Raiders owner Al Davis

“What Would Al Davis Do?” A Thought Experiment

It has been six years since the maverick owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, past away and yet he continues to cast a presence over the Silver and Black.

Davis was a pioneer and architect of three Super Bowl winning teams (XI, XV, XVIII) as owner and general manager of both the Oakland (and Los Angeles) Raiders. In his time with the Raiders, Davis carried out a campaign to not only win football games but more importantly, to do it his way.

How would Al Davis feel about the current state of the Raiders?

If the 3-4 Raiders have any hope of salvaging their season, they will need just one win, baby, in other words, they have to take it one week at a time. It is difficult to pinpoint what needs to be done to right the ship, and even more unclear whether the team is as close to figuring it out as coaches have insisted. One thing is certain, offensive coordinator Todd Downing isn’t interested in changing his offensive system, arguing that the statistics which show a drastic drop-off from last season can be misleading. If anything, they are a tell that the offense has areas which need some improvement, according to Downing.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has demonstrated patience with coaches and players he brings in, even if credit must be given to Mark Davis for allowing McKenzie the room to operate which is something his late father was not exactly good at; exercising patience. Of course, that was a different time when Al was judge, jury, and executioner over the Silver and Black.

Still, the most successful organizations know when to admit a mistake and make necessary changes to spark a team. Downing has appeared in over his head these last four games, having inherited a top-five offense that now sits near the bottom of the league in yards per game and time of possession (leading to fewer plays and opportunities). There are also those who suggest Derek Carr has been getting rid of the ball too early and not allowing deep passing routes to develop. This year, Carr has completed just one pass over 20 yards, compared to the 25 he completed last season.

Where’s the accountability?

Nonetheless, with Raider Nation demanding someone be held accountable for the losses, and former Raiders’ executive Amy Trask (now with CBS) blasting the offensive coordinator’s decision to switch to a zone-blocking scheme, all but calling for McKenzie or head coach Jack Del Rio to make a change, one might wonder what Al would do if this was his mess to overlook.

On a short week, the Raiders defeated the Chiefs and their 29th ranked defense, albeit a defense and coaching staff that has dominated the Raiders in recent past. For now, no changes should be expected.

Mike Tice is a viable option to take over and would seem the best person to try to bring back the play of the offensive line that fans have become accustomed to watching. Yet, getting rid of Downing is a move that should only be made if the team does not believe in him moving forward. Such a move could be a signal to the team that you gave up on the season by not making a change sooner but knee-jerk reactions are not the norm with these Raiders.

Al was never afraid of the backlash that came with doing what he thought was best for the team, and although the prospect of Al giving up on a young offensive coordinator so early in his first season is doubtful, it is interesting to look back at how things may have played out differently. First, Al would have been reluctant to extend Jack Del Rio’s contract with two years remaining on his deal, even after a 12-win season and the team looking poised to remain a contender for years to come. Davis was infamous for letting contracts run their course and promoting from within when needed. Moreover, Al surely would have been disappointed with how the team played once Carr went down with the injury. In theory, this may have played a part in the team allowing Bill Musgraves to walk after the season, with the thought being that Musgrave’s system looked genius due to Carr’s abilities and late game heroics.

Devils’ Advocate: What might’ve been with Al Davis?

By the same token, Al may have also been impressed by the young quarterbacks’ coach and might have given him a promotion to keep other teams away. If Del Rio became disgruntled about not being awarded a contract extension, would Al have gone with Downing at head coach and surrounded him with veteran coordinators of Davis’ choosing? Another intriguing scenario is one in which Al, furious with the league for blocking the Raiders’ return to LA, observed a golden opportunity to swoop in and hire away the bright minded and highly touted Sean McVay from the Rams. McVay was viewed as having a tireless work ethic and fiery approach to football that Al may have sensed was perfect for an up-and-coming team. Whether he also would have sensed Del Rio’s voice becoming stale in the locker room is something we can never know. However, Jack’s preference to surround himself with coordinators who allow him to provide input on the game plan would have made Al wonder if he had the right man to lead the Raiders to a fourth Lombardi trophy.

We will never know if Al would have landed both Khalil Mack and Carr in the same draft, or instead favored a big arm such as Blake Bortles or the gamesmanship of Johnny Manziel. Would the Raiders have made the playoffs sooner under Hue Jackson had Al not passed away that season?

None of it is important for the purposes of this article; the world in which Al still looms in the owner’s box is true only in a possible world where Al lived to be 100. Still, it is fascinating to look back at the life of Davis and imagine what he may have done to turn around this season, or what considerations would have taken place in constructing the current coaching staff.

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