Jack Del Rio beamed Friday as he was introduced as the the 21st head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
The East Bay Area native spoke of the “treat and honor” it is to be leading the team he followed as a child. The “Raider for life” waxed poetic about witnessing the George Blanda renegade Raiders of 40 years ago.
Yet, most importantly, Del Rio didn’t lose sight of what’s at hand: the future of a franchise that has fallen on hard times.
Del Rio, who has nine seasons of NFL head-coaching experience, isn’t coming into this job clinging to a Raiders’ past that is not relevant to getting better. He knows the gory truth — Oakland hasn’t a winning record since 2002. He knows the Raiders have won a total of 11 games in the past three seasons. As the defensive coordinator, Del Rio was part of a Denver team that won 12 games in 2014 alone.
He knows what has been happening with the Raiders since their appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII, a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after that 2002 season, is not good enough.
“There is no other way to trend from where we’re sitting now,” Del Rio said. “We have to go up.”
Asked about the team’s roster, Del Rio, without hesitation, said it needs to get better.
Del Rio’s lack of delusion and his honest assessment is what this team needs. It needs to know that it has to get better. That honesty had been lacking recently. There was too much false optimism being sold without the benefit of tangible results in the form of victories.
As Del Rio dropped his honest assessment, Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie sat and listened. Now, it is up to McKenzie to make this team better for his new coach.
The Raiders will likely be more well prepared by by Del Rio and his staff than they were in the first three seasons of McKenzie’s tenure.
There was a lot of speculation that McKenzie could get fired — along with Dennis Allen, the man he hired to be the Raiders coach when he took over three years ago. But McKenzie has survived despite the team’s failings. Just because McKenzie survived this year, it doesn’t mean he will survive another sub-par season. He needs to produce and produce now.
McKenzie said he plans to build the team through the draft rather than put everything in free agency. However, the Raiders might have upward of $70 million in salary-cap room. This is a class of free agents. The Raiders need to make a bigger and better impact in free agency than last year, when they don’t get much overall value despite having more than $60 million to spend.
McKenzie can’t survive cpnsecutive years of having immense cap flexibility with no improvement in the win column. And Del Rio deserves to start his Oakland tenure with an improved roster.
We all know Oakland has building blocks in quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack. But they need help.
It’s up to McKenzie to find players who meet the Raiders needs. Right off the bat, they need help at receiver, on the defensive line and in the secondary.
There was speculation that Oakland owner Mark Davis wanted Del Rio and McKenzie wanted to keep interim coach Tony Sparano. There might have been some truth to that, but the bottom line it was Davis’ call. On Friday, everyone was happy. Davis said Del Rio was the choice of both himself and McKenzie.
“It’s an united front,” McKenzie said.
Del Rio is going to give the Raiders a chance to get better, it’s up to McKenzie to help him succeed or Del Rio could have a new boss in Oakland sooner rather than later.