ALAMEDA, Ca. -- Though there was excitement and some optimism among the dozens of staffers and assistant coaches present at the news conference introducing Reggie McKenzie as the Raiders' new GM Tuesday, uncertainty was prevalent. Who would be staying and who would be going? McKenzie might have played for the Raiders and with some of the men in the room, but nobody knew for sure where his loyalties would lie.
The answer is with success. Not cronyism, friendship, legacy or history.
McKenzie's firing of coach Hue Jackson shook things up at the team facility. However, several people I spoke with weren't surprised by the move, based on the team's collapse down the stretch, how some players felt Jackson isolated them and Jackson's controversial comments about wanting more control. Mark Davis, who inherited the team after the death of his father, AFL and NFL legend Al Davis, seemingly had a say in Jackson's departure, referring to the Raiders' implosion and failed playoff bid more than once Tuesday. McKenzie, though, made the final decision to cut the cord.
Jackson's dismissal came quickly, but McKenzie said he would take his time to evaluate the rest of the football operation, adding that the new head coach will get to hire his own staff. McKenzie admitted that Jackson was a goner even before he was notified Tuesday morning.
League sources told me it's almost a certainty that Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss, who played for the Raiders and currently coaches Green Bay's inside linebackers, is McKenzie's first choice to be head coach. Darren Perry, Green Bay's secondary coach, also is expected to come on board as the defensive coordinator, with an assistant head coach title possibly added.
Neither has been a coordinator, but both are widely respected and were expected to be among the next wave of young head coaches.
Other members of the Packers staff could be on the move too, although Green Bay won't let McKenzie poach too many. McKenzie comes from a culture rooted in drafting, developing and re-signing players, and having good talent evaluators is of the utmost importance. The Raiders have a small scouting department that was often ignored; as we know, Al Davis tended to make the final call on players, which was usually determined by 40-yard-dash times.
Few organizations in the NFL are as solid from top to bottom as the Packers. McKenzie will try to copy that blueprint, but it won't be easy. The Raiders are steeped in cronyism and dysfunction, and new ideas have been tried before. This, though, will be the first time they've been tried without Al Davis around.
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I've known McKenzie for years, and he's a grinder, a behind-the-scenes personnel man who, like so many with the Packers, understands what it takes to win. He's low-key and unassuming. That's why his commanding presence at the news conference was somewhat surprising. I didn't know he had it in him.
He'll soon fall back in the shadows, because that's where he's most comfortable. McKenzie didn't make trades or sign free agents in Green Bay, so he has some learning to do. Then again, he didn't fire coaches there either, so he's already on his way.
McKenzie said quarterback Carson Palmer will be back, but added that the starting job next season won't be his until he earns it. Good for McKenzie.
The problem with the Raiders is their sense of comfort. Too many players feel they can get away with taking shortcuts because they're not worried about repercussions. The roster has talent but the players don't learn from their mistakes, as this season's NFL record for penalties demonstrates. Now McKenzie has set the tone for change by challenging Palmer, and if the quarterback leads, others will follow. If they don't, they'll be done. Based on McKenzie's track record, he won't be acquiring any more knuckleheads, while those already on the team will be dismissed or put on notice.
Personnel-wise, the Raiders' cupboard is hardly bare, but McKenzie said what too many others have been scared to say in the past when he described who he wants on his roster: guys who love to play. With the Packers, McKenzie and the personnel department found starters and key contributors who were late-round picks or undrafted altogether, guys like Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, James Starks and Frank Zombo. McKenzie will have to do the same with Oakland, because he only has two late-round picks in 2012. He also said Oakland isn't going after high-priced free agents, which means he had better find a head man who can hire a staff capable of coaching guys up.
Turnover is nothing new with the Raiders. They change coaches as frequently as the Red Zone Channel switches games on Sunday. They are not, however, accustomed to such top-down makeovers. Al Davis was the Alpha and Omega, the omnipresent force where things started and finished.
McKenzie is under a glaring microscope. He has a chance to be great and turn the Raiders into a respected organization once again. If he doesn't, this will look like another misstep by the Silver and Black. So much of the good and the bad of this franchise's storied past hinged on Al Davis, but he is now squarely in that storied past.
A new era, for better or worse, starts now.