The Oakland Raiders: Committment to Mediocrity

By L.A. Batchelor
Updated: September 20, 2006

NORTH CAROLINA — The Oakland Raiders. A storied franchise filled with a winning tradition, talent, interesting stories and, of course, characters. Characters and names like Willie Brown, Jim Otto, Kenny Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Howie Long, Jack Tatum, John Madden, Marcus Allen, Lyle Alzado, Gene Upshaw and even the current head coach Art Shell.

Too many to mention and not enough space in this article to do so. This is a franchise that’s been in the playoffs, won Super Bowls, had Hall of Famers and are beloved by many around the world.

This is also a franchise that’s just three years removed from playing in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (even though they lost). So why with all the success in the past are the villans in Silver and Black so bad so fast and why would a Hall of Fame lineman like Shell not learn his lesson from coaching this team in the past, come back for more once again?

Didn’t Shell witness the demise in the franchise after John Gruden and his staff left? Did he witness the three coaches (including Bill Callahan and Norv Turner) in three years, the 13-37 record over that span and the never ending change at the quarterback position?

Perhaps it was the desire to coach again for Shell that led him to overlook the demise of an organization once proud with championships, colorful players and a swagger and intimidation factor unmatched in the league.

What happened to the Raiders? Just three years ago, they were on the losing end of the Super Bowl to the Bucs and now their offense should be flushed down the nearest toilet bowl with it’s ineptness.

The quarterback position has gone from the veteran leadership of Rich Gannon to the current and much maligned under-achieving Aaron Brooks. They had the classy and reliable soon to be Hall Of Fame receiver Tim Brown to a group of overpaid, underachieving complaining corp of misfits that care more about their stats then wins.

Finally, a once proud defense that could take over a game now can’t stop a cold let alone an offense. What happened? AL DAVIS. I often correlate Al Davis to the leader of the so called “Evil Empire”, Mr. George Steinbrenner. At least they used to be similar.

Both won titles early in their tenure of ownership Both have a hands on approach in owning their team and both have shown a lack of patience leading to termination of coaches and managers which led to nothing but empty seasons and no titles.

The comparison ends there. Unlike Mr. Davis, Mr. Steinbrenner has learned over the last decade if you allow real baseball people to do their job with no interference and no threat of interference, a great manager and of course great talent lead the team in pinstripes back to glory and championships.

Al Davis, however did not follow such a path. Somehow, some way, his “Just Win Baby” mentality and approach to the game did not resinate on the field with his players and coaches.

Consider this: In 1963, at the age of 33, Davis became the head coach and general manager of the AFL’s Oakland Raiders which makes him one of the longest tenured owners not only in the NFL, but in sports history.

Four decades is certainly enough time to run a franchise and eventually step down and let those younger and more equipped to adapt and adjust to game that has evolved from the wild and crazy times of the old AFL.

The trick plays on offense, fierce players on defense and crazy fan appreciation nights at the stadium are a thing of the past compared to the x and o’s, multiple formations on offense and complex schemes on defense. Yet Davis continues to press on insisting “his way is the the way” to success for the Silver in Black.

Like it or not, old age, senility and such a thing as “the game passing you by” does happen. Tom Landry, although treated roughly and some would say wrongly, was fired by Jerry Jones because it was thought the game passed him by and if you look at the Cowboys over the last 10 years of his coaching career, it will reflect such a thing.

Other greats like Chuck Noll (Steelers) and Dick Vermeil (Chiefs) weren’t fired but were strongly encouraged to resign and retire for new and younger blood for their respective franchises.

Even Hall of Fame players like Joe Montana and Dan Marino were in situations where moving on to another team or retirement seemingly was their only options and they chose to exercise those options.

So why not Al Davis?

This is not an attempt to discredit or degrade Al Davis and his accomplishments. Look at his resume: In 1963, at the age of 33, Davis became the head coach and general manager of the AFL’s Oakland Raiders.

He was the youngest person in the history of professional football to hold these positions. Prior to Davis’ arrival, the Raiders had compiled a 9-33 record in their first three years of existence. Davis led the team to a 10-4 record in 1963 and was unanimously named the AFL’s Coach of the Year.

Davis compiled a coaching record of 23-16-3 in three seasons as head coach in Oakland. In April 1966, he was named the AFL’s Commissioner. He immediately commenced an aggressive campaign to sign some of the NFL’s top players to AFL contracts.

In July of that year, the AFL announced that it was merging with the rival league. Davis was against the merger and chose to return to the Raiders as their managing general partner, rather than remain as commissioner until the end of the AFL in 1970. He helped managed Oakland to three Super Bowl wins in 1977,81,84.

All great credentials that anyone would be proud of but all championships that have come over 20 years ago (the last Super Bowl win came in 1984). When will Al Davis relinquish his ownership or day to day hands-on approach to owning and running the Raiders?

The answer will either come after Mr. Davis loses his faculties and reality, he passes away or someone comes into the Raider family with not only the back bone to stand up to the legendary and controversial owner, but can also convince them they can get the organization back to the glory days.

I’m sure Raider fans really don’t care which one of the three scenarios happens first as long as it happens and happens soon.