Bob Wylie is one of the savvy old veteran coaches that Hue Jackson brought in with him this season when he took over as head coach of the Raiders. Thus far that decision has come up aces… literally. The Raiders new Oline coach, aside from transforming the Raiders’ offensive line into one of the best in football, is known to be quite the magician. Card tricks are his specialty.
“It started, I visit the sick kids in the hospital years and years ago,” said Wylie of his magic trick beginnings. “I first met Sam Wyche, and Sam is a big magician… Well, my thing is, I go visit the sick kids in the hospitals on Friday afternoons and I bring them pictures of the guys and books and visit with the guys. So I saw this magic store, so I stopped and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if I could do a couple of tricks for the kids?’ Well, 20 years later, I’ve got 150 different books, videos and DVD’s.
“But that’s how it all kind of started. And sometimes, in the meetings, their attention span is only so long so you need to break it up a little bit. So sometimes I make something appear, make something disappear. It keeps their attention, keeps them going, keeps them plugging, it keeps it a little light in there instead of always pounding them, pounding them, pounding them.”
Wylie describes himself as a “nuts and bolts, no frills… nothing fancy” type coach. His hard working philosophy has the Raiders’ offensive line playing better than they have in recent memory. The proof comes in the form of only one sack given up through three games this season and the Raiders as the number one rushing team in the NFL. But it’s his character that has him well liked by his players.
Rookie left guard Stefen Wisniewski is especially fond of Wylie’s coaching style: “All my Oline coaches have been real boring, all business; the oline kind of attracts attention to detail. But he’s a character… We appreciate [the magic tricks] because we’re people. Everyone, after you sit in a meeting for an hour and a half, you need something to break it up. He knows that and we encourage that.”
Right tackle Khalif Barnes enjoys Wylie’s magic tricks as well. “When I first got in I saw one of the [card tricks] he did and I was like, damn. It’s pretty wild how he does it. He shuffles right in front of you. He has a screen and he’s doing it under the prompter so you can see it on the screen. He’s shuffling and doing everything right in front you. One time he used the whole freaking deck.”
Whether it’s the magic tricks, the nuts and bolts, hard-work philosophy or the combination of the two, it is working like gangbusters, and it came together with essentially the same personnel as last year and year. The Raiders’ linemen in the past few seasons have done their own disappearing act, but now they are making defensive lines disappear.
Former head coach and offensive line coach,Tom Cable, was a zone blocking specialist. He preached the tenets of the ZBS and sought out linemen whom he thought fit into that scheme. Two such linemen were Cooper Carlisle and Samson Satele. The thinking when the team shifted away from the zone was that they would be shipped out as well because they “didn’t fit.” Wylie doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
“I don’t believe in, ‘Who’s a zone blocker and who’s this guy?’ I don’t believe in that. I really don’t. Guys make that stuff up. You can either double-team and gap-block people, or you need to zone-block them one-on-one… They can be what they need to be when they need to be it.”
He has proven to be correct because both Satele and Carlisle are having great seasons under his tutelage. Satele in particular is having probably his best season as a center in the NFL.
“I’m not a big 6-7, 360 guy, so I’m not going to be a power guy,” said Satele. “I’m a good zone blocker but not that great yet – but the techniques they teach us, the double-unders are great for me and the rest of the guys.”
The criticisms of Satele thus far are nothing compared to the heat that right tackle Khalif Barnes has faced since joining the Raiders. His play has improved greatly ever since the season began. Barnes credits Wylie’s relaxed jovial personality for his turn-around.
“He has a lot of personality,” said Barnes. “That’s kind of like me and how I play. I don’t like to get real tight… If you play too tight, you can’t relax and enjoy yourself, you play uptight, you miss stuff. If you play loose and comfortable, relaxed and not afraid, then you’re just free-flying, free-flowing, flying around. That’s kind of how Wyles coaches… It rubs off on you a lot. It gets you to play that way, it gets Sammy to play that way, it gets Coop to play that way. It gets the whole room rejuvenated.
“We’re in competition, too. We want to play at the highest level. We all want to be the top one or two in our group… It’s like we’re climbing to the top. Pretty soon your whole unit is good, so if somebody goes down, God forbid, the next guy steps in and carries the flag. That’s what Coach Wisniewski and Wyles is building into us, and I think we’re buying into that and as a unit we’re trying to get better in that area.”
Those techniques are those that Wylie says go back to the early days of the NFL. They involve upper and lower body leverage. He even went as far as to demonstrate what he was talking about on one of the media guys.
But aside from physical technique and hard work, he drills the mental aspects of being an offensive lineman into them as well.
“The toughest thing I think to teach them at this level is teaching them how to stay in the moment… you miss a block or you have a missed assignment or you give up a pressure or a sack the male ego takes over and you want to take it out on the next play instead of you need to forget it.”
“They’ve all done a good job and they work hard… As long as kids give good effort, I’ll work with them… The guys on other teams that I have been on that don’t want to put in the effort because they think they have made it because they’re in pro football, those are the guys that are going to get you in trouble.”
That would explain why guys like Mario Henderson, who had ballooned up during the offseason, are not on this team any more. Players like him don’t fit into the hard-working style of this offensive line.
Wylie, with his magic tricks and his nuts and bolts approach, has these linemen playing for him and playing for each other. They want to be great and it is showing on the field, and it has bled into the rest of the team. Jason Campbell keeps his jersey clean, receivers get the ball more, and Darren McFadden is the NFL’s leading rusher. Was there ever any wonder what was really missing from this team over the past eight years? Guess all these guys needed was a little magic.