Oakland Raiders  

 

Reggie McKenzie brings Oakland Raiders into modern times

"When he came to the Raiders in 1963, there were maybe six coaches, eight coaches, maybe four front-office people, scouts like Ron Wolf and those guys. They did it on a shoestring.

"The business part really wasn't there. It was all football. Just win. Over the years, it just grew and grew and grew, and I think the size of the league and the size of the organization and the different things you had to deal with, media and all those things, kind of dwarfed the capabilities of the organization. Instead of a clean start with the organization, there's been a lot of plugging holes.

"So at (a) certain point in the near future, after careful evaluation, there will be a more modern structure, so to speak."
--Raiders owner Mark Davis, Feb. 24, speaking of his late father Al and the need for the organization to re-cast itself.

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To the modern football observer, there was no greater, more lasting image of the outdated operation of the Raiders than when late owner Al Davis set up an overhead projector at a news conference and outlined why he was firing coach Lane Kiffin "for cause." The archaic broadcasting device paralleled a teacher forcing students to find information in a card catalog at the library instead of just Googling.

New general manager Reggie McKenzie, the first and only man to call the football operation shots since Davis, is bringing things up to speed with the blessing of Al's son, Mark, who took over as primary owner when Al died in the fall. The best example of that is the construction of a modern-day draft room, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. That's right, a "war room" in draftspeak, that didn't exist before.

McKenkie and the new Raiders order are far from done. There have been some personnel changes behind the scenes, such as in the PR department, and more could be forthcoming. Multiple NFL sources, including former employees, have said that the only way McKenzie will survive is if he does more than upgrade facilities. New blood -- not just the new coaching staff led by Dennis Allen -- needs to be injected throughout the organization because some of the old guard has undermined many people who have tried to Just Win, Baby.

McKenzie said at a news conference last week that there have been technological upgrades. That means the overhead projector has been scrapped and Oakland now has things in place -- or will soon -- for McKenzie to run the organization the way he feels is best.

Coincidentally, McKenzie learned a lot of what he knows in Green Bay from Wolf, the former Packers GM, who helped McKenzie become one of the better personnel evaluators in the league. Wolf also worked with Al Davis back in the Raiders' early stages and much of what he used to evaluate and develop players has been passed along to his protégés like McKenzie.

McKenzie might have his new draft room, but he does not have much to work with in it. Oakland has just five picks next week, the first being in the third round. That's due to trades like the one for quarterback Carson Palmer, in which the Raiders gave up a first-rounder in 2012 and a conditional second-rounder in 2013. Oakland also was against the salary cap and opted to let go of players like running back Michael Bush, CB Stanford Routt and DE/OLB Kamerion Wimbley.

There are plenty of good pieces in place -- like running back Darren McFadden and a solid defensive line -- but there are also holes and not many ways to plug them. Players are going to have to be found somewhere and McKenzie will use a Wolf/Packers philosophy in trying to find them: locating players with as much desire as they have skill, if not more.

The Packers were experts at finding players in mid-to-late rounds of the draft and nabbing undrafted rookies and players on the street hungry for another shot. Look at their roster: Sam Shields, James Starks, Erik Walden, Mark Tauscher, Desmond Bishop and others. If Oakland can land similar type players in the draft or free agency, it could have something that finally puts the organization back in the playoffs.

The philosophy change and modernization of the Raiders is something organizations throughout the NFL have gone through multiple times over the years. So even that aspect of things will be new to Oakland.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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