“How Reggie McKenzie Turned Around the Oakland Raiders & What Lies Ahead”

reggie mckenzie

Patience: 

The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

 

The last 2 weeks I read 14 articles from 2015 on Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie.  They were from professional writers to homer Raider bloggers to ESPN and NFL.com.  Only ONE said keep Reggie McKenzie as a GM.  Oh how the seasons have changed.

The Ron Wolf Effect:

When most fans and many writers wanted Reggie McKenzie fired, I said to give him time.  I ripped on his poor moves as well but I also trust success.  The reason I said don’t fire Reggie was NOT because of Reggie McKenzie.  It was because of Ron Wolf.  Ron Wolf taught and mentored Reggie when he was at Green Bay.

When I wrote an article on the greatest Raider of all time, ¾ of the fans that read it didn’t even know who Ron Wolf was.  I remember my dad raving about him when I was a kid and beyond.  Wolf was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with Tim Brown.  Wolf continues to be excited about McKenzie as a GM.

https://jimjax4.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/ron-wolf-enters-the-hall-of-fame-with-tim-brown-the-greatest-raider-of-them-all/

You’ll Be Sitting With Them:

On a frigid day right before Christmas in 1967, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Joe Kuharich was asked about the angry boo’s in the stands after a tough loss.  “I pay little attention to the 60,000 assistants in the stands each Sunday.  If you listen to the fans, eventually you’ll be sitting with them”.

Reggie didn’t listen to fans and the media when they ripped him and he’s not listening to them now when they are praising him.  If you read your own press clippings you’ll start to believe them.  He smartly always limited his interaction with everyone just like Ron Wolf did.  Something most coaches and athletes should do more.

The Changing Atmosphere Surrounding Him:

We all do it; we are emotional about something and then we write or post something on social media that we later regret.  Either it was too harsh or nasty.  We didn’t really feel that way but it was just a knee jerk reaction out of disappointment or anger.

It’s funny to see many of the “strongest” we’ll say detractors of Reggie McKenzie now turning the other way.  People wonder why most “experts”, “insiders”, mock draft gurus, NFL draft gurus, (and many fans and social media masters for that matter); rarely talk about their past predictions unless it’s the ones they got right.  It’s because they don’t want the accountability and they are often wrong.  You hear them on radio talk shows, online, and social media.  They are often wrong but never in doubt.  Again, it’s ok to be wrong sometimes but if you are wrong most of the time; then use your inside voice.

I say this because many of his early detractors forgot that Reggie McKenzie had to fix a train wreck and he’s done pretty well so far.  I said it years ago when McKenzie was hired and fans were telling me how good the Raiders were.  No they were wrong; this wasn’t a good team for a long time.  No,they didn’t have a lot of talent.  No, giving these draft picks time was not going to make them good. The Raiders were a mess and I said this would be a 4-5 year process; that’s how bad this organization was and I think the Raiders are right on schedule.

The Al Davis Effect; Reggie Fixes the Mess: 

The teams of the 1970’s especially were loaded.  In the greatest era of the NFL, the players didn’t make much money.  Many had outside ventures.  The teams could spend as much money as they wanted and many teams had backups that could start for other teams.  Running a team was easier.

With a financial mess, Reggie McKenzie had a very difficult job.  In the new era of the NFL, there is the salary cap, partially guaranteed contracts and some players are making a lot of money.  Reggie McKenzie had to fix the bad situation the Raiders were in and rebuild.  You then have to fight the media and the fans that have no patience.  In today’s internet age, patience is waiting for lunch time when it’s 10 a.m. in the morning.

Mr. Davis was overpaying underachieving players, and he drafted very poorly.  Al Davis became obsessed with NFL combine numbers and size; especially 40 times; and it destroyed the Raiders.  Their list of bad draft picks; ESPECIALLY most of their Defensive Back Picks with the fast 40 times; are of legend.  When you don’t watch game films and pass up on the Calvin Johnsons’, Adrian Peterson’s and Aaron Rodgers, you are failing.

McKenzie was not in denial though.  He didn’t have Al Davis’ new mentality.  Mr. Davis was in denial like some of the fans were every year; “we are really good and we just need 1-2 key players.”  In reality for a long time the Raiders were NOT really good and they needed to rebuild.  It was like building a house but denying you have a bad foundation.  You were constantly adding floors or making over a room to make it look better when in reality it didn’t change a thing.  Reggie McKenzie got that you have to destroy the foundation and build a new one.  Let’s look at how he has done that in Oakland.

