With two games to go until the end of the 2013 season, the Raiders are in the proverbial holding pattern. Officially out of contention for the playoffs for the tenth consecutive year, the Raiders will use the last two games to get a handle on what their moves need to be to turn the franchise around and become a contender in 2014.
The first order of business for the team needs to be determining and announcing whether head coach Dennis Allen will return to coach his third season.
A month ago, I thought it was a no-brainer that Allen would return as he had managed to make 2nd or 3rd string caliber players into a competitive team that, while not winning many, wasn’t being embarrassed either.
That has changed in the last two weeks with the Raiders having embarrassing losses to both the Jets and the Chiefs – making Geno Smith look like Peyton Manning and allowing Jamaal Charles to score five touchdowns on the day.
In their most recent loss, the Raiders gave up a team-record 56 points to a Chiefs team that isn’t known for a high-octane offense. Those are not the type of records Dennis Allen is looking to set with the team as he makes his final bid to come back next year.
Further, there are questions about whether there will be turnover in his assistants. Per Mike Silver, Raiders DC Jason Tarver only had a two year contract which is up after this season. At the start of the season, his unit looked to be the stronger of the two but injuries and an almost comical lack of tackling has made them a laughing-stock, recently.
In multiple games this season, the defense has been unable to make a needed stop to hold a lead in the last minutes of the fourth quarter and they have allowed 79 points in the last two weeks, alone (the offense and special teams each allowed 7 points over that time with McGloin having an interception returned for a TD and the punt unit allowing a blocked punt be returned for a TD.
With that in mind, even if Allen is retained for 2014, there is no guarantee that Tarver will be back. If he does not, it would continue the Raiders’ trend of coaching turn-over which is hard on the players because they have to learn a new system, new terminology and new assignments when the new coordinator is hired.
At some point, the Raiders must identify a coaching staff and allow them the time to turn things around. But is this that coaching staff?
That is a complicated question. I am of the belief that Allen and his company have done decently with the talent (read “lack of”) at their disposal but they haven’t had many wins, which is a large black eye on their arguments to stay.
The team is now at a cross-roads, as well. After two years, GM Reggie McKenzie has cleared out the “out of whack” contracts that were his first priority. The team will have free-agent spending money and a full complement of high-round draft picks, both of which is a first for this GM and coaching staff.
With this cash and draft selections, the team is ending their deconstruction period and moving into a construction period.
As such, Reggie McKenzie and Mark Davis need to determine if Dennis Allen is the best coach to build this team.
He may be – he was highly regarded young coach who was a rising star in the league when he was hired. But the Raiders must also take into account that he may not be the best person to develop and build the team. If that is the case, there is no better time to fire him than now.
The building process takes time, after all, and it’s something that needs momentum. There is almost no point in starting the process with Allen if the team is not entirely sure he is the right person to finish it. If they do not believe he has what it takes – after two years of learning how he is as a leader – they should fire him after this season and move to find his replacement.
If they do believe he has what it takes than they should look at him as being their coach for the next two years to finish out his contract because it may take some time to get talent in and acclimated to the team.
There is no clear path but failing to make a tough decision isn’t the right way to go. The team either needs to go all-in with Allen or cut the string after the season and find the coach they think will be able to bring the franchise back to greatness that quickest.
With a number of solid coaching options available, the team needs to jettison Allen soon, however, if they are not going to keep him. Lovie Smith, the former Bears head coach that took the team to the Super Bowl (with Rex Grossman as their QB at that), for example, has already interviewed with the Houston Texans about their vacant head coach position.
Other coaches, like Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Cincy offensive coordinator Jay Gruden or Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will likely be snapped up quickly as other openings become available.
So which way will the Raiders go? It’s anyone’s guess at this point but my gut tells me that Dennis Allen will be back for another year, at least. Reggie McKenzie seems to be as patient as anyone in the NFL and Mark Davis appears to trust McKenzie to make the tough decisions.
Sink or swim, I think that Reggie McKenzie will trust his initial hire and look past the record to see that the Raiders, under Allen, have been a much more disciplined team (the last two games notwithstanding), penalties have fallen, and there has been a good history of the best players making the team, regardless of their draft status.
If I am correct and the Raiders do intend to keep Allen, they should announce that he is returning in 2014 and put a rest to the speculation. Once that announcement is made, the focus can change to free agency and the draft, which is much more productive for the Raiders and their fan base.
It isn’t an easy decision – despite the many fans who will disagree with me on twitter (@AsherMathews) – and millions of dollars ride on this decision. But McKenzie and, ultimately, Davis are in charge and they must make these decisions quickly and decisively.
The next few weeks will be interesting because of the effect it can have on the coaching situation, if not for the results on the field.