head coach. No one is going to sign in Oakland because Sparano is the head coach. Linehan, Mangini and Pat Shurmur aren’t going to excite anyone either.
For top coordinators like Bevell, Bowles (if he interviews) and Hamilton, it will likely depend on the players. They aren’t hurting their odds and some players might see then as rising stars, while others could just see them as the next flavor of the month.
Shanahan and to a lesser extent Del Rio provide some positive name recognition and that may at least give the Raiders an opportunity to make their pitch. At least then players wouldn’t be taking less money elsewhere as has happened a few times over the last couple of years.
7. Experience to Minimize Learning Curve
The one thing the Raiders absolutely can’t afford is a big learning curve from their new head coach. You don’t need head coaching experience to be a good leader, but the head job is much different from being a coordinator. as Allen found out. The head coach has to delegate a lot more than a coordinator, and that can be a struggle for coordinators used to controlling everything.
Del Rio, Shanahan, Linehan, Mangini and Shurmur all have head coaching experience. That means they come with baggage, but they have likely learned from their experiences as well. All of them would be able to hit the ground running as head coach and so the job wouldn’t overwhelm them.
Bevell and Hamilton don’t have any head coaching experience and would have to learn on the fly. Bowles has just a few games of experience as an interim head coach in Miami after they fired Sparano, but at least he knows what to expect.
If the Raiders don't hire someone with experience, it would be shocking. The hot coordinator route isn't always the best one even if the candidates they are looking at have already failed at the job before.