At Dennis Allen’s press conference on Monday to announce him as the Raiders’ new head coach, he emphasized discipline as a big part of his philosophy. The elephant in the room was the subject of Rolando McClain — until someone stepped up and asked about him.
I have thrown around that word “discipline” all season as the one thing this Raider team was lacking. Most notably, it showed itself in the record number of penalties and penalty yards the Raiders received last season.
But penalties on the football field are one thing. Penalties off the field are where McClain comes in. That too has been well documented after he was arrested on several charges including assault and discharging a firearm in Alabama midweek before the Raiders were to play the Dolphins in week 13.
Aside from his actions off the field, his play on the field has also been lacking. He has been seen several times giving up on plays and is not viewed as a leader in the locker room — a role traditionally held by the middle linebacker.
His play on the field and his actions off it were not curtailed by former head coach Hue Jackson or former defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. That is something that the new head coach is sure not to do.
“You know, I wasn’t here with [Al] Davis so I don’t know how things were run,” said Allen. “What I do know is that the way that I view, that you coach firm and you coach them fair. And you hold them accountable to their actions. And that’s what we’re gonna do here. I don’t know how it was done in the past because I wasn’t here. But I do know that’s what I believe in.”
The next question was about what you say to a player who has talent but is lacking discipline and therefore not making the most of that talent.
“We wanna play the best players,” replied Allen. “We wanna play the players that are gonna make plays for us and the players that are not going to give up big plays for the other team. And at the end of the day if we have talented players that aren’t competing and aren’t making plays, then we have to look at making changes. And you know, that’s what being in the first year of your regime is all about, and we’re going to evaluate every single player on this team and do everything we can to get them to play the best that they can play.”
Which of course brought us to the question of exactly what Allen’s opinion was of McClain. And his response to the question becomes all the more interesting when you consider that he just said “if we have talented players that aren’t competing and aren’t making plays, then we have to look at making changes.”
So what does Allen see in Rolando McClain?
“I see a talented football player. I see a very talented football player. I think, just like a lot of things we talked about already, we’ve got to do our best to make sure that we get Rolando to play to the best of his ability on every single snap. Listen, that’s what the goal of any football coach is, is to try to develop and get good players. And that’s what we’re gonna do and that’s what we’re gonna strive to do with Rolando. He is a very talented player and he can make an impact on this defense.”
There is no doubt that McClain has talent. He showed that at Alabama and he has shown flashes of it since the Raiders drafted him two seasons ago. But he has yet to put it all together on the field, has yet to show it in the form of leadership in the locker room, and is now facing a criminal trial as well as a lawsuit for his actions off the field. Not to mention a possible suspension from the league.
Allen chose his words carefully in his statement about McClain. As he led off with, McClain is talented. But that was the only certainty in that statement. Everything else he said suggests McClain has yet to play to his talent level. Not only that, he states plainly that McClain does not have the motivation within himself to do it. He says, “We need to make sure that we get Rolando to play his best,” and “He CAN make an impact,” which is to say he hasn’t, and Allen knows that if a fire is to be lit under the third year middle linebacker, Allen will have to provide the spark.
If that fire is to be lit, Allen appears to be the man to light it. What he said here is just the right message to be sending. He built him up, and then let him know that he is a long ways off and there will be no room for lack of discipline, whether on the field, or off it.