In January 2012, less than three months after Al Davis passed away, Reggie McKenzie was named general manager of the Oakland Raiders. The first few years were rough – Oakland went 11-37 from 2012-14 – but things have gotten better.
A lot better.
After a 7-9 finish in 2015, the Raiders are 7-2 this season and atop the AFC West.
McKenzie should get a lot of credit for that.
“There are different ways that different organizations rebuild, and certainly the Raiders are doing something very, very exciting this year,” former Oakland executive and current CBS Sports Network TOPS analyst Amy Trask said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I’m thrilled for Raiders fans that they are watching a Raider team playing in the way Raiders teams have historically played: with a bit of an edge. There’s no one right way to do things. The Raiders have found a good way. The last time the team had a record like this was 2011. That was the last year in which Al was alive. He passed away that year. The team was 7-4 going into Week 12, and things fell apart from there and have now been rebuilt.”
Davis, who was in poor health in his final years, would have loved to see the Raiders playing like this. Then again, they might not be if McKenzie hadn’t been in charge.
“Reggie would not have been able to have the latitude to do what he did while Al was alive because that’s what Al did,” said Trask, who spent three decades with the Raiders. “There was a time when the team was struggling, and my drive home from work, I went right by a billboard every single night, and it was a billboard the fans had put up pleading with Al to hire a GM. And I can’t say I smiled every time I drove by it because it was a very frustrating time. Bt my thought kind of akin to a smile was, ‘Oh, we have a GM. His name is Al Davis.’ So Reggie would not have had the latitude to do that, nor would he have been there because that’s what Al did.”
The Raiders have not reached the playoffs since 2002, when they went 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl. Outside of two 8-8 seasons (2008-09), the Raiders have finished with a losing record every year since.
“I offer (this) as an explanation, not as an excuse,” Trask said, when asked about Davis’ impatient and trigger-happy nature late in his tenure. “I don’t know that any of us are going to exhibit a tremendous amount of patience or take a particularly long view when we’re approaching 80 and we’re in very poor health and we’re confronting our own mortality. Al wanted to win then. And I think we’ll all define long-term differently when we’re in those shoes confronting our mortality than when we’re 30 or 40 or 50 or even 60 or 70. . . . As he aged, as his health declined, as the issue of mortality was in the forefront, I saw his approach change. I didn’t like decisions that were made, but I understand why he was making those decisions. If one knows one has very little time left and wants to win right then, as I said, you’re going to approach things differently than if you can take a long view. It doesn’t mean I agreed with the decisions. It doesn’t mean I liked the decisions. It doesn’t mean I didn’t argue with him about the decisions, but I also believe we’re all going to act differently when we’re in those shoes than we will decades earlier.”