Thursday, March 21, 2013

Will Dennis Allen's Culture Change Work for the Raiders?


I found recent comments by Dennis Allen regarding his intent to change the culture of the Oakland Raiders to be curious.  As we know, the culture under Al Davis lent itself to players having a sense of entitlement, especially the well-paid players.  After you had a conversation with Al Davis you knew where you stood in the organization. You didn't feel accountable to the head coach or other coaching staff as much as you did to Al.

Though, the problem with Al's methods is it leaves it wide open how players choose to professionalize themselves (if at all). When players make the jump from college there is not only financial considerations to factor in with young talent but maturity and work ethic.  Players have to grow up fast and that is easier said than done.  Many players choose not to grow up at all.  This problem is throughout pro sports but with the Raiders it was especially damaging.

A few years ago, former 49ers Tight End Brent Jones put together a group of investors (which also included Steve Young) and approached Al with the idea of buying the franchise. Surprisingly, Al listened to the pitch but not surprisingly, decided to decline the offer.  Jones was upset at being rebuffed and spoke out publicly what he would have done with the franchise had the offer been accepted.  Jones wanted to immediately change the culture.  What he (and many others) saw in the Raiders was a complete lack of infrastructure to support player development.  Sure, you have the weight room and physical therapy available but a professional organization requires professional people.  The Raiders had none of it.

(credit to Jerry McDonald for capturing the KNBR transcript)

Jones said:

“I don’t want to take away my respect for Al Davis, because he was one of the brightest guys in this league and certainly had been spectacular up through the 70s and early 80s. But to be able to hold on to absolute power, what happens is it eventually corrupts, and you can’t get smart people, you can’t get bright people.

“You don’t give anybody the ability to make decisions, and it’s just shocking how just drastically depleted the scouting, front office, the organization, I mean, it’s just, I feel the worst for young players who come to play, because they think they’re coming to the National Football League and they’re going to Oakland Junior College.”

Ouch.

There is no finer recent example than Rolando McClain for how this epidemic played out. When he was drafted by Al, McClain did and said all the right things. Coming off a National Championship at Alabama, the first thing he did was ask to see the Raiders playbook. Though McClain usually brushed off the media (and fans, often refusing to sign autographs) and was edgy whenever he did interview, the coaches continued to praise his work ethic.  There was no question McClain studied film and prepared himself to play.

Unfortunately, McClain did not fall in step with the coaching in Oakland and this led to his demise. LB coaches Mike Haluchak and then Johnny Holland could not get the most out of him. You could see the slide in his play.  He started off with potential but never developed to the level the Raiders needed.  As a pro, McClain's star fell and his off the field behavior speaks for itself.  You could tell he was and still is tuned out.  I would bet not even the veterans in the locker room or team chaplain could reach him to help guide the kid.

Whether it was the big money contract making him feel invincible or the immaturity or whatever happened to Rolando McClain, it is not an isolated incident. At the pro level, players are expected to take responsibility for themselves but you need a support system within the team structure.  That has to be there.  These players need to feel motivated and committed to performing up to their contract. Otherwise, they crash and burn quick.

Maybe Dennis Allen's culture change is religious in tone. That is just my guess and there would be nothing wrong with that.  Religion in football is very common.  It probably would have helped McClain and many other washouts to have more of a chance to succeed at the pro level if they bought into that type of team environment.  That is a big IF though.  A player has to want to be part of the structure to give himself a chance.

So if DA's culture change plans pan out (whatever those plans might be) then hopefully this blight of having our draft picks wash out will stop and the team can rebuild.

If that happens then I would not mind DA being a boring head coach.  At least we would see tangible change for the better.


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