Reggie McKenzie’s Draft History:

Just like his signings, overall his drafts have improved with time.  The DJ Hayden pick made no sense especially when DT Star Lotulelei had fallen in their lap.  Hayden was another athlete playing football.  Some of the “experts” had Hayden as the best CB in the draft.  I watched Houston play a few times and was shocked.  What were they watching?  To see Lotulelei starting for the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl was painful.  McKenzie improved with time though and he’s picked up their QB and other key members along the way.

The 2014 draft was the start of the rejuvenating of the Raiders.  Five of the draft choices ended up being starters who mostly excelled.  Last year’s draft shows a lot of promise as well.  It’s a far cry from where the Raiders were in his first 2 years and it’s the core of their success.

Reggie’s Signings:

Some fans are now going the other way making McKenzie out to be a genius but as I always say, let’s deal with the facts.  The bad signings McKenzie has made are in abundance.  Matt Schaub, Matt Flynn, LaMarr Woodley, Curtis Lofton, Nate Allen, Shawntae Spencer, Andre Hardy, Antonio Smith, Tarell Brown, Maurice Jones-Drew, Roy Helu Jr., Carlos Rogers, Pat Lee, Mike Brisiel, Kevin Boothe, Ron Bartell, Colin Miller, and Dave Tollefson were just some of the epic fails the Raiders had in free agency.

Even with a couple of good pick-ups, his first 2 years of free agency was a nightmare for Reggie McKenzie.  Fast forwarding to 2014 the Raiders had an ok free agent class with more misses than hits.  The big miss was Lamar Woodley who much was expected of.  Donald Penn though was a key contributor with this class.

In 2015 the Raiders overall did a good job in free agency.  Dan Williams and Rodney Hudson were great additions and Lee Smith was a bulldozer as a run blocking tight end that also caught some passes.  Malcolm Smith had his first year as a starter go fairly well.  He tailed off late in the year especially against the run.

On the bad side, Roy Helu Jr. was never used properly and was a waste of a signing.  Curtis Lofton struggled mightily against the pass and Trent Richardson didn’t last long.  A lot was given to Nate Allen but he struggled tackling all year; and that was when he wasn’t injured.

The 2016 free agent class is already a very good one and there still are signings that are ahead.  This has already been the Raiders best free agent signing period; at least on paper; that they have had since Reggie was hired.  The longer Reggie has the job, the better he gets.

How Reggie McKenzie Grew Into a Good GM:

McKenzie is humble; and as a good leader you take the blame and admit your mistakes.  Many in sports; and life for that matter; don’t do that.  When you admit a mistake you can fix it.  His signing of players which are salary cap friendly and dropping them if they don’t work out is often greatly overlooked.

A huge mistake Reggie fixed was that in the early part of his career he would wait way too long to sign players.  He would say they weren’t going to be hasty in their signings but sometimes the Raiders got stuck with slim pickings in free agency because they were just too slow to sign players.

He also improved his draft.  After talking to Ron Wolf, he went back to getting football players.  The defensive line has always been the second most important part of your team behind a QB and they’ve spent lots of money and energy into the DL.  The Quarterback must go down, and go down hard was Ron Wolf & Al Davis’ motto.

What’s Next For Reggie and the Raiders:

As Reggie said last month, there is still much work for the Raiders to do and they haven’t won anything yet.  The Raiders don’t have the DL or the pass rush to win at a high level in the NFL yet, but the off season is still young.  Bruce Irvin has 14 sacks in the last 3 years and Mario Edwards is not a great pass rusher; and that’s if he comes back at all.  Aldon Smith is out for most of the year too.  It doesn’t matter who your DB’s are if you don’t have a pass rush.  I now have trust that McKenzie will not be in denial and the draft will yield another quality DL.  I would love to see either AShawn Robinson or Shaq Lawson drafted in the first round.  Mock drafts are all over the place so as always, they don’t know what players the teams are going to draft and neither do we.  If you get either one of these players, now you have something special.  Both have great work ethics and are hard workers.

The Raiders also need a safety and other bits and pieces.  They are not done in free agency yet and the NFL draft is also ahead.  The salary cap limits how good you can be; that’s the design; to create parity.  So the drafts are a key to success.

Overall though as time passes, Reggie McKenzie has improved every year he has been a GM.  Reggie McKenzie is definitely old school and as long as he doesn’t change and he keeps being humble and open minded, he will be fine.  Not everything works out so admitting mistakes and learning from them are huge keys to his success.  The nightmare of 13 straight non-winning seasons may finally be over and success seems to now be a probability and not just a hope.

 

 

 

 

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