Oakland Raiders move on from Al Davis era
By Jerry McDonald
Posted: 08/02/2012 03:09:53 PM PDT
Updated: 08/02/2012 05:35:26 PM PDT
NAPA -- A sign at a corner gas station next to the Napa Valley Marriott says "Welcome back Raiders."
For the first time, the Raiders are responding in kind.
Over the next three days they'll welcome more than 3,000 fans on to the grounds of Redwood Middle School to watch practice.
Except for an annual meet-and-greet that was discontinued in 2001, this is the Raiders' only major interaction with the public during training camp since the team returned from Los Angeles in 1995.
The open sessions are representative of an organizational transformation that began with the death of Al Davis last October. With the blessing of Mark Davis, the late owner's son, general manager Reggie McKenzie and first-year coach Dennis Allen are conducting business in a whole new way.
"We respect what Mr. Davis was able to do here, the brand he created with this organization,"Allen said. "We're going to do it our way. That's the only way we know how to do it. Reggie and I have a plan and we hope to have success doing it that way."
In past years, the only fans at practice were sponsors or special invitees, and they were directed to refrain from cheering. Even a smattering of applause would draw a reprimand from the Raiders security staff.
This weekend, the fans -- more than 1,000 free tickets were distributed at Raider Image stores for each day -- can cheer to their heart's content.
The change in public relations has extended to the
media -- a group that Al Davis often viewed as an adversary. Columnists who for years were blacklisted suddenly are receiving team emails again. Detailed practice schedules have been made available. A full-color media guide -- unprecedented in Silver & Black history -- touts "A New Era of Excellence."
"The place is more welcoming than I ever remember," Peter King of Sports Illustrated said in a tweet after visiting this week. "McKenzie's allowed fresh air to come in."
"As quarterback Carson Palmer said: "It's a new regime, top to bottom."
The makeover is a work in progress, said McKenzie.
"Changes are going to continue to be made because you can't build Rome overnight,"McKenzie said. "It's getting closer."
Al Davis was fond of saying, "I don't believe in chain of command,"and once explained to reporters that conflict was all part of a competitive business among men. He made all decisions, and the people he trusted to help him make those decisions could change at any time.
Mark Davis, by contrast, turned the football operation over McKenzie. CEO Amy Trask, who emerged as the organizational voice when Al Davis's health declined in recent years, has returned to her role as head of business operations.
Both McKenzie and Trask report to Mark Davis, but operate with relative autonomy.
As Mark Davis said when McKenzie was hired, "We're doing it a different way because I don't know what my dad knew."
McKenzie reorganized the scouting department, bringing in former high school and college teammate Joey Clinkscales as director of player personnel and Shaun Herock, with whom he worked in Green Bay, as director of college scouting.
The personnel department received upgrades in computer hardware and software, as did the broadcast department. One team source put the cost of the improvements at $750,000.
"It was to improve not only the team concept of what we're trying to get done, but the efficiency in getting it done and trying to get it done right,"McKenzie said. "It was needed."
In terms of personnel, Al Davis sought specific physical attributes in terms of size and speed, routinely drafting the fastest players at the NFL scouting combine. He picked athletes and expected the coaches to develop those skills and instill a sense of desire and work ethic.
McKenzie is putting a premium on football skill and love for the game.
"Are they good football players? Nothing else matters if they're not,"McKenzie said.
The approach of dealing with the salary cap has changed dramatically.
Davis ran up huge deficits with fat contracts to players. Upon arrival, McKenzie released players whose contracts he deemed excessive -- Stanford Routt and Kamerion Wimbley, for example -- and he will focus on developing in-house talent rather than chasing quick fixes in free agency.
The authority of the head coach varied under Al Davis, but each of them ran everything past the owner and were prepared to be overruled.
Allen has been given autonomy for on-field operations, from hiring of assistants to implementing defensive and offensive systems., McKenzie handles player personnel with Allen's input.
Allen, the first head coach with a defensive background since John Madden, is installing a multiple scheme that includes zone defense with varied blitz packages as opposed to Davis' beloved man-to-man, four-man pressure.
On the business side, Trask was able to put ticket plans in place to sell out all eight games last season and was gaining ground in terms of community outreach. One example came in June, the Raiders donated $54,323 from new season ticket sales to the Oakland Unified School District. There is more freedom to generate new ideas and the website has evolved into something more than a promotional arm of the club.
What hasn't changed is the deference to former Raiders -- Mark Davis hosted a July 4 memorial for his father in Las Vegas with 170 guests -- and the team's signature silver and black uniforms.
Other than that, it's a new world.
"It's definitely different,"defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. "With the old man, he had been in place for so long he had stuff just how he wanted. With the new GM and coach Allen, they're going in a different direction. So just get in line and do what they ask you to do."
For more on the Raiders, visit the Inside the Oakland Raiders blog at ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders.
Follow Jerry McDonald on Twitter at Twitter.com/Jerrymcd.
SOURCE Oakland Raiders move on from Al Davis era - Inside Bay Area
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