By Sam McPherson
Sadly, the writing was on the wall for Dennis Allen, and after the Oakland Raiders lost ugly in London on Sunday, the team fired Allen as its head coach Monday night. Tony Sparano, who once coached the Miami Dolphins to a 29-32 record in four seasons from 2008-11, was named the interim replacement.
“Tony Sparano has a strong presence in this organization,” said Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie. “His experience and leadership qualities will serve the team well in helping reach the goal of everyone here, which is to win football games.”
But more on that later.
McKenzie never really gave Allen the tools to win in Oakland, and combined with the rise of the other three franchises in the AFC West division—all of which made the NFL playoffs in 2013—it was only a matter of time before the Raiders would realize they needed to start over (again).
It’s been 12 years since Oakland last made the postseason, and unless they undergo a complete roster overall in the offseason, it’ll be a long time still before the team makes it again.
“After thorough evaluation, we have determined to move in another direction,” said McKenzie on the move to dismiss his first hand-picked coach. “We appreciate Dennis Allen’s dedication to the organization and wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”
McKenzie would do better to resign his own position, considering the money he wasted in the offseason on acquisitions like quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and defensive end Justin Tuck.
Schaub has yet to throw a pass in the regular season, MJD has 26 total yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns, and Tuck has just one sack. The combined salaries of those three players this season? About $8.7 million, which is less than you might think—but still way too much for three unproductive veteran players.
The team has some core players to build around: quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack represent the future of this team, but they’ll need a lot of hungry, talented and young teammates around them to succeed, and the Oakland organization needs to strip itself down (again) and rebuild.
Sparano isn’t going to be the guy long-term: he proved that in Miami, getting worse each progressive season he coached there until he was fired just before the end of his fourth season. But who in their right mind would take the Raiders job?
That’s the big question, and while the fans want Jon Gruden to return, it makes little sense for Chucky to leave the comforts of the broadcast booth for the sidelines at the Coliseum—even with Al Davis gone. But that hasn’t stopped a Facebook group from springing up for the cause.
Oakland doesn’t offer job security or a lot of high-quality talent to work with, so while Sparano coaches out the string to what will probably be a 2-14 season, the Raiders—and McKenzie, if he sticks around—need a long-term plan that is going to work.
What they’ve been doing for 12-plus seasons now isn’t working, and it’s actually amazing the fan base is still around, all things considered. In this modern-day Bay Area, the bandwagons are strong—and long gone when the team isn’t doing well. We all know how empty AT&T Park in San Francisco was last season when the Giants finished under .500, and the ghosts of Candlestick Park for the dark years of 2003-10 are still visible if you look closely enough.
But the Silver & Black base is loyal and fierce—yet sooner or later, even they will stop paying top dollar to see a bad team.
(Of course, the Raiders would probably just move back to Los Angeles at that point, anyway, right?)
The Oakland organization was one of the best in the NFL for a long time, but now, it’s just a laughingstock. What the Raiders do next will go a long way to determining whether that perceptions stays intact or gets blown out of the water by some smart, bold plan of action.
Only time will tell, and there’s a long line of former Oakland coaches who wouldn’t mind seeing the ship sink even further.
Somewhere, Pete Rozelle is chuckling at all this.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.