I started writing this post early yesterday morning thinking I would write about the new Raider coach only.
Then, the Niners decided to promote defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to fill their head coaching vacancy, and I couldn’t resist using this opportunity to be a major troll.
A couple of weeks ago, the news was that Mike Shanahan had interviewed for the open Raider position. This shocked many Raider fans as Shanahan was to Al Davis what Jed York is to the Niner Faithful* — mortal enemies, and it seemed like a slap in the face to the legacy and history of the Silver and Black.
*Also an acceptable comparison, Jim Harbaugh to Jed York.
Me, on the other hand, I was 100% for it.* I honestly couldn’t have cared less whatever irrational, childish hatred existed between Al and Shanahan. Al had major issues with more than half of the league, and other conflicts with randoms including the entire city of Oakland. Yes, the city. All I wanted was a good and proven NFL head coach who had a track record of winning, and more specifically, developing good young quarterbacks. Derek Carr is a burgeoning talent and capable of being an absolute star in this league, but he needs the right guidance and as much mentoring as possible.
Before his injury, RG3 was doing pretty decently in Washington with Shanahan (despite what’s happened since then), and there’s not much else to say about his time spent with 2-time Superbowl champ John Elway in Denver. Shanahan is a great and reputable coach. I hate him like a girl is supposed to hate her best friend’s ex because, you know, girl code. But if Mike ended up here, I would have been on-board.*
*Wouldn’t you love to be friends with me?
Then, I heard Jack Del Rio’s name come in the mix. I remember a couple of years ago hearing his name come up for the then vacant DC position (which I believe was taken by Jason Tarver). I wanted Del Rio at the time because of sentimental reasons. I know he’s a local boy who grew up a Raider fan, and I thought it’d be a cool story to have him on staff. I didn’t really know much about his coaching style or philosophy…I just thought it’d be — cool.
For some reason, I didn’t think to consider him for the head coaching position this time around. I just knew I didn’t want to keep Sparano,* so I had to think pretty hard about who was out there. I had my reaches (Gruden, Cowher, Holmgren), my “wouldn’t mind prospects” (Pep Hamilton, Todd Bowles), and my “WTF?!” candidate (Shanahan).
*Let’s take a second to ponder about Tony Sparano here, shall we? Let’s be honest, the only reason he was named interim head coach after the Raiders canned Dennis Allen was because he was the only person on staff who had any head coaching experience whatsoever in the NFL (where his track record is even worse than Del Rio’s). He filled the vacancy because there was literally no one else. I chuckled when I read this story when he first took over the team. I thought, “Well, that’s cute…and corny as hell.” I really didn’t think he would be under serious consideration in a permanent role, especially not when you had any of the above candidates I listed above. 3 wins is nice, Sparano, but it’s not what I expect from my head coach. You know what’s worse than 3 wins? 0 wins (Tomsula — his lone win as temporary interim coach doesn’t count, shut up).
When Del Rio entered the equation in serious contention with Sparano, it didn’t take me long to realize who was the better person suited for the role. Now, Jack Del Rio is finally here as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Most people will point to his losing record in Jacksonville completely overlooking the fact that he took a relatively average Jaguar team led by Byron Leftwich/David Garrard to two postseason appearances in a division that included a Peyton Manning-led Colts in his prime.
Another quality of this hire that I think is highly underrated is the fact that Del Rio grew up in the East Bay and continues to be a lifelong Raider fan. His parents are still Raider season tickets holders, and his brother does security at games. Sure, it’ll be brought up plenty of times during his press conference, but it’ll be downplayed by journalists when they’re constructing the narrative of how they suspect Del Rio’s tenure will go. I don’t think it should be.
I mean, of course, Del Rio’s football acumen will be tested and analyzed, but you cannot underestimate his passion as a fan. The Raiders have been the laughing stock of the league for a while now, longer than Al Davis would have preferred. Longer than I prefer. Longer than I’m sure Del Rio, as a fan, would prefer. Everyone loves to play armchair GM or Coach for their favorite team; Del Rio actually gets to live that.
Now I’m not saying fans who like to play armchair GMs or coaches are automatically going to be great at what they do. What I am saying is you probably don’t have to worry about Del Rio “mailing it in.” You can guarantee Del Rio will always go the EXTRA, EXTRA mile to prep and plan, and make sure he does everything he can to bring his favorite team back to prominence.
And look, I get it. Head coaches in the NFL are professionals, and they always do everything they can to create the best product on the field. But Del Rio being a fan means he’ll do just that much more because this is his favorite team. It’s the little extra ounce of effort that may be the difference. That extra ounce may be working harder to get the best assistants on staff, maybe Marc Trestman as OC, maybe Mike Smith as DC — or maybe the super-snubbed Vic Fangio as DC.*
On that note, hey Niner fans, how does it feel to completely hate your owner? How does it feel to know your head coach is basically a puppet for your existing regime? How does it feel to lose your best coaching asset (Harbaugh) and second best asset (Fangio) because your front office are incompetent, egotistic megalomaniacs? Doesn’t it feel like our franchises (and fanbases, for that matter) have basically switched identities? Funny how things work, eh?
Because I’ve lived through all the messed up years for the Raiders, as has Del Rio, he doesn’t want to be the one to mess this team up again. He wants to be the local kid who made his favorite team not only relevant, but also committed to excellence, once again.
He’s living the ultimate dream. And hopefully, he fulfills the dreams of the Nation, as well.