ALAMEDA, Calif. – Now that Oakland has fired Dennis Allen as coach, the focus turns to whether general manager Reggie McKenzie is the right person to finish the Raiders' rebuilding project.
McKenzie and Allen arrived together in January 2012 with the task of transforming a downtrodden franchise that had gone through nearly a decade of losing in the final years of late owner Al Davis' tenure.
With an 8-28 record over two-plus years, including a current 10-game losing streak, the Raiders have gone backward under their new leadership. They will have a new coach when they return from the bye next week.
Whether the Raiders (0-4) can prove over the final 12 games under interim coach Tony Sparano that the talent is in place to win, and coaching was the issue, may ultimately decide McKenzie's fate.
"A lot of it rides on me," McKenzie said this week. "I brought Dennis in to win championships here and to win period. That did not materialize."
McKenzie said he believes his job is always on the line until he wins a championship. That may be more true now than ever. Owner Mark Davis has shown loyalty to McKenzie since turning over control of the entire football operation in January 2012.
How long that lasts is now in question.
"I wouldn't put it all on Reggie," Davis said. "I'd say it's my responsibility. I hired Reggie, so then he takes the next step. And he's hired the head coach for this organization, now he's hired the second one and we'll see how it goes. We'll find out. Got to win. I think we've got some players; I think we do have some. Let's see what we can do."
McKenzie and Allen were hamstrung their first two years by a lack of premium draft picks and a difficult salary-cap situation due to bad contracts handed out by Al Davis.
But with a near full complement of draft picks this season and plenty of cap room to add free agents such as Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Jones, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, the Raiders believed this would be a turnaround year — even though they let free agents Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston and Rashad Jennings leave.
"I would say that I've been on several teams and this is, by far, one of the most talented ones that I've been around," said safety Usama Young, who played on a Super Bowl winner in New Orleans.
But the Raiders weren't even competitive in two of the four losses, including a 38-14 thrashing in London last week by Miami that ultimately led to Allen's firing.
Rookie quarterback Derek Carr has gotten no help from the running game and lacks a game-breaking receiver. The defense has looked overmatched in the secondary, been decimated by injuries at linebacker, and is old on the front four.
McKenzie's biggest blunders have been evaluating quarterbacks. He traded Carson Palmer following the 2012 season; acquired Matt Flynn from Seattle for a fifth-round draft pick; and drafted Tyler Wilson in the fourth round. McKenzie gave Flynn $6.5 million in guaranteed money to be the starter, only to see him get beaten out for the job by Terrelle Pryor.
Wilson didn't even make the team out of training camp and Flynn was cut early in that season.
McKenzie then targeted Matt Schaub as his starter this year, trading a sixth-round pick to acquire him and then giving him $8 million for this season. Schaub was beaten out by Carr, who has shown flashes of being the long-term answer for Oakland's revolving door quarterback position.
McKenzie had learned the personnel ropes in Green Bay, where the Packers used strong drafts to build Super Bowl winners under general managers Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson. McKenzie hoped to do the same in Oakland, but the results have been poor. He didn't have a pick until 95th overall in 2012, and only one of the six players from that class has even played a game this season: linebacker Miles Burris.
The top two picks in 2012 have struggled to get on the field, with first-rounder DJ Hayden missing the past 12 games because of injuries. Second-rounder Menelik Watson has been unable to win the starting right tackle job.
McKenzie appeared to find some impact players this year with linebacker Khalil Mack, Carr and guard Gabe Jackson.
"I'm looking for an identity of this organization," Davis said. "We may have it in a quarterback, a young guy, a Derek Carr. We may have it with Khalil Mack on the other side of the ball. But we'll have to see. These are things we're going to have to start developing and see if that's the way we're going to go. But I think we might have an identity coming."
If not, they might have a new general manager coming soon.
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