Raiders better off without Jackson?

Hue Jackson
Hue Jackson’s tenure as Raiders coach got off to good start at 7-4, but quickly unraveled, culminating in a bizarre press conference at the end of the season.

The Hue Jackson error in Oakland is over, and as it turns out, maybe the Raiders are starting to make progress after all.

Jackson’s firing on Tuesday after just one tumultuous season represents a clean break of sorts in Oakland, from the way things were done when Al Davis ran the whole show for decades, to the way business will now be conducted with new Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie in charge.

Jackson was the last coaching hire of Davis, the iconic Raiders owner who died in early October at age 82. And his dismissal is now the first move made by McKenzie, the respected former Green Bay personnel executive who promises to bring some sense of sanity, accountability and a more traditional mode of NFL operations to Oakland.

I haven’t even heard his introductory press conference yet, but I like what I’ve seen from McKenzie so far.

As a head coach, I thought Jackson was a fraud, and the kind of guy who had no qualms maneuvering behind the back of former Raiders head coach Tom Cable, even while he was serving as Cable’s offensive coordinator in 2010. Jackson talked colorfully and confidently, and was masterful at the art of self-promotion and the cultivation of media members. But he kind of showed his true self in that damaging season-wrap-up press conference he gave the day after his Raiders melted down at home against San Diego in Week 17, costing themselves the AFC West title and Oakland’s first playoff berth since 2002.


Jackson went on a tirade, repeatedly speaking of how “pissed” he was at his team for the loss, shirking any meaningful effort to take responsibility for the season-defining defeat, and basically throwing his defensive coaching staff under the bus in the process. Remarkably tone deaf when he needed an acute sense of his own vulnerability and lack of accountability, Jackson vowed to “take a stronger hand in this whole organization,” to ensure that the same underachieving scenario never unfolded again for his Raiders, who started the year 7-4 but lost four of their final five games to record their ninth consecutive non-winning season.

Nice try, Hue. Instead of more authority, Jackson got shown the door. And that in and of itself is reason for hope in Oakland. McKenzie, a former Raiders linebacker in the 1980s, comes to town after serving 18 years in the Green Bay front office. He knows what a successful NFL team looks like, and how one operates. And most importantly, he knows how an NFL head coach should think, sound and conduct himself. I’m pretty sure Jackson went 0-for-3 on that front.

Jackson has already spouted off to a local Bay Area media outlet in the wake of his firing, saying McKenzie “is going to gut this place,” adding that the Raiders’ new GM “wants to bring in his own guys. No job is safe right now.”

News flash: That’s typically how it works when an NFL franchise hires a new general manager. He gets the right to bring in his own head coach, and his own people, and to “gut” the place if necessary. Just because Oakland was the exception to the rule of how NFL teams operated during Davis’ long and often bizarre fiefdom — at least in the final decade of his life — doesn’t mean Jackson passes for credible when he tries to make the normal sound like the aberration.

And if a new GM decides the head coach is more of a liability than an asset, he goes, too, especially if he’s coming off an underachieving 8-8 season in which an almost certain playoff berth was squandered in the weakest of divisions.

A team is a reflection of its head coach, and Jackson’s Raiders were undisciplined and sloppy on the job, breaking NFL records for both penalties and penalty yardage in 2011. Oakland was often its own worst enemy, and that too is a trait Jackson shared, with his blatant grabs for power within the organization, his inability to take overall responsibility for the product on the field, and his highly debatable decision to mortgage the team’s draft future in trading for quarterback Carson Palmer in October.

If Jackson thought his track record this season made him deserving of even more authority within the organization, then he was only judging by the same general state of dysfunction that has ruled the Raiders for most of the past decade. With McKenzie quickly recognizing Jackson for what he was, Oakland actually just took a significant step away from their dysfunctional ways and toward progress.

In Oakland, doing things the way they’ve always been done hasn’t worked of late. And finally someone noticed. Jackson’s one costly year on the job will set the Raiders back on the draft front, but not as much as if McKenzie wouldn’t have had the courage to cut the team’s losses and move on. In Cable’s final season of 2010, Oakland’s 8-8 really did register as progress, being the first time in eight years the Raiders avoided a double-digit loss season. Jackson’s 8-8 season, with its late-season collapse and dubious Palmer trade, will go down in Oakland history as a failure.

Firing a head coach who seemingly just got to town is a typical Raiders move. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the wrong call. This time, Oakland got it right. With Jackson gone, the McKenzie era is off to a very good start.

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