With yesterday’s 31-24 loss to the Cowboys, Raiders head coach Dennis Allen and his staff find themselves elf squarely on the hot seat, fair or not.
There are arguments to both keep and fire Dennis Allen, depending on your viewpoint. I will quickly lay out the basics to both sides.
The argument to keep Dennis Allen: Dennis Allen and his boss, GM Reggie McKenzie, came into one of the – if not the worst situation in the league in the Raiders, which were not only perennial losers since 2002, they had consistently mortgaged their future to be so.
When McKenzie came to Oakland, he made it one of his first priorites to shed contracts which he described as “out of whack.” He has succeeded at the expense of signing any first priority free agents his first two years.
Dennis Allen, then, has been given secondary players and told to win with them. Winning is difficult in the NFL even with talent – just look at last years’ two SuperBowl competitors as exhibits A and B. The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens squared off in February and, as of today, the Ravens have finally pulled even at 6-6. The 49ers are a better if not great 7-4, currently.
Those are two teams that have a lot of talent and have been built for years – how can Dennis Allen do any better with significantly worse talent?
The argument to fire Dennis Allen: The NFL is a production business, over all else. There are few, if any, moral victories and if a coach isn’t winning, he seldom is able to keep his job.
While Dennis Allen may not have been given a great hand to play, he hasn’t exactly been lights-out as a coach, either, with some big mis-steps that have held back the team.
Exhibit A is his hiring of OC Greg Knapp, who ended up being a poor choice because of his insistence in making the team learn his preferred zone blocking running system. Allen ended that mistake after one year but the damage had already been done for the 2012 season.
The Raiders have improved by almost every measure this year, statistically, but are sitting with only 4 wins and they have only 4 games remaining in the season so they are unable to get a winning season, again, this year.
Plus, with games against Denver and Kansas City – both of whom have only two losses on the season – remaining on the schedule, there is a decent chance the Raiders will not win another game. If this happens, it will be a signal that Allen has not been able to bring about sufficient improvement in his two years.
Where the Raiders will go next: Perhaps the best question to ask is not whether Allen will be fired, but whether GM Reggie McKenzie can survive another 4-12 season. Mark Davis hasn’t been very vocal this year but he was very vocal last year about needing to see improvement.
The Raiders 2013 team does appear to be an improvement over the 2012 version, to my eyes at least. The team is substantially better on defense, the run game has improved dramatically on offense and the team has been competitive to the end of virtually every game this year, something that could not be said last season.
At this point, I think that Mark Davis will allow Reggie McKenzie to keep his position. McKenzie has said that he was very upfront with Davis when he was hired about the time and effort it will take to turn around the organization.
Next year, for the first time under McKenzie, the Raiders will be able to spend money on select priority free agents. I expect that they will judiciously do so to help improve the talent level on a team that lacks any true superstars.
Also, this will be the Raiders first draft under McKenzie where they come in with picks in the first 3 rounds. In his first draft, McKenzie had almost no draft picks – getting a pick in the 3rd round only as a compensatory selection, which comes in at the end of the 3rd round and is more like an 4th round pick than a 3rd.
In his second draft, McKenzie had no 2nd round pick, originally, and had to trade down to get a second round selection.
In 2014, the Raiders will come in with picks in rounds 1-4, which they hope to use to grab impact players.
Just because I expect Reggie McKenzie to stay does not mean that Dennis Allen will remain, however. Mark Davis may push for Allen to be fired if he cannot show improvement in the win/loss column. Alternately, McKenzie himself may feel that Allen didn’t show enough improvement over the year to justify a third year coaching the Silver & Black.
I think Allen being fired is unlikely at this point, however. Barring a breakdown or him losing the locker room in the last quarter of the season, Allen’s team has been competitive and disciplined the majority of the season.
To his credit, Allen and his staff have taken a squad of players that wouldn’t start on other teams and has been able to coach them into a mostly cohesive unit, keep them focused on winning and reducing as many distractions as possible.
The last quarter will be important for Allen but if he can keep his team pushing forward and close out the season with a couple of wins, it seems likely he will be back coaching in 2014.